AUTÓDROMO JOSÉ CARLOS PACE, SAO PAULO | Daniel Serra started the 2018 Stock Car season the same way as he finished last year: on front. The reigning champion won the opening round, called “Corrida de Duplas” alongside Joao Paulo de Oliveira, this Saturday in Interlagos.

It’s true that they started on pole, but it wasn’t an easy day for them. That’s because Oliveira was one of the few invited drivers who started the race. Most of the grid opted to put the regular Stock Car driver for the first laps.

And Oliveira’s situation worsened just after the green flag when the downpour arrived. The race was then red flagged and restarted, behind safety-car, almost 30 minutes later.

After the restart, Cesar Ramos quickly rose from sixth to first, and Oliveira, thanks to his inexperience, dropped down by the order. The Super GT veteran, however, put some impressive defensive moves and was in the mix when the driver change started.

That was the moment when the game changed. Serra climbed on car number 29 and, thanks to quick pit-stop by RC team, he was second among who already pitted – Laurens VanthoorRicardo Zonta’s teammate – was the leader.

At lap 19, a crash between Robin Frijns and Antonio Pizzonia brought the yellow flag. Once again it was a heartbreak for Ramos, the quickest man through free practices but who was unable to set a time in Friday qualifying’s Q3 after a puncture. With the safety-car, his big lead was gone, and Kelvin van der Linde, his teammate, emerged from the pits only in third.

After the restart, Serra passed Vanthoor and opened a small gap between him and Rubens Barrichello, who overtook Vanthoor and Van der Linde.

But the former F1 driver was unable to challenge Serra, who took the checkered flag first. Barrichello was second, after an impressive stint from Filipe Albuquerque, his pair, in the opening laps. On the podium, the Brazilian veteran was very emotional after being hospitalized in late January.

Ramos and Van der Linde finished third, followed by Ricardo Mauricio and Felipe Nasr. Three of the top four started the race with the invited driver, showing that it was the winning strategy.

Zonta/Vanthoor completed the top-5, followed by Max Wilson/Felipe Giaffone, Marcos Gomes/Pipo Derani (the only Cimed‘s car in top-10), Allam Khodair/Alan Hellmeister, Rafael Suzuki/Jean-Karl Vernay and Guilherme Salas/Mariano Altuna.

In his first race after his F1 retirement, Felipe Massa finished 13th. Reigning Formula E champion but Stock Car rookie, Lucas Di Grassi had a troubled day. He crashed on turn 1 on the first lap and blamed poor visibility caused by the rain.

Stock Car’s next round will be held in Curitiba on April 8th.

By Felipe Giacomelli