Esteban Guerrieri has reclaimed the lead of the FIA World Touring Car Cup standings with victory in the opening race at Suzuka.
With no less than 21 drivers given various grid penalties ahead of Race 1 – including provisional pole-winner Tiago Monteiro – Guerrieri inherited pole position with his main title rivals Norbert Michelisz and Yvan Muller starting well down the order.
The Argentine did not make the best of getaways as the starting lights went out, leaving the Münnich Motorsport Honda driver to fend off the Comtoyou Team Audi Sport duo of Niels Langeveld and Frédéric Vervisch on the run to Turn 1.
A small wobble for Guerrieri through Turn 2 was all the invitation Langeveld needed to sneak into the lead, although the Dutch driver’s run at the front proved short-lived. At the end of the second lap, he drifted wide through the final corner, with the loss of momentum proving enough for Guerrieri to claim the race lead down the start/finish straight.
Further down the order, Michelisz was struggling to make much headway after his grid penalty and a slow start dumped him outside the top-twenty, but fellow rival Muller was making rapid progress and had climbed into the points-paying positions after less than half a dozen laps, with his cause further aided by a brief Safety Car triggered by the retirement of Vervisch who pulled off the circuit with a front-left puncture.
The racing action resumed on Lap 10, with Guerrieri and Langeveld quickly breaking clear of the rest of the field. Third-placed Monteiro was asleep at the restart and spent the next laps frantically defending against Thed Björk (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co) and Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen Golf).
Muller continued to make progress and now ran on the fringes of the top ten, with team orders getting him ahead of nephew Yann Ehrlacher. Further behind, Michelisz moved his BRC Racing Hyundai into the points, but unable to find a way by Ehrlacher’s teammate Andy Priaulx he elected to let his own teammate Nicky Catsburg ahead to attack the Guernseyman.
On Lap 22 Catsburg managed to get a slipstream down the start/finish straight and made a late dive for the inside under braking for Turn 1. Priaulx tried to cover him, but was hit from behind by the Dutchman and sent spearing into the barriers.
Catsburg quickly let Michelisz past before the Safety Car was called back into action so Priaulx’s car could be extricated from the gravel. Priaulx was understandably furious with Catsburg, and despite pleas from the marshals, he stood at the side of the track at Turn 1 and waved his fist at Catsburg as the field toured behind the Safety Car.
It was clear that Priaulx’s car would not be recovered in time for the race to restart, and so it finished under Safety Car conditions with Guerrieri taking victory ahead of Langeveld, who claimed his maiden WTCR podium. Monteiro crossed the line in third place ahead of Björk, Kristoffersson and Jean-Karl Vernay (WRT Audi).
Gabriele Tarquini was lead Hyundai in seventh ahead of the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo pairing of Kevin Ceccon and Ma Qing Hua, with Rob Huff (SLR Volkswagen) rounding out the top ten.
Muller finished in eleventh place, with Michelisz in thirteenth, but the latter couldn’t prevent Guerrieri from taking a 13-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings ahead of Sunday’s two races.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan – Race 1 Final Classification (26 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||26||26:36.701||25|
|2.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||26||+ 0.460||20|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||26||+ 1.602||16|
|4.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||26||+ 1.991||13|
|5.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||26||+ 2.400||11|
|6.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||26||+ 3.699||10|
|7.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||26||+ 5.208||9|
|8.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||26||+ 5.842||8|
|9.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||26||+ 8.091||7|
|10.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||26||+ 8.566||6|
|11.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||26||+ 9.990||5|
|12.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||26||+ 10.865||4|
|13.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||26||+ 11.700||3|
|14.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||26||+ 13.207||2|
|15.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||26||+ 14.250||1|
|16.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||26||+ 14.589|
|17.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||26||+ 15.310|
|18.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||26||+ 16.476|
|19.||Ryuichiro Tomita (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||26||+ 17.109|
|20.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||26||+ 17.949|
|21.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||26||+ 18.883|
|22.||Jim Ka To (WC)||KCMG||26||+ 20.266|
|23.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||26||+ 42.857|
|24.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||23||+ 3 laps|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||21||Accident|
|DNF.||Ritomo Miyata (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||14||Handling|
|DNF.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||7||Puncture|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||6||Puncture|
|DNF.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||6||Damage|
- 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.
- Nicky Catsburg – who was provisionally classified P14 – was issued a drive-through penalty (applied as a 30-second post-race time penalty) for causing an avoidable collision with Andy Priaulx.
- Andy Priaulx was fined €1000 for gesticulating to Nicky Catsburg after their collision and officially reprimanded for crossing the white line at the pit exit during the starting procedure. As a result of earning his third reprimand of the season he will serve a 10-place grid penalty for Race 2.
- Esteban Guerrieri was given an official reprimand for not respecting the maximum distance of five car lengths to the Safety Car.
- Niels Langeveld was given an official reprimand and two penalty points to his racing license for conducting two extra reconnaissance laps before joining the dummy grid.
- Frédéric Vervisch was given an official reprimand and one penalty point to his racing license for conducting one extra reconnaissance lap before joining the dummy grid.
- Kevin Ceccon was given an official reprimand and one penalty point to his racing license for conducting one extra reconnaissance lap before joining the dummy grid.
Text and images via FIA WTCR Media