Mehdi Bennani has claimed his second race win of the 2017 World Touring Car Championship season, with the Moroccan securing victory at Vila Real in the series’ first ever race to feature a ‘joker lap’ format.
Starting from fourth place on the partially reversed grid, the Sébastien Loeb Racing driver made a blinding start in his Citroën to leap ahead of Esteban Guerrieri’s Campos Racing Chevrolet and a slow-starting Polestar Volvo of Néstor Girolami to be second through the opening complex of corners.
Tucked in behind polesitter Ryo Michigami, Bennani made short work of the Japanese driver to move into an early lead. With a clear track ahead, Bennani scampered off into an early lead, which he extended to the tune of over four seconds before serving his ‘joker lap’ midway through the eleven-lap race.
When the order finally shook out, Bennani still held a two-second margin to local driver and crowd favourite Tiago Monteiro, who made the greatest use of the timing of his ‘joker lap’ (which he served early on Lap 4) to climb into second place from seventh on the grid.
His decision to serve the lap early gave him a clearer track with which he could push and gain the advantage to Girolami and Michigami before the pair served their detours on Lap 7. It was enough to get the veteran driver ahead of both newcomers as they rejoined the traditional circuit layout.
Monteiro chased hard over the remaining laps, however he could only get inside one second of Bennani on the final lap.
Nonetheless, the result moved Monteiro back to the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings, atoning for a disastrous preceding round at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Third place went to the Polestar Volvo of Thed Björk, who mirrored Monteiro’s strategy. The Swede was able to leapfrog Bennani’s teammate Tom Chilton through a joker lap phase, demoting the Briton to fourth place.
Fifth went to Björk’s teammate Nicky Catsburg, who completed a rare passing move at the Vila Real circuit by overtaking Michigami as he and the Honda driver exited the downhill chicane late in the race.
Wrongfooted after being caught napping by Catsburg, Michigami was defenseless against the Münnich Motorsport Citroën of Rob Huff who snuck through to claim sixth from the Japanese driver.
Michigami would retire shortly after with a puncture to promote Main Race pole-winner Norbert Michelisz to seventh ahead of Girolami, who had been the biggest loser in the ‘joker lap’ sequence.
Ninth place went to impressive rookie Yann Ehrlacher in the RC Motorsport LADA, with the French youngster finishing ahead of compatriot John Filippi in the third SLR Citroën.
|2017 FIA WTCC Race of Portugal – Opening Race Final Classification (11 laps)|
|1.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||22:00.741||IND|
|2.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 0.799||MF|
|3.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 1.632||MF|
|4.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 2.447||IND|
|5.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 4.459||MF|
|6.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||+ 4.855||IND|
|7.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 6.040||MF|
|8.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 12.317||MF|
|9.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 13.151||IND|
|10.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 16.210||IND|
|11.||Aurélien Panis||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 34.376||IND|
|12.||Manuel Fernandes||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 51.355||IND|
|13.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 57.739||IND|
|DNF.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||Puncture||MF|
|DNF.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||Mechanical||IND|
|DNF.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||Mechanical||IND|
|WD.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||Withdrew||IND|
Image via FIA WTCC Media