This was always going to be a make-or-break weekend for Esteban Guerrieri. Heading into the event, the Honda star was at the bottom of the top ten in the FIA World Touring Car Cup points standings. So, to keep any hopes of championship glory alive, a significant points haul was required at Autodrom Most.
Happily for the Argentine, a brace of podium finishes has catapulted him up the order, and now at the end of the weekend he finds himself with just a twenty-point deficit to make up, as the nearest challenger to series leader Yann Ehrlacher.
“Definitely it was a very important weekend, and yeah it was a ‘do or die’ if I wanted to keep my chances of fighting for the title alive,” Guerrieri admitted. “Now we are in the way, which is very good and I’m very happy for this weekend.”
As for his performance on track, the 36 year-old wrestled his heavy Honda around in qualifying to secure fourth place on the grid for race two, while a penalty meant he’d start the reversed-grid opening race from ninth instead of seventh. Nevertheless, quick early progress in both races was then followed up with an impressive display of defensive prowess to keep Ehrlacher behind.
Of course, being at a track like Autodrom Most – where overtaking is difficult – certainly played into his hands, as Ehrlacher was unable to capitalise on any pace advantage that he had during either of the two races.
That said, Guerrieri positioned his car well and successfully managed the condition of his tyres, all while on the receiving end of high-intensity pressure from the car behind for laps on end. It was certainly a performance to be proud of.
“Talking about this second race, it was tough, it was much, much tougher than race one.” said Guerrieri after finishing third in race two. “I had to push every lap, every corner.
“We did some changes to the car – I asked for that change and to be honest I went the wrong way, so I have to admit that it wasn’t the good thing that I thought was going to happen.
“I had to use the front tyres a lot every lap. I think Yann [Ehrlacher] was also using them. He was pushing hard and obviously losing downforce behind me, and the last two laps he just gave up. I think his front tyres gave up and I also started feeling that my fronts were on the limit, but I didn’t want to speak on the radio in case it was broadcasted and Yann decided to push more!
“But I had nothing else in my front tyres, so I was lucky in a way to finish the race, and yeah I’m very happy with the third place. We are back in the game, so lets’ play now!”
Given the form of Guerrieri this weekend, and of his team-mate Nestor Girolami who won race one, onlookers would be forgiven for thinking that the maximum ballast allocation was having little effect on the Honda’s capabilities. However, Guerrieri was quick to dispel any sentiment of that ilk.
“It does, it does [have an impact].” he said. “In quali, we could use the tyre to maximise it for one lap. It was difficult. It was a really very, very intense qualifying.
“I put laps together but they came from I don’t know where. Obviously this is a very important place to position the car in qualifying because then in the race, you can win places in the start which was my goal with Yann, but then in the race it’s very difficult to overtake.
“We started with the compensation weight and the Hyundais also had 60kg, but they were quicker than us in the race. So we obviously know our strengths and our weaknesses. “Hopefully Pau is a good track for us with a bit of floating corners and so on, but yeah we’ll have to live also with a heavy car. But it’s not an excuse. If there’s an opportunity [at Pau] let’s try to grab it.”
Indeed, the FIA World Touring Car Cup heads to France next for the sixth of eight championship rounds. The series will be making its debut at Circuit Pau-Arnos, the lesser known permanent circuit in the region, rather than the street course known for winding around the local town.
Championship leader Ehrlacher will therefore get to experience a home race for the first time as a WTCR driver, though eager to maintain this momentum, Guerrieri will certainly be aiming to sour the Frenchman’s homecoming.