Yvan Muller claimed his first win of the new FIA World Touring Car Cup, coming out on top in an enthralling four-way scrap for victory in the opening race at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
After he was beaten to pole position by teammate Thed Björk to the tune of just 0.079 seconds in Thursday’s earlier qualifying session, Muller was in no mood to follow in the Swede’s wheeltracks.
As sunset approached and the starting lights went out, Muller ran side-by-side with Björk on the downhill run to Turn 1 and squeezed his way ahead through the chicane. Norbert Michelisz slotted his BRC Racing Team Hyundai into third place ahead of Rob Huff in the Sébastien Loeb Racing VW Golf.
Trouble struck just behind in the upper midfield as the two Boutsen Ginion Racing Hondas of Tom Coronel and Benjamin Lessennes made light contact at Turn 1, which forced the latter wide. As Lessennes rejoined the circuit, he collected the Münnich Motorsport Honda of Yann Ehrlacher and tipped the young Frenchman into a half-spin. Ehrlacher’s teammate Esteban Guerrieri also came to grief through this complex after he too was tipped into a spin by Gabriele Tarquini.
Huff managed to force his way past Michelisz into third as the field exited the Grand Prix circuit and there began his desperate pursuit of the two YMR Hyundais.
Behind the top four, Jean-Karl Vernay led the Audi charge in fifth. Tarquini found himself sandwiched between the RS 3 LMS models, with youngster Frédéric Vervisch giving the championship leader’s rear bumper plenty of attention. The young Belgian ran side-by-side with the veteran on the long Döttinger Hohe straight, with Tarquini making a rare and costly error by crashing out at the chicane.
Vervisch’s own race would last barely another half-lap before he too was out with smoke emanating from the front of his Comtoyou Racing Audi.
The main focus of the race was a thrilling four-way battle for the lead between Muller, Björk, Huff and Michelisz. Huff – who later described the race as the “most exciting” of his career – looked to have a pure pace advantage over the three heavier Hyundais through the Nordschleife’s twists and turns, but Muller and Björk somehow seemed to have just enough in hand along the long blast down Döttinger Hohe to keep the Briton at bay.
The final lap saw Björk hone in on the back of Muller and draw alongside his teammate along Döttinger Hohe, while Huff simultaneously tried to attack the pair and keep Michelisz at bay.
Muller held firm in the end, crossing the finish line just 0.3 seconds clear of Björk. The top four were covered by just 1.2 seconds.
Vernay finished a fine fifth ahead of teammates René Rast and Gordon Shedden, who both made up impressive ground after each was handed a 10-place grid drop after qualifying in the top-ten. Pepe Oriola finished eighth in his Campos Racing Cupra, overtaking the Boutsen Ginion Hondas of Coronel and Lessennes on the final lap.
Qualifying for Saturday’s two races takes place on Friday evening at 17:35 CEST (GMT +2).
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Germany – Race 1 Final Classification (3 laps)|
|1.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||3||27:08.139||25|
|2.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||3||+ 0.331||18|
|3.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||3||+ 0.853||15|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||3||+ 1.288||12|
|5.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||3||+ 8.112||10|
|6.||René Rast||Audi Sport Team WRT||3||+ 8.581||8|
|7.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||3||+ 13.468||6|
|8.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||3||+ 18.134||4|
|9.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||3||+ 18.573||2|
|10.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||3||+ 18.672||1|
|11.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||3||+ 19.343|
|12.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||3||+ 25.367|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||3||+ 25.816|
|14.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||3||+ 26.205|
|15.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||3||+ 31.087|
|16.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||3||+ 31.916|
|17.||Kris Richard||KCMG||3||+ 32.728|
|18.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||3||+ 33.750|
|19.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||3||+ 34.286|
|20.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||3||+ 35.420|
|21.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||3||+ 51.677|
|22.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||3||+ 52.428|
|DNF.||Gianni Morbidelli||Mulsanne SRL||2||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||1||Engine|
|DNF.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||0||Accident|
|DNS.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport|
* Post-Race Penalties:
Images via FIA WTCR Media