Jean-Karl Vernay claimed a critical lights-to-flag victory in the opening race on the Wuhan street circuit ahead of Pepe Oriola and Gordon Shedden. With the top-four placed drivers in the FIA World Touring Car Cup standings all failing to score points, the Frenchman brought himself back into the fight for the Drivers’ Championship title.
The WRT Audi driver had earlier qualified on pole position in a session dominated by the grid’s six RS 3 LMS runners. He launched well off the line to keep ahead of Oriola’s Campos Racing Cupra, but there was drama immediately behind when the Comtoyou Racing stablemates Nathanaël Berthon and Denis Dupont came together at Turn 3 and dropped down the order.
That promoted the fast-starting Münnich Motorsport Honda of Yann Ehrlacher into third place, although it would later emerge that the French youngster had jumped the start.Ehrlacher found himself pursued by Vernay’s teammate Gordon Shedden and the (now) lead Comtoyou of Frédéric Vervisch.
The race was soon halted behind the Safety Car when, towards the rear of the field, Boutsen Ginion Racing’s Tom Coronel slammed into the rear of Fabrizio Giovanardi’s Mulsanne Alfa Romeo on Lap 4. The impact launched Giovanardi’s car into the air, ripping the left-rear wheel assembly clean off his car. Coronel limped back to the pits with terminal damage and later admitted that he had completely missed his braking point.
Once the race resumed, Vernay and Oriola began to pull clear and left Ehrlacher to defend third place from Shedden. The former British Touring Car champion battled hard to find a way by the Honda driver and eventually made a successful move down the straight on Lap 12.
The Scot quickly closed in on Oriola’s Cupra but ran out of laps to mount a challenge – his third place marked his maiden podium finish in the WTCR.
Ehrlacher crossed the line in fourth place but was later hit with a 30-second post-race time penalty, which promoted Vervisch’s Audi into the position. He was chased over the line by Aurélien Comte in his DG Sport Peugeot with Kevin Ceccon right behind in the sole remaining Alfa Romeo.
With his teammate Ehrlacher penalised, Esteban Guerrieri was the sole Honda runner to finish in the points in seventh, ahead of a trio of Comtoyou Audis in Berthon, Aurélien Panis and Dupont. For the first time this season, all six Audi runners finished in the points.
By contrast, the usually frontrunning Hyundais look like they will have a weekend to forget thanks to the latest Balance of Performance adjustments that have greatly favoured several rival models. Having shared all of last weekend’s race wins at Ningbo between them, Thed Björk and YMR teammate Yvan Muller could manage no better than 12th and 15th respectively, while championship leader Gabriele Tarquini was 17th and his BRC Racing teammate Norbert Michelisz retired early on.
Vernay’s victory elevated the reigning TCR International Series champion to fifth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings on 193 points behind Tarquini (241), Björk (233), Muller (232) and Michelisz (195).
Qualifying for Sunday’s two races takes place on Sunday morning at 09:00 local time (GMT +8).
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China Wuhan – Race 1 Final Classification (20 laps)|
|1.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||29:29.430||27|
|2.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||20||+ 4.913||20|
|3.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||+ 5.513||17|
|4.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||20||+ 10.070||14|
|5.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||20||+ 11.102||12|
|6.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||20||+ 11.531||10|
|7.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 17.044||8|
|8.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 17.556||6|
|9.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 18.307||4|
|10.||Denis Dupont||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||20||+ 19.060||2|
|11.||Ma Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||20||+ 20.725|
|12.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 21.980|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||20||+ 23.449|
|14.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||20||+ 24.049|
|15.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 26.113|
|16.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||20||+ 26.980|
|17.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||20||+ 27.428|
|18.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 39.613|
|19.||Timo Scheider||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||15||+ 5 laps|
|20.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||14||+ 6 laps|
|DNF.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||13||Retired|
|DNF.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||4||Collision|
|DNF.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||3||Collision|
|DNF.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||3||Driveshaft|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||3||Mechanical|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- Yann Ehrlacher – who provisionally finished 4th – was issued a 30-second post-race time penalty for jumping the start.
Images via FIA WTCR Media