WTCR Sepang: Michelisz closes on title, three drivers in contention

Jack Cozens
Michesliz closes on title, three now in contention
Michesliz closes on title, three now in contention

Norbert Michelisz moved closer to claiming the World Touring Car Cup by winning a wild opening race at Sepang, though his main rivals fought their way into the top six.

The Hyundai driver was barely featured on-screen in the race broadcast, but he cruised to a comfortable fifth victory of the season in changeable conditions to move more than a race win's worth of points clear of nearest rival Esteban Guerrieri.

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Light rain as the cars headed to the grid gave teams a headache over which tyres to fit, particularly when that intensified, though most, including polesitter Michelisz, opted for a combination of slick front tyres and wet rears to deal with the slippery surface.

Officials decided to start the race behind the safety car, though this was called in at the end of the first lap - with Michelisz deciding to hit racing speed halfway down the back straight.

He was pursued by Aurelien Panis, Guerrieri's Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R team-mate Nestor Girolami, and PWR Cupra driver Mikel Azcona to begin with, though Girolami and Azcona soon dropped away after choosing a full-wet tyre selection.

Michelisz duly gapped Panis by two seconds in the opening laps and would end up 2.446 seconds clear of the Comtoyou Cupra driver - who scored his first WTCR podium - at the end of the extended 10-lap race.

Gabriele Tarquini backed up BRC Racing team-mate Michelisz's win by taking third, finishing a distant 7.563s behind Panis, ahead of Guerrieri.

On a dramatic opening lap, Guerrieri fought his way forward from ninth on the grid to seventh thanks to passes on Comtoyou Audi driver Frederic Vervisch and, after a tussle in the third sector, the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce of Ma Qing Hua.

The Argentinian then dived past Augusto Farfus at the first corner at the start of lap three, and past Girolami and Azcona - now struggling for grip - at the Turn 9 hairpin the following lap.

That was the extent of Guerrieri's progress, though the result did limit his loss to Michelisz and also moved him slightly further clear of Yvan Muller, who finished sixth.

Muller made even more impressive progress through the field from his 16th-place starting position, though his progress was thwarted by the KCMG Honda of wildcard driver Joao Paulo de Olivera.

Michesliz closes on title, three now in contention
Michesliz closes on title, three now in contention

The 2010 Formula Nippon champion advanced from 13th to finish fifth, setting the fastest lap in the process, though his wildcard status means he is ineligible for points.

That means Guerrieri sits 27 points behind Michelisz with two races remaining, with Muller - now the final remaining title contender after his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co team-mate Thed Bjork was eliminated from contention - eight further back.

Though Azcona plummeted out of the points, his team-mate Daniel Haglof finished a fine seventh, ahead of double World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson, who started 17th.

Nicky Catsburg (BRC Racing Hyundai) and WRT Audi driver Jean-Karl Vernay completed the top 10, while Vernay's team-mate Gordon Shedden recorded his first points finish since September by finishing 15th.

Race result - 10 laps

Pos

Driver

Team

Car

Gap

1

Norbert Michelisz

BRC Squadra Corse

Hyundai

26m02.896s

2

Aurelien Panis

Comtoyou Cupra

Cupra

2.446s

3

Gabriele Tarquini

BRC Squadra Corse

Hyundai

10.009s

4

Esteban Guerrieri

Munnich Motorsport

Honda

10.878s

5

Joao Paulo de Oliveira

KC Motorgroup

Honda

11.287s

6

Yvan Muller

Cyan Racing

Lynk & Co

12.125s

7

Daniel Haglof

PWR Racing

Cupra

17.213s

8

Johan Kristoffersson

SLR Volkswagen

Volkswagen

20.142s

9

Nicky Catsburg

BRC Racing Team

Hyundai

31.331s

10

Jean-Karl Vernay

WRT

Audi

31.772s

11

Andy Priaulx

Cyan Performance

Lynk & Co

36.466s

12

Mehdi Bennani

SLR VW Motorsport

Volkswagen

37.211s

13

Attila Tassi

KCMG

Honda

40.633s

14

Yann Ehrlacher

Cyan Performance

Lynk & Co

42.004s

15

Gordon Shedden

WRT

Audi

43.183s

16

Benjamin Leuchter

SLR Volkswagen

Volkswagen

45.377s

17

Mikel Azcona

PWR Racing

Cupra

58.401s

18

Ma Qinghua

Team Mulsanne

Alfa Romeo

1m00.734s

19

Mitchell Cheah

Team Engstler

Hyundai

1m03.709s

20

Kevin Ceccon

Team Mulsanne

Alfa Romeo

1m05.014s

21

Niels Langeveld

Comtoyou Audi

Audi

1m07.607s

22

Nestor Girolami

Munnich Motorsport

Honda

1m10.078s

23

Rob Huff

SLR VW Motorsport

Volkswagen

1m17.382s

24

Tom Coronel

Comtoyou Cupra

Cupra

1m20.508s

25

Hafizh Syahrin

Team Engstler

Hyundai

1m24.275s

26

Douglas Khoo

Viper Niza Racing

Cupra

1m36.373s

27

Thed Bjork

Cyan Racing

Lynk & Co

2m02.312s

28

Augusto Farfus

BRC Racing Team

Hyundai

2m22.601s

-

Tiago Monteiro

KCMG

Honda

Retirement

-

Frederic Vervisch

Comtoyou Audi

Audi

Retirement

Drivers' championship

Pos

Driver

Points

1

Norbert Michelisz

0.346

2

Esteban Guerrieri

0.32

3

Yvan Muller

0.315

4

Thed Bjork

0.288

5

Gabriele Tarquini

0.221

6

Yann Ehrlacher

0.211

7

Jean-Karl Vernay

0.202

8

Nestor Girolami

0.201

9

Johan Kristoffersson

0.201

10

Mikel Azcona

0.201

11

Rob Huff

0.197

12

Frederic Vervisch

0.178

13

Nicky Catsburg

0.163

14

Augusto Farfus

0.142

15

Ma Qinghua

0.133

16

Kevin Ceccon

0.133

17

Aurelien Panis

0.122

18

Andy Priaulx

0.117

19

Benjamin Leuchter

0.096

20

Tiago Monteiro

0.095

21

Tom Coronel

0.063

22

Niels Langeveld

0.062

23

Daniel Haglof

0.055

24

Attila Tassi

0.055

25

Mehdi Bennani

0.036

26

Gordon Shedden

0.034

27

Joao Paulo de Oliveira

0.011

28

Robert Dahlgren

0.003

29

Luca Engstler

0.002

Teams' championship

Pos

Team

Points

1

Cyan Racing Lynk & Co

0.603

2

BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse

0.567

3

All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport

0.521

4

Cyan Performance Lynk & Co

0.328

5

BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team

0.307

6

SLR Volkswagen

0.297

7

Team Mulsanne

0.266

8

PWR Racing

0.259

9

Comtoyou Team Audi Sport

0.24

10

Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport

0.236

11

SLR VW Motorsport

0.233

12

Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing

0.185

13

KCMG

0.15

14

KC Motorgroup

0.011


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