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Nathanaël Berthon takes first WTCR victory as Honda team-mates squabble

In mixed conditions, Nathanaël Berthon took the first World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) victory of the day at the Slovakiaring, but the real story came from the eventual battle for fourth.

Having run in dry conditions on Saturday, wet weather was forecast for Sunday’s races, presenting the opportunity of a leveller for the teams and drivers who struggled for pace yesterday, such as championship leader Yann Ehrlacher.

Teams and drivers arrived at a circuit which was bright and sunny, but damp from an overnight downpour. With the track threatening to dry out, teams were left with an uncertain tyre choice to make.

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This quickly became apparent from the selection of Goodyear tyres on each car, with most drivers opting for slicks on the front axel and wet weather tyres on the rear.

Polesitter Berthon struggled to put the power down off the line, opening the door for Nicky Catsburg to draw alongside him on the inside. The leading pair tip-toed there way around the first couple of corners side-by-side, with the track eventually bending in Catsburg’s favour at turn three.

Meanwhile, Catsburg’s team-mate Luca Engstler didn’t have as fortunate a start. Contact with Tiago Monteiro left his Hyundai hobbled and out of contention straight away.

Further back, Thed Björk – who had gone for a full set of wet weather tyres on his Lynk & Co – had climbed up to thirteenth from twenty-first on the grid after just two laps. However, with the track drying rapidly, the Swede soon plummeted back down the order as his tyres began to degrade.

Unsurprisingly, Björk was soon into the pitlane for a full set of slicks, but the damage to his race strategy had already been done.

BRC Racing’s Nicky Catsburg suddenly found himself out of lead and down to third place on lap three, with Berthon and Gabriele Tarquini moving ahead of him at the first corner of the lap.

It wasn’t too long before Team Mulsanne’s Jean-Karl Vernay would get by the wayward Hyundai either, as the Dutchman wrestled his car to try and keep the rest of the pack behind him.

In the end, it took a brave move on the outside line in sector two for title contender Néstor Girolami to pass Catsburg as well. From then on, the floodgates opened, and a potential victory quickly slipped away out of Catsburg’s hands.

Berthon, meanwhile was having a much less stressful time out in front. With a string of fastest laps to his name, the Frenchman was looking untouchable in these conditions.

On full slicks, Thed Björk perhaps would’ve been a match for him though, with the Swede eventually lapping the circuit more than a second faster than anybody else. But with a huge deficit to make up after having to stop in the pits, his pace wouldn’t have any real tangible impact.

With the final lap approaching, some key positions began to change hands. In the battle for fourth place, the state of play at Münnich Motorsport became somewhat farcical. Girolami was in good stead to make a dent into Yann Ehrlacher’s championship lead, but instead of acting as a rear-gunner, the Argentine’s team-mate Esteban Guerrieri appeared to be going on the offensive.

Girolami quickly got on the radio to ask whether he would have to defend his position from Guerrieri, to which his team engineers assured him he wouldn’t. However, by turn three on the final lap, Guerrieri had muscled his way past.

A clear break-up of communication, Girolami’s status as Honda’s best-placed driver in the championship seemed to be of irrelevance to Guerrieri, who narrowly lost out in the title fight last year.

The loss of points for Girolami was at least mitigated by the rapidly-progressing Mikel Azcona, who slid past Yann Ehrlacher at turn one for eighth.

Unaware of the drama behind him however, Berthon crossed the line to take the first race victory of his WTCR career after what was an impressive drive.

Tarquini emerged as the runner-up having started the race from fifth, while Jean-Karl Vernay rounded out the podium in his Alfa Romeo.

Fourth and fifth positions would have to suffice for Guerrieri and Girolami, but an inquest would undoubtedly be on the cards at Münnich Motorsport after how the final lap played out.

Next up, Tom Coronel and Gilles Magnus made it a pair of Audis in sixth and seventh place, ahead of Mikel Azcona in eighth who put together one of the more visually spectacular performances in this race.

Ehrlacher climbed five positions in order to limit the points damage well in ninth, while Norbert Michelisz wound up in tenth.

Having taken the lead early on, Nicky Catsburg eventually came home in seventeenth place, just behind the Renault of Aurélien Comte, following a spin in the latter part of the race.

Race result

1 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 9 21:01.373 2:17.317 1
2 30 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai i30 N TCR 9 3.054 2:18.277 5
3 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR 9 7.266 2:19.010 3
4 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 7.822 2:18.672 9
5 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 8.987 2:18.888 7
6 31 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 9 9.543 2:17.984 8
7 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR 9 12.554 2:19.326 4
8 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición 9 13.951 2:19.361 17
9 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR 9 14.638 2:19.641 14
10 1 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai i30 N TCR 9 15.149 2:19.580 6
11 9 Attila TASSI ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 16.153 2:16.670 16
12 25 Luca FILIPPI Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR 9 16.347 2:19.056 11
13 18 Tiago MONTEIRO ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 17.448 2:19.270 12
14 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR 9 18.506 2:16.865 13
15 12 Santiago URRUTIA Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 03 TCR 9 21.031 2:19.393 10
16 34 Aurélien COMTE Vuković Motorsport Renault Mégane RS TCR 9 29.776 2:20.130 20
17 88 Nicky CATSBURG Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR 9 33.402 2:21.107 2
18 22 Petr FULÍN VEXTA DOMY CUPRA Leon Competición 9 48.187 2:21.786 18
19 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 03 TCR 9 1:17.290 2:15.663 21
20 99 Gábor KISMARTY-LECHNER Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición 9 1:32.502 2:26.247 22
R 55 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición 8 DNF 2:22.734 15
R 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR 2 DNF 18:44.624 19
WTCR points deficit after Round 5
Graphic: TouringCars.Net
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