Esteban Guerrieri showcased his masterful wet-weather prowess to claim victory in a crash-hit Opening Race of the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s maiden visit to the new Ningbo International Speedpark.
As has been the case for the entire event, persistent rain lashed the Chinese circuit, forcing the reversed-grid race to be started from behind the Safety Car.
The go-ahead to race was given on Lap 4, with polesitter Yann Ehrlacher leading the field in his LADA Vesta ahead of John Filippi’s Citroën, which was hotly pursued by Nicky Catsburg’s Polestar Volvo and Guerrieri’s Chevrolet.
As Ehrlacher tip-toed his way through the puddles to build an early lead, Guerrieri harassed the battling pair of Filippi and Catsburg. The Argentine privateer found his way past Catsburg on Lap 6 and Filippi a lap later, passing each with a deft lunge at Turn 2.
Guerrier’s countryman and Néstor Girolami was already sidelined by that point, pulling his Polestar Volvo into the pits for attention and repairs in the hope he would not jeopardise his hard-fought pole position for the upcoming Main Race.
Girolami would be joined by his teammate Thed Björk, who retired his car at the end of the seventh lap with broken suspension. The Swede’s car was damaged by a coming together with the Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of Mehdi Bennani.
Bennani wouldn’t be the only SLR Citroën in the wars, however. The Moroccan’s teammate Tom Chilton was being hotly pursued by the Münnich Citroën of Rob Huff, who had overtaken WTCC returnee Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda at the end of an entertaining two-lap battle.
The conditions proved too much for Huff, who lost control under braking and hit Chilton. Both Citroëns had race-ending damage and were stranded on the side of the circuit, forcing officials to scramble the Safety Car which served to wipe out Ehrlacher’s hard-earned lead.
Racing resumed on the tenth lap with Guerrieri now up to second place. He quickly disposed of Ehrlacher with his now-customary move at Turn 2 to take the lead, easing away to claim his second race win of the season.
Ehrlacher was left to fend off the sole remaining Volvo of Catsburg for second place, but the Dutchman was unable to stay with the French youngster and dropped back.
Further behind, Filippi fell from fourth to sixth after being overtaken by the factory Hondas of Norbert Michelisz and Tarquini – the former grabbed vital championship points to move to 13 adrift of teammate Tiago Monteiro, who is absent this weekend as he continues his recovery from a heavy test crash.
Ehrlacher’s RC Motorsport teammate Kevin Gleason finished a career-best seventh in his LADA Vesta, narrowly holding off the Zengõ Motorsport Honda of Dániel Nagy.
Ryo Michigami finished ninth from the back of the grid in the third factory Honda ahead of WTCC returnee Filipe de Souza, who scored his first ever points’ finish in RC Motorsport’s third LADA.
|2017 FIA WTCC Race of China – Opening Race Final Classification (15 laps)|
|1.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||33:29.509||IND|
|2.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 2.893||IND|
|3.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 11.671||MF|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 17.409||MF|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 17.840||MF|
|6.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 23.760||IND|
|7.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 24.522||IND|
|8.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 24.946||IND|
|9.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 26.334||MF|
|10.||Filipe de Souza||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 27.243|
|11.||Zsolt David Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 39.340||IND|
|12.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 2 laps||IND|
|NC.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 5 laps||MF|
|DNF.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||Collision||IND|
|DNF.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||Collision||IND|
|DNF.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||Collision||IND|
|DNF.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||Mechanical||MF|
Image via FIA WTCC Media