Nestor Girolami took victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the day at Autodrom Most, leading home his team-mate Esteban Guerrieri for a Honda 1-2 finish.
It was local wildcard Petr Fulin who had pole position on this occasion though, but clutch issues meant that his getaway was slow. This resulted in a bunched-up pack of cars just behind him, which inevitably led to contact at the turn one chicane.
Norbert Michelisz hit the rear of Fulin and Yvan Muller’s cars, causing Muller to tag the rear quarter of Nathanael Berthon’s Audi, spinning it across the front of Fulin’s bonnet. Sadly for the Czech driver, both he and Berthon would go no further.
Naturally, with the pair of them stuck in the gravel trap, the safety car was deployed. Amongst it all, the two Honda drivers had emerged out in front, with Girolami leading from Guerrieri – the latter of the two having squeezed through the carnage from ninth.
The safety car was withdrawn at the end of lap three, and Girolami managed to eke out a decent gap ahead of his team-mate. Yann Ehrlacher, meanwhile, was latched onto Guerrieri’s rear bumper.
Gilles Magnus then became the third retiree of the race. Technical gremlins that plagued his Audi on Friday appeared to strike back as his car limped its way back to the pits.
Honda’s third driver Tiago Monteiro was then dealt a drive-through penalty for a pit-lane infringement, which would see him drop down to last. Out on track meanwhile, Thed Bjork pulled over through turns eight and nine to allow Muller past for fourth.
A little further back in the field, the newly-crown TCR Europe Series champion was looking spirited. Mikel Azcona had started this reversed-grid race from tenth, but on lap six he had closed right up to Michelisz to battle for seventh.
At the halfway stage, Girolami’s lead had extended, but in the other Honda Guerrieri was coming under severe pressure from Ehrlacher behind. The Frenchman wasn’t quite within striking distance yet, but with Muller also beginning to join the queue, it felt as though it was only a matter of time.
By lap nine, the Lynk & Co train that was formed behind Guerrieri had been extended to three cars, with Bjork also now towing up behind Muller. At turn one, Ehrlacher made light contact with the Argentine’s rear bumper – nothing too malicious, but enough to let Guerrieri know that he was there.
In this latter stage of the race, the Honda was looking increasingly uncomfortable, but it was proving rather difficult throughout the field to overtake around this Autodrom Most circuit.
Attila Tassi – the fourth Honda driver – then came into the pits with a front-left puncture. Immediately, the ALL-INKL.com engineers took to their radios to warn Girolami and Guerrieri to take care of their tyres, otherwise they could succumb to a similar fate.
With three laps remaining, Girolami appeared to be nursing his tyres home, and had fallen into the clutches of the second-place battle behind. But, as had been the theme of the race, nobody could really find the space to overtake.
Further back though, Rob Huff was having a bit more joy in his attempt to climb up the order. After starting twelfth, the Brit moved up to ninth with two laps to go. Tailing Tom Coronel, the Dutchman was pressured into braking too deep into turn one, compromising his exit. Huff was then able to draw alongside on the outside line, and with better drive out of the corner snatched the position away.
In the end though, it would remain a Honda 1-2 result across the finish line, despite Ehrlacher’s best attempts to get by.
Muller came home in fourth just ahead of Bjork in fifth, but then there was a sizable gap back to Jean-Karl Vernay who was the best of the Hyundai bunch in sixth.
Azcona wasn’t able to pass Michelisz for seventh, and so the status quo remained. Huff held onto ninth meanwhile, as Coronel completed the top ten.
Race two gets underway later this afternoon at 17:10 local time (16:10 BST).
|1||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||15||26:36.520||1:40.057||2|
|2||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||15||1.060||1:40.487||9|
|3||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||15||1.440||1:40.521||7|
|4||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||15||2.061||1:40.230||3|
|5||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||15||2.621||1:40.365||4|
|6||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||15||5.378||1:40.638||6|
|7||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||15||5.882||1:40.506||8|
|8||96||Mikel AZCONA||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||15||6.737||1:40.365||10|
|9||79||Rob HUFF||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||15||11.540||1:40.725||12|
|10||32||Tom CORONEL||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||15||13.715||1:41.013||13|
|11||3||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||15||14.073||1:40.954||11|
|12||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||15||14.486||1:40.920||14|
|13||8||Luca ENGSTLER||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||15||15.255||1:40.913||17|
|14||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||15||16.855||1:41.109||19|
|15||55||Bence BOLDIZS||Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||15||19.133||1:40.890||18|
|16||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||15||40.112||1:40.833||15|
|R||9||Attila TASSI||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||12||DNF||1:40.923||16|
|R||16||Gilles MAGNUS||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||6||DNF||1:40.770||20|
|R||222||Petr FULÍN||Petr Fulín||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||0||DNF||N/A||1|
|R||17||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||0||DNF||N/A||5|