WTCR Race 1 flash: Girolami beats Azcona at Vallelunga
Néstor Girolami headed Mikel Azcona to win Race 1 at WTCR Race of Italy in an incident-packed Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi encounter.
The victory marks a second of the season for Girolami in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR, as Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Azcona extended his advantage at the top of the standings.
Pole position starter Girolami and Azcona ran side by side through the first three corners before the Honda-powered driver made sure he held the lead into Turn 4. From there, Azcona chased Girolami all the way to the finish.
Behind them, the five Lynk & Cos withdrew from the race at the end of the formation lap, citing “tyre safety concerns”.
Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport’s Nathanaël Berthon passed Norbert Michelisz for third on the opening lap, with Gilles Magnus also moving up to fourth. Berthon closed on Girolami and Azcona to make it a three-way fight for the lead.
On lap seven both Mehdi Bennani, running sixth, and Tiago Monteiro, running 11th, picked up tyre damage and were forced to pit. Then on lap 12 Berthon went off at Turn 2 with front-left tyre damage, elevating Magnus to third.
The Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition safety car interrupted the action with eight minutes of the 30-minute plus one lap race to go, to allow debris to be cleared from the track. A two-lap sprint to the finish then played out, with Girolami just doing enough to fend off Azcona, with Magnus heading Michelisz to compete the podium.
“First of congratulations to the team and Honda for all their work,” said Girolami. “It started two months ago when we tested here in preparation, so I’m really happy and grateful. It was really tough at the start because I knew Mikel was on the driving line, so I expected him to have better traction and it was like that. I kept the momentum in the first corner which was in my favour, and he was not able to close the door. That was the key of the race. Then following a car in these hot conditions is just impossible because it raises the temperature so much.
“When I saw the safety car I thought, okay, maybe he can cool the engine and attack. It was okay. After Turn 5 I noticed Acona coming really fast, much faster than before, so perhaps his engine performance was much better at that point.”
“That was tough, especially at the beginning,” said Azcona. “I tried my best, I was better at the start than Girolami but I couldn’t overtake him. I just wanted to finish the race. When I saw the safety car come out I was more relaxed because I felt the front tyres were on the limit and we had three laps to cool the tyres a little bit. The goal was to finish.”
“This must have been one of the toughest races for me,” said Magnus. “I went out of the car and felt completely dizzy. But good points from eighth on the grid. We can be very happy. I had some luck with my team-mate ahead of me, but I did some nice overtakes at the start. I went around the outside of two cars and passed Michelisz.”
Attila Tassi claimed fifth place in his LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler Honda, ahead of WTCR Trophy winner Tom Coronel’s Audi. Esteban Guerrieri slowed on the last lap in a cloud of smoke, losing what would have been fifth place. He managed to cross the line in seventh.
Rob Huff went off with tyre damage in the wake of Berthon’s moment and picked up an advertising hoarding on the front of his Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición. He pitted for fresh Goodyears and recovered to finish eighth, with Berthon, Bennani and and Monteiro also coming back to score points from ninth to P11.
The result lifts Girolami to second in the provisional standings, 31 points behind Azcona. “I’m super-happy because we keep the title fight alive,” said Girolami. “This is what we needed. We keep going and now we need to score in Race 2.”
Race 2 at WTCR Race of Italy is due to begin at 17h10.