The 2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup made its way to the historic Vila Real circuit in Portugal for Rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the season won by Yvan Muller, Mat’o Homola and Thed Bjork.
In Qualifying for Race 1 on Saturday, it became evident from practice that Hyundai teams were back on the pace after Compensation Weight moved the model of reference from the Hyundai to Honda. However, the Volkswagen Golf GTi’s were also up for the streetfight.
Whilst Gabriele Tarquini and Norbert Michelisz once again wrung out the best they could from the i30 N TCR, it was the Yvan Muller Racing duo of Yvan Muller and Thed Bjork who started to set the fastest times while Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani also staked their claim for pole position.
At the end of the 40-minute qualifying session, it was Huff and Bennani who locked out the front row for Sebastien Loeb Racing while Michelisz and Yann Ehrlacherin in the Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic secured the second row. Bjork and Muller locked out Row 3.
“Brilliant,” said a delighted Huff. “Congratulations to the Sebastien Loeb Racing team. What a performance, to lock out the front row by such a tiny margin. We stayed out of trouble and away from the walls. I am so pleased for myself and for Mehdi.”
In the Race 1 though, events took a dramatic turn. As the 27 car field made its way towards Turn 3, both Huff and Bennani were disputing for the lead when they collided as Huff moved ahead. It resulted in a massive pile up bringing out the red-flag.
After lengthy repairs, the race restarted with 17 cars on the grid as Muller made a good start to take an unbeatable lead. He negotiated the mandatory ‘joker’ lap then and saw-through the race comfortably while also taking over the points lead, thanks to the misfortune of his title rivals.
“It was a long race,” he said, referring to the lengthy delay between the accident and the restart. “Okay, it’s a victory and I’ll take the points, but it’s not really a victory. Rob was the fastest driver today.”
Munnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri finished second while the final podium position saw further drama on the last lap. BRC Racing Team Hyundai’s Gabriele Tarquini suddenly slowed on the approach to the finish line.
That allowed Campos’ Pepe Oriola to claim the final podium position as the top rookie, while Tarquini clung on to finish fourth. Jean-Karl Vernay, who had started from the pitlane finished fifth in his Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team Audi RS 3 LMS. He could have been fourth, only for Oriola to jump him with a strong move while Vernay completed his joker.
The three stage Qualifying session on Sunday had no Huff, Bennani and James Thompson despite an all-night effort to repair their cars. And so 24 cars made it through which again saw the Hyundais, Hondas and Audis tussling for pole position.
Gordon Shedden secured Race 2 reverse-grid pole with Muller only managing second. For Race 3, Bjork pulled out a sub two minute lap to take pole with Michelisz, Tarquini, Oriola and Ehrlacher completing the Top 5.
In Race 2, Shedden led the way initially from Muller, however the Peugeot 308 TCR of Mato Homola proved to be the surprise package as he pushed the Frenchman hard in the early stages. Once again the Joker lap played its part.
Shedden cut a chicane in the early laps and was handed a five second penalty, which meant when he took the Joker, he was on the backfoot. Homola took his Joker on Lap 9, forcing Muller to go a lap later.
The Slovakian still stayed ahead of Muller to take his first WTCR win and the second for DG Competition, with the Frenchman in second as Oriola completed the podium. Vernay was fourth ahead of Michelisz.
Meanwhile, Race 3 saw Bjork putting up a dominant performance as he disappeared into the distance while Oriola took the fight to both Michelisz and Tarquini. Race 2 winner Homola once again showed supreme pace in the Peugeot, joining in the podium fight.
Bjork survived several safety car periods and used a strategic early joker lap to keep his nose in front of the field. Behind the podium fight, it was Panis and Muller locked in a battle with Audi’s Vernay and Shedden for a place in the Top 10.
In the end, Bjork secured the win, leading a Hyundai 1-2 ahead of Tarquini as Michelisz completed the podium from Oriola and Homola. The drivers’ standings changed course as Muller now holds the position with 182 points.
Munnich Motorsport’s Yann Ehrlacher, who came into the weekend as the leader, sits third with Tarquini taking second even though both are tied on 160 points. Bjork climbed up to fourth with 148 points while Vernay rounds the Top 5 with 146 to his name.