After a few seasons of strife, Tiago Monteiro took a hugely popular victory in the first race of the 2021 FIA World Touring Car Cup season. In a race that will go down as a WTCR classic, the Honda veteran played his cards right at just the perfect moment, while everyone else around him engaged in fierce battles.
However, with early morning mist still lingering in the air, it was Yvan Muller who led the field onto the Grand Prix loop from pole position.
Gabriele Tarquini made a lightning-quick start as ever from a couple of rows further back on the grid, while Hyundai team-mate Norbert Michelisz bogged down. Monteiro hung on in between the pair of them, and as the cars approached turn one, inevitable contact was made.
Michelisz slid wide as a result, but kept going albeit having dropped to ninth. Plus, as Monteiro had also been compromised, Santiago Urrutia passed the Portuguese ace for fourth on the inside line at Dunlop-Kehre.
Meanwhile, Luca Engstler was another driver who lost out in the early stages. After starting from seventh place on this reversed grid, the young German found himself battling down with Mikel Azcona at the bottom end of the top twenty.
Heading onto the Nordschleife, the drivers were treated to a difficult damp, low-grip track surface. On relatively cold tyres, discretion would certainly be the best part of valour in this instance.
However, this was no time to roll off the pace, as although much of the lap would be completed in single file, the long Döttinger Höhe straight would provide a brilliant overtaking opportunity for anyone within distance of an aerodynamic pull.
This proved to be the case for the recovering Michelisz who was able to drag by Hyundai stablemate Jean-Karl Vernay for eighth place. Attila Tassi, meanwhile, also managed to snatch thirteenth from the fast-starting Rob Huff.
At the front, Tarquini closed right up to the leading Cyan Racing pair of Muller and Yann Ehrlacher, forcing Ehrlacher to defend into turn one. As such, the 24 year-old narrowly avoided contact with his race-leading uncle as he slightly missed the braking zone.
Huff would then fall another place further back, this time to 2017 World Champion Thed Björk at the Valvoline-Kurve.
Ehrlacher was then forced into a well-held save at Metzgesfeld, as Tarquini made contact with the rear of his Lynk & Co 03 TCR as the cars closed up in the braking zone.
At this stage, the Hyundai Elantra was clearly the quicker of the two cars, and Tarquini showcased exactly that through the long uphill run on the inside line through Kesselchen.
Having dispatched with Ehrlacher, Tarquini and a six-car train then latched onto the back of Muller for the race lead.
Onto the Döttinger Höhe, Tarquini pulled out of the slipstream but the two veterans ran side by side for the entirety of the two-kilometre straight.
As the track curved to the left, it was Muller who was the first to concede position, but then as Tarquini ran wide at Tiergarten, the Frenchman reclaimed the lead.
Then, the Italian was swamped by the onrushing Lynk & Cos. Ehrlacher dived to the outside, while Urrutia took to the inside at turn one. All of them missed their braking point though, and so it was Monteiro who came out of it all in second place.
Urrutia was through into third at least, and contact on the apex of turn two between Tarquini and Ehrlacher allowed Esteban Guerrieri through into fourth as well on the outside. Néstor Girolami attempted to follow his team-mate, but the momentum of Tarquini and Ehrlacher carried them into his path, leading the Argentine to take avoidance onto the grass.
In the meantime, Michelisz had capitalised on the inside and moved up to fifth, while further round the lap, the compromised Girolami came under threat from Tom Coronel and Vernay at the Dunlop-Kehre. The race two polesitter managed to fend off the Frenchman, but in the process had now dropped to ninth.
Further back, damage for Huff saw him make a premature visit to the pit-lane, effectively ending his chance of points from this race.
So, as everyone headed onto the Nordschleife again for the final time, it was Monteiro who had emerged as Muller’s nearest challenger for victory.
The long-term Honda driver clutched onto the coat tails of Muller throughout the course of the lap, teeing up the perfect opportunity for a pass along the Döttinger Höhe.
Monteiro would have to keep an eye on his mirrors as well though, as both Urrutia and Guerrieri were also within striking distance.
Onto that decisive long straight, and it took Monteiro until the final few hundred metres to draw alongside Muller. Nevertheless, he was able to dive to the inside line on the run into Tiergarten, forcing Muller to concede.
With that, Monteiro took a famous victory at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, while Muller and Urrutia would complete the podium for Lynk & Co.
Guerrieri was next up in fourth place, still within a second of the race winner. Michelisz recovered well in fifth after a disastrous opening corner, just ahead of Tarquini who at one time looked like the favourite for victory.
Coronel managed to pass Ehrlacher at some point during the Nordschleife, with the pair of them coming home in seventh and eighth positions respectively. With that, Coronel also ended up as the best-placed of the Comtoyou Racing Audi Sport contingent.
Girolami made it home in ninth, while Vernay made it three Hyundai Elantras inside the top ten during the car’s first race in WTCR.
CUPRA had less of a positive time. Troubles for Huff meant that Azcona was the Spanish brand’s top driver in seventeenth, while Jordi Gené marked his return to the series with an eighteenth-placed finish.
In what was a baptism of fire, siblings Andreas and Jessica Bäckman will simply have been happy to finish this début race, and they did so in twentieth and twenty-first position respectively.
Race two begins shortly at 10:00 CEST (09:00 BST).
|1||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||3||27:18.961||9:02.201||4|
|2||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||0.514||9:03.629||1|
|3||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||0.746||9:03.154||6|
|4||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||3||0.945||9:03.035||8|
|5||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||1.410||9:02.576||3|
|6||3||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||1.941||9:04.615||5|
|7||32||Tom CORONEL||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||3.107||9:03.479||11|
|8||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||3.779||9:06.349||2|
|9||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||3||3.997||9:04.369||10|
|10||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||5.152||9:04.528||9|
|11||17||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||5.340||9:03.126||12|
|12||9||Attila TASSI||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||3||5.562||9:02.163||13|
|13||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||7.322||9:02.391||15|
|14||8||Luca ENGSTLER||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||7.883||9:03.672||7|
|15||16||Gilles MAGNUS||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||9.942||9:02.797||14|
|16||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||10.987||9:02.124||16|
|17||96||Mikel AZCONA||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||3||11.137||9:01.919||19|
|18||28||Jordi GENÉ||Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||3||25.013||9:08.604||22|
|19||55||Bence BOLDIZS||Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||3||31.718||9:09.957||21|
|20||19||Andreas BÄCKMAN||Target Competition||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||31.982||9:09.599||17|
|21||26||Jessica BÄCKMAN||Target Competition||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||34.633||9:10.920||20|
|R||79||Rob HUFF||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||2||DNF||N/A||18|