World premiere of WTCC joker lap proves a big hit in Vila Real

As Bennani and Michelisz win

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By Olivier Ferret

25 June 2017 - 22:35
World premiere of WTCC joker lap (...)

Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz both triumphed at WTCC Race of Portugal this afternoon as world championship motor racing history was made with the introduction of the ‘joker’ lap.

Drivers took the alternative route in both the Opening Race and Main Race in Vila Real as part of a pioneering plan to spice up the action on a street circuit where overtaking isn’t always possible.

Tiago Monteiro, who moved back into the world championship lead with a brace of podiums at his home event for the factory Honda team – much to the delight of the thousands of passionate Portuguese fans – said: “Two podiums on a track where it’s hard to overtake wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘joker’ lap. It was a good success and congratulations to the organisers, Eurosport Events and François Ribeiro. To have put this altogether in such a short amount of time was not easy but, in the end, the result paid off and it could be interesting for the future.”

Monteiro came from seventh to second in the Opening Race before taking third in the Main Race to reclaim the title initiative over new second-placed contender Thed Björk, the Polestar Cyan Racing driver also taking two podiums in his Volvo S60.

Bennani was also on fighting form for Sébastien Loeb Racing with his second victory of 2017 in the Opening Race, while Michelisz celebrated his first win of the campaign, converting his second consecutive DHL pole position into the top step of the podium.

Tom Chilton was twice in the top six but couldn’t resist fellow Citroën privateer Rob Huff, who fought back from last to fifth in the Main Race with a storming drive for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. His lap record-breaking effort earned him the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy. Along with this WTCC Trophy success, the award went some way to cancelling out the disappointment of stalling on the front row of the grid. Nicky Catsburg led the standings heading to Portugal for Polestar Cyan Racing but has slipped to third, 10 points behind Monteiro after finishing fourth and fifth in the two races. Vila Real resident Manuel Fernandes was twice a finisher on his WTCC debut with RC Motorsport, while Japan’s Ryo Michigami started the Opening Race from pole in his works Civic but was ultimately denied a strong finish when he picked up a puncture in the closing stages.

RACE WINNER QUOTES

Mehdi Bennani (Opening Race winner): “For sure I’m happy to have this great result in the home race of Tiago. It was a very tricky race and my only message from engineer was to push to the limit. So it’s not the best message to get over radio when you are in a very difficult circuit but I pushed the limit [to build my lead] without touching the wall and after I do the ‘joker’ lap and everything was working very nicely. I’m very, very happy today.”

Norbert Michelisz (Main Race winner): “After qualifying yesterday I knew we had the car to win the Main Race. My start in the Opening Race wasn’t great so I knew I had to improve that. I finally had a good start. I saw Rob just next to me, he stood still and there was some chaos that helped me to get away. From the second lap I realised it’s all about not making mistakes. Timing for the ‘joker’ lap wasn’t easy. Because the first message from my engineer was to do the ‘joker’ lap early. I disagreed, but we managed to find a good solution and I was able to stay in front. In the end I’m really happy, because it is a huge amount of confidence for the rest of the season. Especially pole position yesterday. I’m looking forward to Argentina, but now I’m enjoying this race win.”

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