Norbert Michelisz dramatically closed the gap to WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO points leader Esteban Guerrieri with a convincing Race 1 victory in Vila Real.
The BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse driver led all the way from the DHL Pole Position to claim his second win of the season and close the gap to Guerrieri to just 15 points on the #RoadToMalaysia.
Although Michelisz had the pace to win on merit, he was also aided in his quest by Augusto Farfus in the sister BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team entry. The Brazilian, who had qualified second, held back the pair’s nearest challengers, Yann Ehrlacher and Rob Huff, to allow Michelisz to open up a gap at the front following a clean start.
Michelisz, Farfus and Huff took their ‘joker’ laps – a feature unique to the 4.785-kilometre Circuito Internacional de Vila Real in WTCR / OSCARO – as early as possible at the end of lap three, but Ehrlacher waited a lap later – and it enabled the Frenchman to jump Farfus to claim second place.
But with Michelisz already clear in the lead, the Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver had no chance to challenge for victory and finished second, 2.291s behind. Farfus completed the podium, with Huff in fourth for SLR VW Motorsport.
As Farfus had ahead of him, team-mate Nicky Catsburg held up the rest of the field in the opening stages while running fifth. He maintained his position after the ‘joker’ laps had played out to secure more points for the Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team.
Mikel Azcona played a brilliant ‘joker’ lap strategy to claim his first WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO victory in the reverse-grid Race 2 in Vila Real.
The Spaniard started third in his PWR Racing Cupra TCR, but used the joker – a unique feature at the 4.785-kilometre Circuito Internacional de Vila Real – to pass both Esteban Guerrieri and DHL Pole Position starter Ma Qinghua. The win is also PWR’s first in WTCR / OSCARO and the first for the CUPRA brand this season. The result has also lifted Azcona to fifth in the standings on the #RoadToMalaysia.
Team Mulsanne’s Ma made a clean start after his clutch problems in Race 1 to lead in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR, from fellow front-row starter and title leader Guerrieri, with Azcona running ahead of Nicky Catsburg, Jean-Karl Vernay, Rob Huff and Yvan Muller.
Vernay finished fourth having gained a place on Catsburg with his joker, the Dutchman having left it late to take his alternative route. Muller was sixth after overtaking Huff with his joker, followed by Ehrlacher, Néstor Girolami and local hero Tiago Monteiro.
Tiago Monteiro scorched to a dream home victory at WTCR Race of Portugal after seeing off a challenge from Yvan Muller in Race 3 in Vila Real.
The KCMG driver, who has returned to racing this year after coming back from serious injuries incurred in a testing accident in 2017, was in tears on his slowing down lap after becoming the 11th different winner of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO season.
KCMG team-mate Attila Tassi led away from the DHL Pole Position, with Monteiro slotting in behind him as Muller passed his nephew Yann Ehrlacher on lap one to lead the Lynk & Co-powered challenge behind the two Hondas.
Tassi lost his lead on lap four when he began to slow, the 20-year-old eventually pulling in to retire. Muller played his ‘joker’ lap having just passed Tassi, with Monteiro following suit a lap later. The Honda just emerged ahead of the Lynk & Co, but it was close. From there, Monteiro pulled a gap to secure a dream victory in front of a joyful Portuguese crowd.
As Muller fell back from the leader, Ehrlacher closed up, the pair both coming under pressure from Race 2 winner Mikel Azcona in his PWR Racing CUPRA TCR. It seemed Muller was holding up the pair, but he held on to lead home a Lynk & Co two-three, with Azcona capping a great first weekend in Vila Real with a fourth to go with his earlier win.
Jean-Karl Vernay beat Rob Huff in a race-long duel for fifth, the Audi having beaten the Volkswagen off the grid. Néstor Girolami claimed seventh for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, but his team-mate Esteban Guerrieri was out of luck. The WTCR / OSCARO leader was forced out after a first-lap collision with BRC Hyundai driver Nicky Catsburg, denting his advantage at the top of the table.
Thed Björk added to Lynk & Co’s haul with eighth, ahead of Ma Qinghua who just held off Race 1 winner and Guerrieri’s closest title rival Norbert Michelisz.
The other points finishers were led by Johan Kristoffersson in P11, from Aurélien Panis, Kevin Ceccon – paying back Team Mulsanne for repairing his Alfa Romeo after his big qualifying accident on Sunday morning – Mehdi Bennani and Gabriele Tarquini.