Following a brilliant strategic call by Münnich Motorsport, Esteban Guerrieri won the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the day in remarkable fashion.
Throughout the weekend, Honda have struggled for outright pace, and a dire performance in qualifying had left the championship contender down in sixteenth on the grid.
All hopes of challenging points leader Yann Ehrlacher had seemingly been thrown out of the window. However, on a slippery, moist surface, the team elected to put wet weather tyres on Guerrieri’s rear axle, which in turn gave him all the grip he needed to charge up through the field.
“It’s crazy actually, it was a crazy start to the day,” Guerrieri said. “It’s sunny but this track, we knew when we came here in March that it’s got some similar conditions like this and we were wondering why it takes so long to dry. Now, it was kind of the same thing, so okay let’s do it [go for a mixed compound tyre set-up].
“In the warm-up laps coming out from the pits, I was with wets on the rear and I had cars in front with full slicks, and they couldn’t drive it. So, I was like, ‘this cannot be so quick to dry’ because there was spray on the track and everything.
“So then we went to the grid, we gathered together, and we said ‘look, there is nothing to lose here, we better gamble this, we know that this track is extreme on drying slowly’ – even though the Sun was scorching the tarmac!
“But still, we did the right strategy. Obviously it was not easy because everyone [of us] was starting from out of the top ten. So yeah, we climbed the order and were smooth on the overtaking, trying not to get any hits or anything. We kind of just kept pushing until mid-way, three quarters through the race in case the track got dryer or there was a safety car and so on.
“But in the end we knew we had it in the bag, and Néstor [Girolami] let me by on the last lap, [I’m] obviously very thankful to him. We did a team strategy, as I need the points.
“It’s going to be very difficult to be honest [to close the gap to Ehrlacher], but at least these five points, it’s important. Obviously it’s his [Girolami’s] win, but the points in the end is what matters. And yeah, we are very happy with the 1-2.
“We have very small weapons to fight this weekend, because we know that the others have a gun and we probably have a knife, but we still play very well with our concentration, our heads.
“We played it smart and it played out, so yeah, I’m very thankful to the team, to Honda – it’s a win, I’m very, very happy!”
However, it could all so easily have gone wrong for them. The team left it until the very last possible moment to swap the two cars, creating anxieties about whether or not they would miss the chance if a safety car was deployed.
In a rather heart-in-mouth moment, fellow Honda stablemate Tiago Monteiro lost a wheel with just a few laps to go, but luckily a yellow-flag period was avoided.
Although he acknowledged that there was a certain level of risk involved, Guerrieri seemed relatively content with how the team’s strategies transpired.
“In the end it was what it was,” he said. “There probably was a small risk there, but we had a big gap.
“It could have happened but obviously when you get a safety car, you extend [the race distance by] two laps, so it was probably better to do that [the position swap] two or three laps from the end, but in the end it was fine and it paid off, so yeah, very happy with that.”
Heading into race two, which starts at 13:15 CEST (12:15 GMT), the deficit between Ehrlacher and Guerrieri is now down to just sixteen points. However, while Ehrlacher will be starting from ninth on the grid, Guerrieri has a mountain to climb from all the way down in eighteenth.