Jean-Karl Vernay secured victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race on the streets of Macau, after both the Audi driver and the chasing Hyundai of Yvan Muller got past the Volkswagen pole-sitter Rob Huff on the first lap.
Although Huff proved to be the fastest over a single lap on Friday, at the start of the race he was immediately under pressure from Muller, who was third on the grid, and Vernay from fourth.
Muller blasted past Huff through the high-speed second corner at Mandarin, with Vernay getting into the slipstream of his fellow Frenchman and following through past the Brit, leaving Huff in third by the time they got to Turn 3 at Lisboa.
There was little Huff could do to fight back thereafter in the narrow, uphill old town part of the track, and the safety car was then called on for lap two as Huff’s Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Mehdi Bennani was hit and spun into the barriers, although he was able to continue.
After the brief race neutralisation, the action resumed on lap three and Vernay was able to use the top-speed advantage of his Audi to pass Muller for the lead at Mandarin.
Vernay then had enough of a straight-line advantage in the high-speed parts of the circuit to hold off his chasing rivals for the rest of the race, with even a mid-race stoppage, caused when team-mate Gordon Shedden crashed into the barriers and blocked the circuit at Police bend, not giving the WRT driver cause for concern.
“It was a good race, I’m really happy,” said Vernay. “I had to work a lot. Last week [the team] prepared the car really well and it works – we play with our tools.
“The plan was to make a good start and then ask for a safety car and it happened. Afterwards I just had to make no mistakes and do my job like I know.
“It’s great; I had a lot of pressure from Yvan and Rob and they are obviously much quicker in the old town with a lighter car.
“The job is not finished – I’m already focussed on tomorrow, so I cannot really show happy I am!”
By finishing in second, Muller has narrowed his points deficit to series leader Gabriele Tarquini to 33 points, with the duo being the only two who can now lift the title as there are just 55 points on offer in Sunday’s final two races of the season.
Huff completed the podium in third, unable to add to his record Macau win tally, although he will get another two chances on Sunday, including starting from pole once again in the final race.
Tarquini took fourth after jumping up on the opening lap, ahead of BRC Racing team-mate Norbert Michelisz in fifth.
Esteban Guerrieri was the leading Honda driver in sixth, the Münnich Motorsport driver finishing ahead of Campos Racing’s Pepe Oriola in seventh, with the duo exchanging positions several times in the final few laps.
Münnich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider scored his first-ever WTCR points in eighth, ahead of Team Mulsanne’s fellow first-time scorer Luigi Ferrara in ninth and DG Sport’s Mat’o Homola completing the top ten.
Only one driver succumbed to the infamous circuit on the first lap, with Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon caught up in the Lisboa accident between Frédéric Vervisch and Mehdi Bennani.
Campos Racing’s John Filippi was spun into the barriers by Ma Qing Hua on lap three exiting Lisboa, whilst Shedden’s accident, which stopped the race for almost 20 minutes, caused the Scot’s non-finish together with Macanese local Kevin Tse.
Race two gets underway at 08:20 local time on Sunday (00:20 GMT, 01:20 CET) followed by race three at 11:00 local time (03:00 GMT, 04:00 CET).
|1||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||Audi RS3 LMS||10||46:07.189||2:31.325||4|
|2||48||Yvan MULLER||YMR||Hyundai i30 N TCR||10||0.516||2:31.369||3|
|3||12||Rob HUFF||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||10||0.881||2:31.038||1|
|4||30||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||10||6.523||2:32.623||7|
|5||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||10||8.488||2:32.027||6|
|6||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||10||9.297||2:32.239||2|
|7||74||Pepe ORIOLA||Team Oscaro by Campos Racing||CUPRA TCR||10||9.923||2:32.115||9|
|8||42||Timo SCHEIDER||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||10||10.594||2:32.293||10|
|9||16||Luigi FERRARA||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||10||11.725||2:32.437||17|
|10||70||Mat’o HOMOLA||DG Sport Compétition||Peugeot 308 TCR||10||12.373||2:32.622||16|
|11||11||Thed BJÖRK||YMR||Hyundai i30 N TCR||10||12.968||2:32.634||15|
|12||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||Audi RS3 LMS||10||13.437||2:32.252||8|
|13||9||Tom CORONEL||Boutsen Ginion Racing||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||10||16.408||2:32.994||18|
|14||68||Yann EHRLACHER||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||10||17.058||2:32.870||28|
|15||25||Mehdi BENNANI||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||10||17.671||2:33.126||5|
|16||21||Aurélien PANIS||Comtoyou Racing||Audi RS3 LMS||10||19.138||2:33.158||20|
|17||7||Aurélien COMTE||DG Sport Compétition||Peugeot 308 TCR||10||21.048||2:34.185||19|
|18||60||Filipe Clemente DE SOUZA||Champ Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||10||28.145||2:35.156||24|
|19||23||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou Racing||Audi RS3 LMS||10||28.461||2:31.887||13|
|20||36||LO Kai Fung||Tian Shi Zuver Team||Audi RS3 LMS||10||45.842||2:38.203||26|
|21||89||André COUTO||MacPro Racing Team||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||10||1:32.801||2:36.983||23|
|22||20||Denis DUPONT||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||Audi RS3 LMS||9||+ 1 LAP||2:34.578||21|
|23||8||Norbert NAGY||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA TCR||8||+ 2 LAPS||2:43.035||22|
|R||55||MA Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||7||DNF||2:33.755||14|
|R||52||Gordon SHEDDEN||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||Audi RS3 LMS||4||DNF||2:32.998||27|
|R||28||Kevin TSE Wing Kin||Teamwork Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||4||DNF||2:50.089||25|
|R||27||John FILIPPI||Team Oscaro by Campos Racing||CUPRA TCR||3||DNF||3:48.376||12|
|R||31||Kevin CECCON||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||1||DNF||N/A||11|
|NS||77||LAM Kam San||Champ Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||6||Rui VALENTE||PCT Racing Team||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||66||Zsolt Dávid SZABÓ||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|