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.
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.
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)|
|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||Comtoyou Racing||14||+ 8.586|
|12.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||14||+ 8.896|
|13.||Gianni Morbidelli||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||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||Mulsanne SRL||10||Collision|
|23.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||10||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||8||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||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