WTCR Saudi Arabia: Hero to zero for Berthon as series comes to a close

Nathanael Berthon won the first World Touring Car Cup race in Jeddah, only to crash out in the second, as Nestor Girolami clung on to the runner-up spot as the series drew to a close.

WTCR Saudi Arabia: Hero to zero for Berthon as series comes to a close

On a weekend when the curtain came down on the WTCR in Saudi Arabia, where Mikel Azcona clinched the title during qualifying on Saturday, Comtoyou Audi driver Berthon led the first of the two night races all the way from pole position as BRC Hyundai’s Norbert Michelisz chased him.

The Hungarian made a number of attacks before tyre and brake wear forced him to back off and defend from Franco Girolami.

The younger brother of Nestor Girolami had been waved past fellow Comtoyou Audi driver Tom Coronel, who was struggling with understeer, to challenge Michelisz for second. He tried a move up the inside of Turn 1 on the penultimate lap, but the Hyundai blocked and Michelisz kept the place despite being pushed wide through the chicane.

Franco Girolami then handed back third place to Coronel on the run to the flag for the veteran Dutchman’s first podium finish of the season.

“Norbi was not doing any mistakes, he was putting me under pressure until the end,” said Berthon. “The race is very long, it was a lot of pressure and with one mistake he would have overtaken me.”

Behind the top four, new champion Azcona engaged in a tight battle with Gilles Magnus. Azcona’s Hyundai had lost three places on the first lap after a poor launch, to Coronel, Nestor Girolami and Magnus, before the race was briefly neutralised for a safety car after Attila Tassi struggled to find a gear on the grid.

Once racing resumed Azcona passed Magnus when the Belgian ran wide, only for the Audi to pull a great move back at Turns 1 and 2. Azcona retaliated, knocking Magnus sideways further around the lap, only for the RS3 LMS to move back ahead and secure fifth place.

Race winner Gilles Magnus, Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS

Race winner Gilles Magnus, Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS

Photo by: WTCR

Magnus picks up final WTCR race win

Tassi led the partially reverse-grid second race from pole position and survived a scare at the start of the second lap, when Esteban Guerreri outbraked himself while challenging into Turn 1 and spun. But a lap later Tassi was under attack again.

Franco Girolami, running third in his Audi, made a move on BRC Hyundai’s Nicky Catsburg for second – and wiped out both Tassi and the driver he was trying to pass. All three retired from the race.

The incident allowed Magnus to inherit the lead he would not lose as he claimed his third win of the season, just two weeks after causing his team a major headache by taking out former Comtoyou team-mate Mehdi Bennani in a collision in Bahrain.

“Man, did I need this,” said a delighted Magnus. “For the team, for myself, for my confidence. We’ve been through tough times. Bahrain was tough. This was exactly what I needed to end the season.”

Comtoyou’s wildcard entry, Macedonian Viktor Davidovski, had started on the front row with Tassi but made a poor start and dropped to sixth – then gained back all his lost positions through the incidents ahead of him. He held off champion Azcona to score a remarkable podium finish and complete a team 1-2.

Behind Azcona and Michelisz, Berthon duelled with returning Zengo Motorsport driver Rob Huff in an attempt to earn enough points to depose Nestor Girolami from second in the points – but could not find a way past.

Then on lap 18 Berthon made a move up the inside at the final turn and the two cars made heavy contact, which broke the Audi’s right-front-wheel. Girolami, who finished eighth, was confirmed as the series runner-up as the final WTCR race ended in anti-climax under a safety car.

WTCR Saudi Arabia - Race Results

Race 1

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Gap Interval
1 France Nathanael Berthon Audi 28    
2 Hungary Norbert Michelisz Hyundai 28 1.869 1.869
3 Netherlands Tom Coronel Audi 28 4.573 2.704
4 Franco Girolami Audi 28 5.758 1.185
5 Belgium Gilles Magnus Audi 28 9.430 3.672
6 Spain Mikel Azcona Hyundai 28 10.054 0.624
7 Netherlands Nick Catsburg Hyundai 28 15.311 5.257
8 Viktor Davidovski Audi 28 15.616 0.305
9 United Kingdom Rob Huff CUPRA 28 16.576 0.960
10 Argentina Nestor Girolami Honda 28 28.840 12.264
11 Argentina Esteban Guerrieri Honda 28 29.661 0.821
12 Ahmed Khaled Audi 28 37.052 7.391
13 Portugal Tiago Monteiro Honda 28 40.153 3.101
  Hungary Attila Tassi Honda 23    
  Hungary Daniel Nagy CUPRA 18    

Race 2

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Gap Interval
1 Belgium Gilles Magnus Audi 22    
2 Viktor Davidovski Audi 22 0.464 0.464
3 Spain Mikel Azcona Hyundai 22 0.932 0.468
4 Hungary Norbert Michelisz Hyundai 22 1.314 0.382
5 United Kingdom Rob Huff CUPRA 22 1.570 0.256
6 Netherlands Tom Coronel Audi 22 1.788 0.218
7 Hungary Daniel Nagy CUPRA 22 2.217 0.429
8 Argentina Nestor Girolami Honda 22 3.030 0.813
9 Portugal Tiago Monteiro Honda 22 3.621 0.591
10 Ahmed Khaled Audi 22 5.057 1.436
11 Argentina Esteban Guerrieri Honda 22 6.309 1.252
  France Nathanael Berthon Audi 16    
  Franco Girolami Audi 3    
  Hungary Attila Tassi Honda 3    
  Netherlands Nick Catsburg Hyundai 3    
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WTCR Saudi Arabia: Azcona crowned champion as Berthon takes pole
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WTCR Saudi Arabia: Azcona crowned champion as Berthon takes pole

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