Race report: Michelisz is King of WTCR as Sepang super-finale delivers thrilling action in Malaysia
Norbert Michelisz is the new King of the WTCR after the 2019 season ended with a thrilling super-finale at the inaugural Races of Malaysia, which featured dramatic action on two and four wheels.
As well as the three highly-charged and dramatic counters that made up the WTCR / OSCARO season decider, the event also included the 8 Hours of Sepang, round two of the FIM Endurance World Championship for motorbikes.
But while YART Yamaha celebrated success on two wheels, it was Hungarian Michelisz who celebrated most on four after his title win on the back of a Race 1 victory and points finishes in races two and three, which were won by Esteban Guerrieri and Johan Kristoffersson respectively.
Guerrieri charged through from ninth to first on the opening lap of Race 2 to keep his title hopes alive by cutting Michelisz’s advantage to 10 points with one race left, which ended in a sensational victory for Kristoffersson – from a staggering P22 on the grid.
SLR Volkswagen driver Kristoffersson prevailed after a jaw-dropping four-way fight for the win, which ultimately cost Guerrieri his shot at the WTCR / OSCARO title. Over the opening laps, the destiny of the title swung between Guerrieri and Michelisz almost by the corner, only for the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda to lose power with a suspected blocked radiator after contact with Azcona forced a trip across the grass in the slippery conditions.
“First of all, I would honestly like to congratulate Esteban because his performances in Race 2 and Race 3 today were unbelievably strong,” said BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse driver Michelisz. “It was a very tough fight, we were going flat out. He had some technical issues and so did I. Before Race 3 it looked like I wouldn’t even start the race. But in the end with the car working at 90 per cent I managed to do the start – and in the end it’s unbelievable. It’s just a huge relief after a long season. We didn’t start off very good, but the second part of the season made up for that. Taking the championship is something I’ve been hoping for a couple of years now.”
How the title battle unfolded in thrilling Race 3
From the beginning, the two title protagonists were locked in a duel as they started from the front row of the grid. Michelisz, on the DHL Pole Position, just lost out at Turn 1 as Guerrieri swept around the outside line, pulling PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona with him into second as the evening drama played out on a wet track under floodlights.
The trio were soon joined by the remarkable Kristoffersson who seemingly came from nowhere to make it a four-way battle and demote Michelisz another place, only for the safety car to be called upon on lap two as Augusto Farfus beached his Hyundai in the gravel.
Racing resumed on lap five as the top four put on an unforgettable spectacle. The key moment was a duel between Guerrieri and Azcona, who tapped the Argentinian. The contact forced the Honda to briefly take to the grass – then Guerrieri reported he was “losing power”. Heartbreakingly, he dropped down the order, only to set the fastest lap of the race once the blockage had cleared.
Guerrieri’s loss meant Michelisz was safe to claim his WTCR / OSCARO crown and he dropped to fifth. Ahead of him Kristoffersson and Azcona were joined by the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR of Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon for a new three-way fight.
Following another brief safety car interruption, the trio scrapped corner by corner until Kristoffersson took a decisive lead from Azcona with an inspired outside pass at the last corner on lap 11. Azcona chased him all the way to the chequered flag on lap 14, with Ceccon completing the podium ahead of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch and a relieved Michelisz. However, a post-race penalty for the incident with Guerrieri dropped Azcona to P14, one place ahead of Malaysian MotoGP star Hafizh Syahrin, who was competing as a wildcard entrant, and gave Vervisch third behind Ceccon.
Michelisz’s BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team-mate and 2018 title winner Gabriele Tarquini finished sixth on the road, only for a 30-second penalty for driving breaches behind the safety car to demote him to P18. Guerrieri’s team-mate Néstor Girolami was promoted to fifth with KCMG’s Tiago Monteiro finishing sixth and Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Thed Björk in seventh. SLR Volkswagen’s Benjamin Leuchter was eighth with Rob Huff, Jean-Karl Vernay, Yvan Muller, Andy Priaulx and Daniel Haglöf next up.
Elsewhere, João Paulo de Oliveira won the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy on his WTCR / OSCARO debut, while the collective efforts of Thed Björk and Yvan Muller were enough for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co to win the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO for Teams. Meanwhile, promising Malaysian wildcard Mitchell Cheah finished a weekend-best P16 in Race 2.
Michelisz began his title-winning weekend by taking the Race 1 laurels from Aurélien Panis – a first-time podium finisher – and team-mate Tarquini. Guerrieri produced a heroic drive to win Race 2 from ninth on the grid ahead of Azcona and Kristoffersson before Kristoffersson delivered his overtaking masterclass to win Race 3 from P22 on the grid.