WTCR Sepang: Michelisz closes on title, three drivers 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

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

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.

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.

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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WTCR Sepang: Michelisz adds to points lead by taking both poles

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Series WTCR
Author Jack Cozens
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