WTCR Race 1 flash: Berthon clinches first victory in all-action Slovakia opener
Nathanaël Berthon scored his first victory in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup despite losing the lead from the DHL Pole Position in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Slovakia.
The Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS driver spent the first two corners of the race running side by side with fellow front row starter Nicky Catsburg, before the Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR took the lead at Turn 3. But Catsburg soon started to struggle on a damp track that was drying quickly and Berthon swept into the lead on lap three to claim victory number one of his WTCR career.
“Congratulations to the team, the car was amazing,” he said. “The start was not good because I was starting on the wet side of the track, but it could have been worse. Finally! Now I have to focus on my job for the rest of the day. I feel great on this track.”
Gabriele Tarquini rose from fifth on the grid to finish second in his BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay’s Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris, as Catsburg faded to a lowly P17 by the flag.
“Ninety per cent of the grid was on the same tyres,” said Tarquini, explaining how most chose slick Goodyears on the front and wet-weather tyres for the rear. “It was very exciting and very slippery at the start. I was looking to attack and took two positions in one braking at Turn 3, which was the key moment of my race.”
Vernay was delighted with his first podium for Romeo Ferraris. “It was a very difficult race, but we managed it well,” said the Frenchman. “I only lost one position from the start on the wet side of the grid, which was cool, but we managed P3. I’m super-happy for the team, they deserve this. Hopefully it won’t be our last podium of the day.”
Behind the podium finishers, there was controversy in the battle for fourth place. Néstor Girolami, who is second in the standings for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, held the position in his Honda Civic Type R TCR, but was concerned about his team-mate Esteban Guerrieri who closed in from ninth on the grid. He sought assurance on the radio that his countryman wouldn’t challenge him, but Guerrieri surprised by muscling his way past, demoting his friend and title contender down to fifth.
“Unfortunately, we lost points in the championship,” said Girolami on the team radio after the chequered flag. “Everything is not clear with the team. I was told he would not attack. I will speak to him. If we want to win the championship we need to be clever. I am really frustrated.”
Behind the Hondas, Tom Coronel was sixth – up from eighth on the grid – in his Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport entry, ahead of WTCR Rookie Driver contender and team-mate Gilles Magnus.
Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Yann Ehrlacher made up positions and points from P14 on the grid to finish ninth in his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR. He now leads Girolami by 27 points.
King of WTCR Norbert Michelisz rounded out the top 10 in his BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai i30 N TCR. The top 15 was completed by Attila Tassi (Honda) in P11, Luca Filippi (Alfa Romeo), Tiago Monteiro (Honda), Yvan Muller (Lynk & Co) and Santiago Urrutia (Lynk & Co) in P15.
Race 2 at WTCR Race of Slovakia is scheduled to begin at 12h45 local time.