Yann Ehrlacher claimed his second FIA World Touring Car Cup victory of the 2018 season with a controlled drive in the opening race at Zandvoort.

The Münnich Motorsport Honda driver made a better getaway than pole-sitter Rob Huff as the lights went out and was never headed, managing two Safety Car restarts to perfection to keep the field at bay.

The drama on the starting grid proved to be an entrée for further action on the opening lap. Benjamin Lessennes and local wildcard Prince Bernhard van Oranje both blatantly jumped the start, while a poor getaway from Huff meant he was a sitting duck to Ehrlacher on the sprint to the Tarzan corner.

Perhaps the best start of all was made by series rookie Aurélien Comte. The French youngster started from seventh place, but had a clear path to snatch second place as those ahead of him all tried to cover each other off on the inside line to Tarzan. Comte swept his DG Sport Compétition Peugeot around the outside and slotted in behind Ehrlacher.

2018 FIA WTCR Race of Netherlands - Race 1 start

While Ehrlacher got the jump on Huff to claim the lead at the start, Comte’s mega getaway propelled him into second place.

As the tightly-bunched midfield funneled through the opening corners, Norbert Michelisz – who started 19th in his BRC Racing Hyundai thanks to a five-place grid penalty carried over from the previous round at the Nürburgring – triggered the race’s major incident.

Running side-by-side with championship leader Yvan Muller as they exited Hugenholtzbocht, Michelisz appeared to drift wide into Muller’s path. The two Hyundais locked wheels, and with damaged steering they both careered into the barriers, with Muller dramatically mounting the Armco.

It was not the first time that the pair had locked horns this season, and the FIA Stewards handed the Hungarian a 10-place grid penalty for causing avoidable contact.

The race was neutralised behind the Safety Car before officials sensibly elected to red flag the race to allow for the recovery of both cars and repairs to the barriers.

Half an hour later and the race returned to action, and with the field released by the Safety Car Ehrlacher and Comte bolted clear of the pursuing Huff.

Comte’s challenge lasted a matter of corners before he fell back towards Huff’s VW Golf GTI and Gordon Shedden in the lead WRT Audi.

Aurelien Comte, DG Sport Compétition Peugeot 308 TCR - 2018 FIA WTCR Race of Netherlands

Comte belied his inexperience and his Peugeot 308 TCR’s lack of competitiveness to keep Huff and Shedden at bay.

Drive-through penalties were announced for the jump-starting van Oranje and Lessennes, but this was seemingly not communicated to Comtoyou Audi driver Frédéric Vervisch who tried to pass Lessennes for fifth and then went out of the race when the Belgian forced him off-track at Marlborobocht.

Comte’s slower pace allowed Huff and Shedden to be closed up by the latter’s teammate Jean-Karl Vernay, who had broken clear of Esteban Guerrieri in the second Münnich Motorsport Honda.

Huff briefly came under attack from Shedden, who tried to divebomb the Brit into Tarzan but carried too much speed to make the move work. This allowed Huff to reclaim third position in a matter of seconds.

The field was bunched for a final time thanks to a collision between Fabrizio Giovanardi and Zsolt Szabó, which saw the latter force the Italian off-track at the exit of Tarzan before Giovanardi’s Alfa Romeo was then sent into the barriers on the approach to Hugenholtzbocht.

Once again Ehrlacher found himself pursued by Comte at the restart, and over the remaining two lap sprint to the chequered flag the two Frenchmen ran in close company. Ehrlacher prevailed by barely a second, with Huff crossing the finish line in third place.

Shedden finished a career-best fourth ahead of teammate Vernay. Guerrieri was sixth, ahead of crowd favourite Tom Coronel in the Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda.

Huff’s SLR stablemate Mehdi Bennani finished eighth, while Comtoyou Racing Audi drivers Nathanaël Berthon and Aurélien Panis completed the points finishers.

With Michelisz and Muller out on the opening lap, they were joined by fellow Hyundai runner Gabriele Tarquini just a few laps later; the Italian retired with as yet unspecified mechanical issues. That left reigning WTCC title-winner Thed Björk as the sole i30 N TCR driver on track, with the Swede finishing a lowly 14th.

Qualifying for Monday’s two races takes place that morning at 08:30 CEST (GMT +2).

2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Netherlands – Race 1 Final Classification (14 laps)
Driver Team Laps Result Pts
1. Yann Ehrlacher ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 14 54:46.280 25
2. Aurélien Comte DG Sport Compétition 14 + 1.217 18
3. Rob Huff Sébastien Loeb Racing 14 + 1.566 15
4. Gordon Shedden Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team 14 + 1.879 12
5. Jean-Karl Vernay Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team 14 + 2.440 10
6. Esteban Guerrieri ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 14 + 5.280 8
7. Tom Coronel Boutsen Ginion Racing 14 + 5.816 6
8. Mehdi Bennani Sébastien Loeb Racing 14 + 6.665 4
9. Nathanaël Berthon Comtoyou Racing 14 + 7.044 2
10. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Racing 14 + 8.120 1
11. Denis Dupont be Comtoyou Racing 14 + 8.586
12. James Thompson ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 14 + 8.896
13. Gianni Morbidelli it Mulsanne SRL 14 + 9.383
14. Thed Björk MRacing – YMR 14 + 9.918
15. John Filippi Team OSCARO by Campos Racing 14 + 10.371
16. Zsolt Dávid Szabó Zengõ Motorsport 14 + 11.022
17. Norbert Nagy Zengõ Motorsport 14 + 12.440
18. Mat’o Homola DG Sport Compétition 14 + 13.216
19. Benjamin Lessennes be Boutsen Ginion Racing 14 + 13.424
20. Michael Verhagen Bas Koeten Racing 14 + 15.384
21. Bernhard van Oranje Bas Koeten Racing 14 + 16.364
22. Fabrizio Giovanardi it Mulsanne SRL 10 Collision
23. Pepe Oriola es Team OSCARO by Campos Racing 10 Mechanical
Not Classified Team Laps Result
DNF. Gabriele Tarquini it BRC Racing Team 8 Mechanical
DNF. Frédéric Vervisch be Audi Sport Team Comtoyou 3 Collision
DNF. Norbert Michelisz* BRC Racing Team 0 Collision
DNF. Yvan Muller MRacing – YMR 0 Collision

* Post-Race Penalties:

  • Norbert Michelisz was awarded a 10-place grid penalty for Race 2 for colliding with Yvan Muller on Lap 1.

Images via FIA WTCR Media

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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.