Pepe Oriola broke through to claim his and Cupra’s first FIA World Touring Car Cup race win at the Slovakia Ring, crossing the line ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay and pole-sitter Gabriele Tarquini.
One of the form drivers in the mid-season with four podium finishes so far, the Spaniard emerged as a genuine challenger for victory just seconds after the starting lights went out.
With his fellow Hyundai runners kicked to the back of the grid for excessive boost settings in qualifying, Tarquini was on his own at the front of the 26-car grid. His reputation for lightning getaways deserted him today as he fluffed his start and dropped to fourth place on the run to Turn 1.
Aurélien Comte in the DG Sport Peugeot 308TCR was the chief beneficiary. The French youngster blasted off the line from his front row starting position to lead the chasing pack – headed by Oriola and Vernay – through the opening high-speed complex of corners.
The pace at the front was frenetic and Comte could not hold back either Oriola or Vernay, passed by the former at the start of Lap 2 and by the latter just two corners later.
The two YMR Hyundais of Yvan Muller and Thed Björk were steady progress from their back-of-the-grid starting positions, although the same could not be said of Tarquini’s teammate Norbert Michelisz who would ultimately retire his BRC Racing i30 at the end of the penultimate lap.
Another driver carving his way through the field was none other than Fabrizio Giovanardi in the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo. The 51-year-old’s Giulietta has been a largely uncompetitive prospect for much of the season, but the veteran driver found the car to his liking today. Starting from twelfth on the grid, he had progressed into the top six by the end of the second lap.
Back at the front of the field, Tarquini made short work of Comte to move into third place. Ahead of him, Oriola was building a gap to Vernay, although his advantage came to an end when the Safety Car was called on Lap 5 so Frédéric Vervisch’s abandoned Comtoyou Racing Audi could be safely retrieved from the side of the circuit at Turn 10.
Oriola got the jump on the field at the restart – quickly receiving a warning from race officials for slowing the pack up too much before the green flags – and moved clear of Vernay and Tarquini once more.
Giovanardi continued his progress, passing Yann Ehrlacher’s Honda on Lap 8 and closing up to Comte’s Peugeot. The young Frenchman fought hard to keep the former champion behind him, eventually prevailing.
Ehrlacher finished sixth to take 10 points off Muller’s championship lead, with the veteran and teammate Björk finishing out of the points in twelfth and thirteenth positions respectively. Tarquini’s victory vaulted him to second overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings, just five points behind Muller.
Tom Coronel finished seventh in his Boutsen Ginion Honda ahead of the remaining Comtoyou Racing Audis of Denis Dupont (scoring his first points of the season), Aurélien Panis and Nathanaël Berthon who completed the top ten.
Qualifying for Race 2 and 3 takes place today at 15:10 local time (GMT +2), with the reversed-grid second race following at 19:00. The weekend’s final race takes place at 11:45 on Sunday.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Slovakia – Race 1 Final Classification (11 laps)|
|1.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||11||26:24.640||27|
|2.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||11||+ 1.734||20|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||11||+ 2.734||17|
|4.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||11||+ 5.525||14|
|5.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||11||+ 5.573||12|
|6.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||11||+ 7.357||10|
|7.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||11||+ 7.725||8|
|8.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||11||+ 8.190||6|
|9.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||11||+ 8.993||4|
|10.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||11||+ 9.813||2|
|11.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||11||+ 11.557|
|12.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||11||+ 12.383|
|Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||11||+ 12.594|
|14.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||11||+ 13.395|
|15.||Petr Fulin||Fullin Race Academy||11||+ 13.767|
|16.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||11||+ 14.019|
|17.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||11||+ 15.569|
|18.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||11||+ 15.856|
|19.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||11||+ 22.247|
|20.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||11||+ 22.917|
|21.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||11||+ 24.338|
|22.||Andrej Studenic||Brutal Fish Racing||11||+ 24.575|
|23.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||10||Mechanical|
|24.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||9||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||6||Suspension|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||3||Mechanical|
* Post-Race Penalties:
Images via FIA WTCR Media