Honda’s Tiago Monteiro has come out on top to claim victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Championship race at the Slovakia Ring thanks to a daring pass on the Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of early race leader Mehdi Bennani.
Bennani shot to the lead of the opening race with a great launch from the front row of the grid, while LADA Sport’s Hugo Valente had a slow getaway from pole position and dropped to fourth by the first corner behind Monteiro and the sister LADA of Gabriele Tarquini.
The second Honda of Rob Huff leaped to third place past the pair of LADAs on the run to Turn 2, setting up what would become an exciting three-way battle for the lead.
Behind that trio, Valente and Tarquini made contact for the second race in a row, which saw Valente fired wide at Turn 8 and losing further places.
That left Tarquini to defend fourth place ahead of a train of cars, led by the works Citroëns of Yvan Muller and José María López, Volvo Thed Björk and the third Honda of Norbert Michelisz.
Tarquini was struggling to keep the two Citroëns at bay, and the battle only intensified when López snuck up the inside of Muller at Turn 8, with Michelisz doing the same to Björk at the left-hander.
Up at the front of the field, Bennani was unable to escape the clutches of Monteiro and Huff. Despite his car being blessed with superior straight-line speed, the extra 80kg of performance ballast he was saddled with was doing nothing for his car’s handling and tyre wear.
Eventually the steady loss of grip proved too much, allowing Monteiro to snatch the lead with a late lunge at Turn 8. Huff was unable to capitalize himself, keeping a watching brief in third while Monteiro eased away to claim victory and the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Behind them, tensions continued to simmer in the Tarquini-led train, with the Italin getting ever more vigorous in his defence in his bid to keep López behind.
With Tarquini, López and Muller all hogging the inside line on the approach to Turn 3, an enterprising Michelisz stayed on the outside through the right-hander and pulled off a stunning pass on Muller while almost getting López in the process.
That let the Hungarian finish in sixth to split the two Citroëns, with Björk finishing in eighth place, two spots ahead of teammate Fredrik Ekblom, who started at the back of the field after being excluded from qualifying.
The two Volvos sandwiched the second Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of Tom Chilton and looked to have claimed their first double-points finish of the season, only for Björk to later be excluded from the final standings when his air restrictor was found to have expanded beyond the tolerance of the technical regulations.
That promoted Ekblom to ninth and the LADA of Nicky Catsburg to tenth.
There was also drama for the sole Zengõ Motorsport entry of Ferenc Ficza. The Hungarian youngster’s Honda lost an oil line on Lap 9, triggering a large fire at the rear of the car.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of Slovakia – Race 1 Final Classification (11 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||11||23:30.309|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||11||+ 2.526|
|3.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||11||+ 3.119|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||11||+ 9.247|
|5.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||11||+ 9.453|
|6.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||11||+ 10.085|
|7.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||11||+ 10.659|
|8.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||11||+ 11.606|
|9.||Fredrik Ekblom||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||11||+ 12.657|
|10.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||11||+ 14.766|
|11.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||11||+ 18.505|
|12.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||11||+ 22.752|
|13.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||11||+ 23.189|
|14.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||11||+ 25.262|
|15.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||11||+ 25.743|
|DNF.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||8||Oil Leak|
|DSQ.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||Disqualified|
Image via FIA WTCC
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