Gabriele Tarquini stretched his WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO points lead with victory in a wildly exciting Race 3 at Suzuka as WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan ended in a thrilling climax.
The BRC Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR took the lead at the start, then was passed by fellow Italian Kevin Ceccon. But the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR had been judged to have been incorrectly placed in its grid slot from its DHL Pole Position, and Ceccon was handed a five-second penalty. That allowed Tarquini to shadow the Alfa to the flag in the knowledge he would claim the victory.
“I am sorry for Kevin because he made a fantastic race,” said Tarquini. “They told me of his penalty on the radio, so I let him past. I knew I just had to stay within five seconds to win the race.”
Tarquini had made a great start from the front row beside DHL poleman Ceccon and dived into Turn 1 in the lead. By contrast, the Alfa found itself shuffled down on the outside line, Ceccon passed by second-row starters Yann Ehrlacher and Aurélien Comte.
But Race 1 winner Ceccon clearly had speed in hand to make up for his poor start. He demoted Comte at the end of the first lap, then was quickly past Ehrlacher on lap two.
It was on lap five that news broke of his penalty. Tarquini, aware of Ceccon’s speed as well as his punishment, allowed him through into the lead on lap seven and kept him in range to secure what could be a vital victory for the WTCR OSCARO title, with his advantage now 39 points with three races remaining in Macau next month.
Ceccon was classified third, behind Comte. Ehrlacher lost what appeared to be a certain podium with a loss of power in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR and retired on lap seven.
Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani claimed fourth in his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR after passing Comtoyou Racing’s Aurélien Panis on the last lap at Spoon corner, but it was the action behind these two that really grabbed attention.
A train of cars led by ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri kept the enthusiastic Suzuka crowd enthralled with wheel to wheel dicing. Guerrieri had muscled his way past Yvan Muller’s Hyundai on lap three in a move that also allowed Pepe Oriola’s Team OSCARO by Campos Racing Cupra TCR to get past. The trio were joined by Race 2 winner Rob Huff, BRC’s Norbert Michelisz and Comtoyou’s Frédéric Vervisch in a battle that was impossible to predict.
Oriola was eventually handed a drive-through penalty for cutting the chicane on several occasions, Guerrieri slid out of contention with a big moment at the fast 130R left-hander on lap nine and moments later Muller found himself pushed out at the chicane after contact with Michelisz. He dropped down the order and out of the race, gifting Tarquini an even bigger advantage in their title duel.
The action left Huff to claim sixth ahead of Vervisch and the YMR Hyundai of Thed Björk, up to eighth place from his P13 grid position. Michelisz recovered from his moment with Muller to finish ninth, ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay.
Comeback hero Tiago Monteiro just missed out on a points finish on his return, with P11. He was ahead of Team OSCARO by Campos Racing’s John Filippi and ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider.
Via FIA WTCR