The story of rising star of rookie driver Yann Ehrlacher featured another highlight after the French youngster claimed his first World Touring Car Championship victory in the Opening Race at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo.
The LADA driver controversially inherited the race win after on-track winner Tom Chilton was handed a time penalty for his forceful opening-lap passing move on the youngster.
The pair had started from the reversed-grid front row for the 11-lap race and while Chilton initially made the better getaway off the line, his path to the lead was blocked by Ehrlacher who squeezed across to block the inside line to Turn 1.
Chilton launched a counter-attack at the end of the back straight, darting first to the outside of the Turn 5 hairpin before cutting back and hitting Ehrlacher in the rear. The contact unsettled the LADA and created enough of a gap for Chilton to nip through and claim the lead.
That opened the door for Chilton’s Sébastien Loeb Racing teammate Mehdi Bennani to also have a go, but Ehrlacher gamely held on and fended off the Moroccan driver as they ran side-by-side through Turn 7.
It proved to be a frenetic opening lap through the field where a number of key championship contenders came unstuck.
Having clawed back major ground in the Drivers’ Championship last time out in Portugal, Norbert Michelisz copped a puncture after contact from his Honda teammate Tiago Monteiro. The Hungarian managed to limp back to the pits for a new set of tyres, but his race was as good as done and he finished a lap adrift in fourteenth.
It was also a disastrous race for Polestar Cyan Racing, which had two of its three cars eliminated. Local driver Néstor Girolami retired early on with an apparent transmission failure, while former championship leader Nicky Catsburg retired with a left front puncture while running in fifth place.
The Chilton-Ehrlacher contact was initially noted by the FIA Stewards, who then took an eternity to rule on the matter. Eventually it was announced with three laps to go that Chilton would be slapped with a five-second time penalty added to his final race time, much to the Briton’s fury.
Ehrlacher had gamely hung on to be just three seconds adrift, leaving Chilton unable to open enough of a gap to negate the penalty which would drop him to fourth place in the final reckoning.
A delighted Ehrlacher claimed his breakthrough victory ahead of Bennani, while local driver Esteban Guerrieri was thrilled to claim a podium in his Campos Racing Chevrolet.
Chilton was reclassified in fourth, narrowly ahead of championship leader Monteiro. The Portuguese driver’s nearest title challenger Thed Björk finished sixth in the sole remaining Volvo.
Like his teammates, Björk also had a scruffy race. The Swede threw away a shot at making up ground on Monteiro’s championship lead with a wild lunge on Guerrieri, who returned serve by shoving the Volvo wide which allowed Monteiro to nip through and claim the place.
Rob Huff recovered from a poor qualifying showing to finish seventh in his Münnich Motorsport Citroën ahead of John Filippi, while Tom Coronel and Ryo Michigami – who both started from the back of the grid – rounded out the points’ scoring positions.
|2017 FIA WTCC Race of Argentina – Opening Race Final Classification (11 laps)|
|1.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||19:23.991||IND|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 0.726||IND|
|3.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1.326||IND|
|4.||Tom Chilton*||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 1.573||IND|
|5.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 1.677||MF|
|6.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 2.322||MF|
|7.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||+ 3.668||IND|
|8.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 10.369||IND|
|9.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 10.960||IND|
|10.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 11.379||MF|
|11.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 14.036||IND|
|12.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 21.452||IND|
|13.||Zsolt David Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 22.972||IND|
|14.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 1 lap||MF|
|DNF.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||Puncture||MF|
|DNF.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||Gearbox||MF|
Tom Chilton was awarded a 5-second time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Yann Ehrlacher.
Image via FIA WTCC Media