Mehdi Bennani has claimed a lights-to-flag victory in an incident-filled wet opening race at the Hungaroring.

The Moroccan driver led home Sébastien Loeb Racing teammate Tom Chilton to claim an historic 1-2 finish for the privateer outfit. It was a race dominated by tyre strategy, heralding a number of upset performances after the works Honda and Citroën teams made a complete mess of their strategies.

The rain that had been falling throughout the morning only eased in the two hours ahead of the race. Conditions were still overcast but the track was slowly drying, creating a difficult tyre decision for the teams ahead of the start of the opening 14-lap race.

The decision to bolt on a complete set of full wet tyres would ultimately prove to be the winning decision. Front-row starters Bennani and Volvo’s Fredrik Ekblom both opted for this approach, while third-placed Yvan Muller gambled by starting on slick tyres.

With no wet running having occurred over the weekend, the field was given two formation laps before making a standing start. LADA’s Gabriele Tarquini immediately realised he’d made the wrong call to start on slicks, and peeled into the pits at the end of the first formation lap to switch to wets.

Tarquini at least had the luxury of getting to the pits, as the same could not be said for Norbert Michelisz, whose Honda engine expired on the first sighting lap. It was a bitter disappointment for the local crowd, but at least they still had the privateer Zengõ Motorsport Honda of teenage driver Ferenc Ficza to cheer on.

Bennani led the field off the grid at the proper start, while Muller rocketed off the second row to move into second place ahead of Ekblom and Nick Catsburg’s equally fast-starting LADA by Turn 1. Muller’s joy would be short-lived, however, with his slick tyres quickly showing their limited adhesion when he slid off at Turn 2.

With the factory Citroëns of Muller José María López and rival Hondas of Tiago Monteiro and Rob Huff all having started on completely slick tyres, that quartet soon found themselves tumbling down the order as each corner of the first lap unfolded.

Conversely, the key beneficiaries were Bennani’s teammate Tom Chilton and Campos Racing’s John Filippi, who both rocketed up to fifth and sixth respectively at the end of the opening lap. Filippi in particular looked on course for a potential podium finish, but his hopes were dashed after the stewards ruled his car had started the race out of position and handed him a drive-through penalty.

On the fifth lap, Catsburg passed Ekblom to take second place, but the pair of them was overhauled by the rapid Chilton, who overtook Catsburg for second place on the penultimate lap of the race.

Ekblom was denied claiming Volvo’s maiden podium finish, while Tarquini’s inspired early tyre switch paid dividends, as he was able to climb all the way through to fifth place from the rear of the field. One wonders where he might have finished had he started on the correct tyres in the first place.

By contrast, one has to equally question the wisdom of the factory Honda and Citroën outfits for not bringing their drivers in earlier. It is said that you can never wait for a wrong tyre call to come right, and nowhere was this more apparent than on the ultra-slippery resurfaced Hungaroring where all four cars were miles off the pace and finished out of the points.

Their dramas benefited lower-grid qualifiers such as Hugo Valente, Grégoire Demoustier and Filippi, who claimed sixth through eighth ahead of local driver Ferenc Ficza and René Münnich’s Chevrolet.

2016 FIA WTCC Race of Hungary – Race 1 Final Classification (14 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Mehdi Bennani Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 14 30:49.813
2. Tom Chilton uk Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 14 + 3.313
3. Nick Catsburg nl LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 14 + 6.367
4. Fredrik Ekblom Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 14 + 13.918
5. Gabriele Tarquini it LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 14 + 14.566
6. Hugo Valente LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 14 + 29.575
7. Grégoire Demoustier fr Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 14 + 34.530
8. John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze 14 + 47.418
9. Ferenc Ficza Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC 14 + 59.927
10. René Münnich de Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 14 + 1:48.021
11. Rob Huff uk Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC 14 + 1:58.809
12. Tiago Monteiro Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC 14 + 2:26.774
13. Yvan Muller fr Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée 13 + 1 lap
14. José María López Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée 13 + 1 lap
15. Tom Coronel nl ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 13 + 1 lap
16. Thed Björk Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 13 + 1 lap
Not Classified
DNS. Norbert Michelisz Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC Engine

Image via FIA WTCC

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.