Suzuka, Race 1: Guerrieri wins for Honda
"The Audis were lighter and quicker on the straight"
Esteban Guerrieri claimed the points lead of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup with a strong win from the Pole Position in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Japan.
The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver delivered a home victory for Honda on the 2.243-kilometre Suzuka Circuit East Course, ahead of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Niels Langeveld and KCMG’s Tiago Monteiro.
“It is one of my best victories I’ve ever had,” said a delighted Guerrieri. “It is important for many reasons. Thank you to everyone involved in this project.”
At the start, Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch challenged Guerrieri for first place on the outside of Turns 1 and 2, which allowed team-mate Langeveld up the inside to take the lead. But on lap two the Dutch driver made a mistake at the final turn, which allowed Guerrieri to take a lead he would not lose.
“It was intense,” said the race winner. “The Audis were lighter and quicker on the straight. After the start I touched wheels with Vervisch, but the Honda is like a tractor and so reliable! Langeveld got inside and took the lead, but then made a mistake. From there I had the pace to control the race.”
There was bad luck for Vervisch, who lost his third place on lap seven when debris got lodged between the front-left brake caliper and wheel, splitting the rim in the process and triggering a safety car interlude Vervisch stopped on track.
The racing action resumed on lap 10 with Guerrieri leading from Langeveld, ahead of Monteiro – who had started fourth rather than from the DHL Pole Position as one of a number of driver to incur a grid penalty after qualifying.
On lap 14 there was further Audi misfortune as impressive wildcard entrant Ritomo Miyata dropped out of seventh place in his Audi Team Hitotsuyama RS 3 LMS with a paddle-shift failure.
The race ended under the Audi R8 safety car following a high-speed crash involving Andy Priaulx and Nicky Catsburg. The Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver, running in P13, was defending into Turn 1 from BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Catsburg. The Hyundai i30 N TCR made contact with the Lynk & Co, with Priaulx shooting across the gravel trap and hard into the barrier.
Behind the top three, Thed Björk finished fourth for Lynk & Co, ahead of SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson who held off Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Jean-Karl Vernay for fifth.
Gabriele Tarquini was seventh, ahead of Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR duo Kevin Ceccon and Ma Qinghua. Volkswagen-powered Sébastien Loeb Racing driver Rob Huff completed the top 10 followed by Yvan Muller, Yann Ehrlacher, erstwhile title leader Norbert Michelisz, Catsburg and Aurélien Panis, the first CUPRA driver home in P15.
Muller rose from P25 on the grid to finish in P11, as fellow title contender, Michelisz, lost his advantage at the head of the table in P13.
Race 2 at WTCR Race of Japan takes place on Sunday morning at 10h00 local time, with Race 3 following at 11h30.
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