WTCR Race 2 flash: Vernay heads home hero Engstler for Hyundai Elantra 1-2
Jean-Karl Vernay gave the all-new Hyundai Elantra N TCR a first WTCR victory in Race 2 at WTCR Race of Germany as he led Luca Engstler home for a memorable Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team 1-2 Nürburgring Nordschleife.
While Vernay and Engstler led the 22-car pack throughout the three-lap race following a hectic opening two corners, there was frustration for third fastest qualifier Esteban Guerrieri before the start when his Honda failed to fire up for the warm-up lap and he was pushed off the grid once the field had departed to take the start from the pitlane. His absence left a big gap on the second row.
Vernay got the drop on pole position starter Girolami on the run to Turn 1 as the Argentine driver defended hard against Engstler, but could not stop the Hyundai moving up to second. Behind them, Santiago Urrutia was hit up the back by Gabriele Tarquini, leaving rear bodywork from the Lynk & Co flapping. Then out of Turn 2 there was drama: Norbert Michelisz and Mikel Azcona made contact, the Hungarian was hit by Rob Huff who in turn had been taped by Andreas Bäckman’s Hyundai. Azcona’s Cupra was left broadside and Bäckman was left with nowhere to go and ran into the Spaniard. All four drivers were out of the race, as was Tarquini.
Vernay led Engstler at the end of lap one, ahead of Girolami, Urrutia, Attila Tassi, Yvan Muller and Nathanaël Berthon, while Frédéric Vervisch had a big grassy moment. There was misfortune for fellow Audi driver Tom Coronel too, who dropped down the order after a trip through a gravel trap on lap two.
Tassi passed Urrutia for fourth place on lap two, as Engstler continued to shadow team-mate and leader Vernay on to the third and final lap. At Döttinger Höhe for the final time Engstler drafted up to Vernay and looked set to pass, only to fall back into line and dutifully follow the Frenchman across the finish – although an emotional radio message after passing the chequered flag indicated the young German’s disappointment at a team call for the pair to hold their positions.
“At some points I was lucky to have my team-mate with me so we could work together,” said a satisfied Vernay. “He has fantastic potential. I had a little problem with the brakes, but it’s a perfect finish to the weekend and a fantastic start to the season. I’m only focusing on the title.”
Engstler put a brave face on his obvious disappointment. “I’m very happy, it’s my first WTCR podium and I worked so hard for this,” he said. “Racing is not always easy and I need to calm down a bit.”
Behind the Engstler Hyundais, pole position starter Girolami held on to third place despite an investigation into his defence against Engstler at the start. “Unfortunately they showed their pace today which they didn’t in qualifying,” said the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda driver. “Today it was clear and it was really disappointing. I couldn’t follow them, they were too fast.”
Tassi finished fourth in his Honda, ahead of Urrutia and Berthon in the first of the Audis. Muller finished seventh ahead of Race 1 winner Tiago Monteiro, with Gilles Magnus (Audi) and King of WTCR Yann Erhlacher (Lynk & Co) rounding out the top 10.
Tom Coronel finished where he started in P11 despite his moment in the gravel. Guerrieri scored points in P12 following his problems at the start and a penalty for a team member working on the car as the field pulled away on the warm-up lap. Bence Boldizs scored Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy’s first points in P13 in his CUPRA Leon Competición and the final classified finisher was WTCR debutant Jessica Bäckman in her Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR, becoming the first female to score points in the series.