Yvan Muller took a controlled lights-to-flag victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race on the streets of Macau.
The Frenchman led away arguably the calmest race start on the Guia street circuit in years, heading up Norbert Michelisz’s BRC Hyundai and Muller’s Cyan teammate Andy Priaulx.
The gap between the top two generally sat at around half a second, but with Michelisz set to move 18 points clear of erstwhile points leader Esteban Guerrieri, an all-or-nothing move for the lead never seemed likely.
It proved to be a frustrating opening race for the Argentine following his grid penalty; he ran the majority of the race in the low twenties before heading into the pits on the penultimate tour of the 3.8-mile circuit.
And so Muller duly took the chequered flag to register his third victory of the season and bolster his own title aspirations by 0.4s over Michelisz, but the battle for the final spot on the rostrum took on a whole new complexion.
Having lost fourth to Kevin Ceccon’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta at the start, Cyan’s Yann Ehrlacher dropped back to release teammate Thed Bjork into sixth shortly after, the team game at the Chinese outfit clearly to prioritise their two title contenders.
Priaulx looked on course for a first podium of the campaign, but slowed coming out of the final corner to allow Ceccon into third, ‘Macau King’ Rob Huff (SLR VW) into fourth and – crucially – Bjork into fifth, before settling for sixth at the flag.
Victory for Muller does, however, mean he leap-frogs Bjork into third overall, 36 points adrift of Michelisz; the Swede’s deficit to top spot is 47.
The team’s efforts also helped maintain their advantage over BRC in the Teams’ stakes with five races left to run, the gap now 23 markers.
Frederick Vervisch’s Comtoyou Audi – a race winner in Macau in ’18 – was arguably the quickest man out on circuit at several points during the 8-lap encounter and made progress through to seventh.
At one stage the Belgian looked to have the measure of Bjork thanks to a handy slipstream, but ultimately he was forced to remain behind heading into Lisboa.
Ehrlacher eventually wound out eighth, with the Hyundai duo of Gabriele Tarquini and Nicky Catsburg (both BRC) rounding out a well-matched top ten.
By Macau standards, it proved to be a calm start to the weekend, though the race didn’t pass without incident.
The first involved three cars off at Lisboa, with Jean-Karl Vernay’s WRT Audi RS 3 LMS heading off down the escape road before being joined shortly after by the PWR CUPRA of Mikel Azcona and Benjamin Leuchter’s SLR VW, though all three managed to continue.
The same could not be said for Niels Langeveld’s Audi and Ma Qing Ha’s Alfa Romeo after suspected contact at the same corner a few laps later.
So, the balance of power in the title fight shifts to Michelisz, but expect plenty of fireworks when the action continues at 00:45 (UK time) on Sunday.
|1||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||8||20:30.047||2:32.745||1|
|2||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||Hyundai i30 N TCR||8||0.405||2:32.441||2|
|3||31||Kevin CECCON||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||8||1.644||2:32.274||4|
|4||12||Rob HUFF||SLR VW Motorsport||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||8||2.153||2:32.179||7|
|5||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||8||2.882||2:31.929||6|
|6||111||Andy PRIAULX||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||8||3.169||2:32.375||3|
|7||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||8||3.397||2:31.800||11|
|8||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||8||4.704||2:32.400||5|
|9||1||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||Hyundai i30 N TCR||8||4.918||2:32.173||8|
|10||88||Nicky CATSBURG||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||8||5.921||2:32.429||12|
|11||14||Johan KRISTOFFERSSON||SLR Volkswagen||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||8||6.576||2:32.679||15|
|12||21||Aurélien PANIS||Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing||CUPRA TCR||8||8.174||2:32.366||18|
|13||2||Robert DAHLGREN||PWR Racing||CUPRA TCR||8||10.155||2:32.898||13|
|14||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R TCR||8||12.134||2:32.842||17|
|15||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||KCMG||Honda Civic Type R TCR||8||12.946||2:32.779||14|
|16||6||Luca ENGSTLER||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||8||13.543||2:32.419||22|
|17||25||Mehdi BENNANI||SLR VW Motorsport||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||8||13.967||2:32.792||19|
|18||9||Attila TASSI||KCMG||Honda Civic Type R TCR||8||20.708||2:33.348||20|
|19||96||Mikel AZCONA||PWR Racing||CUPRA TCR||8||27.199||2:32.948||10|
|20||50||Tom CORONEL||Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing||CUPRA TCR||8||28.746||2:33.662||23|
|21||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||8||34.821||2:32.109||16|
|22||33||Benjamin LEUCHTER||SLR Volkswagen||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||8||40.324||2:32.995||9|
|23||36||Billy LO Kai Fung||Tian Shi Zuver Team||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||8||45.767||2:35.512||25|
|24||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R TCR||7||1 Lp.||2:33.328||26|
|R||10||Niels LANGEVELD||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||5||DNF||2:33.203||21|
|R||55||Ma QING HUA||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||5||DNF||2:33.146||24|
|NS||19||Jim KA TO||KC Motorgroup||Honda Civic Type R TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||52||Gordon SHEDDEN||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||98||James TANG Chi Lun||Team TRC||Honda Civic Type R TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||59||Kwai Wah WONG||Son Veng Racing Team||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||97||Terence TSE Kin Leung||Team TRC||Honda Civic Type R TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|
|NS||99||Arthur LAW Tia Fan||Team TRC||Honda Civic Type R TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|