Norbert Michelisz took a controlled win in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race at the Nürburgring Nordschleife after jumping pole-sitter Esteben Guerrieri at the start and pulling clear to the chequered flag.
The BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse driver started alongside championship leader Guerrieri’s Münnich Motorsport Honda on the front row and converted that into the lead when the starting lights went out.
The Hungarian led the field through the Grand Prix loop of the circuit before pulling a two-second lead by the end of the opening lap and controlled proceedings thereafter to claim his first victory of the season and reignite his own championship campaign.
“My last couple of starts were pretty bad, so I guess one [time] out of five, you can do it!” a delighted Michelisz said after securing victory. “We did some improvements on the car and I think this was the key to today’s race, especially the start. I’m incredibly happy for the team because the car was fantastic.”
Despite possessing better straightline speed due to the aerodynamics of his Honda Civic Type-R, Guerrieri couldn’t reel Michelisz in over the three-lap race and had to settle for second place, consolidating his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Completing the podium was his teammate and compatriot Néstor Girolami, who provided plenty of thrills with a hard-fought drive to third place. Girolami had fallen to fourth after being passed by Comtoyou Audi driver Frédéric Vervisch and the Argentine driver’s attempts to recover the position from the Belgian were initially sustained by some defensive driving by the Belgian down the two-kilometre Döttinger Höhe straight.
As the pair ran side-by-side at over 260km/h, they created a double-slipstream for the chasing SLR VW Motorsport Gold GTI of Rob Huff. The Briton showed his year of racing experience by neatly passing the pair of them before Tiergarten to move into third place, before Girolami nipped by Vervisch as well.
With Michelisz and Guerrieri having pulled clear, the final lap featured two key battles: could Huff hold off Girolami for the final podium position, and could Vervisch keep a train of cars at bay and retain fifth place?
Three drivers who wouldn’t feature in either battle were former touring car champions Yvan Muller (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co), Gordon Shedden (WRT Audi) and Gabriele Tarquini (BRC Hyundai), who had all retired.
Muller found himself victim of a Turn 1/2 scrum on the opening lap, copping a hit from Huff and retiring with broken steering. A lap later at the same chicane, Shedden was out with similar damage after banging wheels with the PWR Racing Cupra of Daniel Häglof, leading to the retirement of both drivers.
Tarquini – who had never finished a touring car race at the Nordschleife – continued his terrible record at this iconic circuit. The defending champion had climbed as high as fifth by the opening lap, but slowed on Lap 2 and pulled into the pits with damaged steering.
Girolami kept right in Huff’s tow at the beginning of Döttinger Höhe and drew alongside the Briton. The raced side-by-side for almost two kilometres, with the buffeting air flow from their cars seeing them repeatedly bang wheels in a titanic scrap where incredibly neither car sustained any race-ending damage.
Girolami eventually got by to complete the podium, while Vervisch cross the line in fifth ahead of a queue of cars including Yann Erlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) and Nürburgring expert Benjamin Leuchter (SLR Volkswagen).
BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team duo Augusto Farfus and Nicky Catsburg completed the five-car queue in eighth and ninth respectively, overtaking Johan Kristofferson’s SLR Volkswagen on Lap 2.
The WTCR Race of Germany continues on Saturday with Race 2 scheduled for 11:00 and Race 3 at 12:20 local time (GMT +2) before the running of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring endurance race.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Germany – Race 1 Final Classification (3 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||3||27:16.025||25|
|2.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||3||+ 1.762||20|
|3.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||3||+ 3.741||16|
|4.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||3||+ 4.041||13|
|5.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||3||+ 7.036||11|
|6.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||3||+ 7.239||10|
|7.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||3||+ 7.354||9|
|8.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||3||+ 7.514||8|
|9.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||3||+ 7.816||7|
|10.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||3||+ 8.656||6|
|11.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||3||+ 8.975||5|
|12.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||3||+ 9.480||4|
|13.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||3||+ 13.529||3|
|14.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||3||+ 14.248||2|
|15.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||3||+ 16.823||1|
|16.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||3||+ 17.115|
|17.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||3||+ 17.459|
|18.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||3||+ 17.625|
|19.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||3||+ 18.125|
|20.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||3||+ 19.083|
|21.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||3||+ 19.323|
|22.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||3||+ 31.020|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Antti Buri (WC)||AS Racing||2||Damage|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||2||Steering|
|DNF.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||0||Collision|
- The top fifteen classified finishers (excluding wildcard entries) and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- Gordon Shedden will serve a five-place grid penalty for Race 2 for causing an avoidable collision with Daniel Häglof.
Images via FIA WTCR Media
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