Rob Huff has taken victory at Sochi Autodrom in the final FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the year. The Brit looked comfortable in the end, but behind him, the race was crammed full of talking points.
Understandably, Esteban Guerrieri was unable to take part in this one, after the heavy shunt that his car had endured earlier in the day. As such, Honda were down to just two cars, with Tiago Monteiro sidelined in hospital due to a bacterial chest infection.
As the lights went out, Yvan Muller bogged down from pole position, handing Mikel Azcona the lead straight away. Nestor Girolami got the best getaway of all though, and managed to slot into second.
The Argentine was a bit too eager to attempt an overtake on Azcona for first place however, ending up sideways due to his enthusiasm at turn thirteen. As such, Muller capitalised to reclaim that second spot.
But, as the first lap drew to a close, the safety car was called for. Further back in the pack, contact with Attila Tassi had broken the front suspension on Gilles Magnus’ Audi, leaving it stranded on the pit straight and in need of recovery. Elsewhere, contact also forced Santiago Urrutia into retirement at turn two.
With those incidents having been dealt with, the race then got back underway at the end of lap three in dramatic fashion. At the final bend, Muller missed his braking point and slammed into the back of Azcona’s CUPRA. The resulting contact would end both of the leading driver’s races, handing potential victory over to Girolami.
Further around the circuit meanwhile, Kirill Ladygin slid wide at turn three, causing him to tag the CUPRA of Bence Boldizs. The hit was enough to send Boldizs’s car heavily into the barriers, wrecking it upon impact.
So, with yet more cars littered around the track, the safety car made another appearance, before finally being recalled again at the start of lap seven.
This time, the restart was far less damaging, but just as competitive. Girolami did well to hold onto the lead with Huff right on his bumper and the Audi of Frederic Vervisch also closing in.
The Honda driver’s defence didn’t last for too long however, as Huff managed to slipstream alongside him, setting up a hard-fought overtake at turn thirteen.
Just behind meanwhile, Tassi and Jean-Karl Vernay traded places for fourth, with the Hungarian eventually coming out on top after a move up the inside of turn five.
The following lap, Girolami ran too deep into turn two, as did Vervisch. But, the Belgian driver managed to take a lot more corner exit speed out of his mistake, which he then turned into an assault on Girolami for second through turns three, four and five.
The battling compromised Girolami’s pace significantly, which thus opened the door for his Honda stablemate Tassi to go through for third. At this point, things were beginning to get messy, with Berthon now latched onto the rear of this pack as well.
The Frenchman managed to squeeze past Vernay and Girolami into turn eight, leaving the pair of them to then duke it out through turn thirteen. For now, the Argentine remained ahead.
Onto the next lap, Berthon used his Audi’s straight-line speed to steam past Tassi for third. In the end though, it transpired that he had carried far too much speed into turn two, resulting in him running off the road. Upon rejoining, Berthon failed to give the place back to Tassi, which has consequently drawn the attention of the stewards for a post-race inquiry.
A few car lengths behind, Girolami’s woes continued. A deep line into turn five left the door wide open for Vernay and newly-crowned champion Yann Ehrlacher to slide by into fifth and sixth positions respectively.
Further down the order, the racing was just as fierce. Sadly for Gabriele Tarquini, the Italian veteran had a nightmare end to his final race in the WTCR. Having locked up the brakes upon entry to turn five, the veteran planted his Hyundai into the rear of Jordi Gene’s CUPRA. The end result was a slightly earlier retirement for Tarquini than expected.
However, not wanting to end his career on the back of a flatbed lorry, the double world champion hauled his car back to the pits under its own steam, albeit with the bonnet pressed up against the windscreen.
Elsewhere, Tom Coronel also pulled off a tidy move on Luca Engstler at the final bend to take ninth place away from the German on the penultimate lap.
Out in front though, Huff extended his race lead to six seconds over Vervisch.
After one of his most difficult touring car campaigns to date, the Brit could finally enjoy a long-overdue race victory. Undoubtedly, this was a popular win amongst the paddock.
In second place, Vervisch ended the season with 201 points to his name, 21 behind eventual champion Ehrlacher. Berthon brought another of the Audis home in third place for his first podium of the season – however it remains to be seen whether the officials will allow him to keep that result.
Tassi ended his year on a high in fourth, while fifth place for Vernay secured third in the overall standings for the Frenchman behind Vervisch.
Ehrlacher was next up in sixth, beating former race leader Girolami to the line. Norbert Michelisz was probably the only driver to have a quiet race in eighth, while Coronel and Engstler rounded out the top ten.
Only four other drivers finished this gruelling finale, with Thed Bjork coming home in eleventh ahead of Jordi Gene who scored a season-best twelfth. The two Lada wildcards of Ladygin and Mikhail Mityaev completed the list of runners.
|1||79||Rob HUFF||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||13||38:14.552||2:33.748||6|
|2||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||13||4.563||2:34.239||8|
|3||17||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||13||5.643||2:33.938||4|
|4||9||Attila TASSI||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||13||7.493||2:34.353||12|
|5||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||13||9.291||2:34.800||7|
|6||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||13||9.600||2:34.706||5|
|7||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||13||12.944||2:34.321||3|
|8||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||13||14.070||2:35.559||11|
|9||32||Tom CORONEL||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||13||16.551||2:35.121||16|
|10||8||Luca ENGSTLER||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||13||17.868||2:35.246||14|
|11||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||13||18.421||2:34.871||17|
|12||28||Jordi GENÉ||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||13||30.463||2:36.315||13|
|13||20||Kirill LADYGIN||ROSNEFT LADA SPORT||LADA Vesta Sport TCR||13||37.541||2:37.705||19|
|14||30||Mikhail MITYAEV||ROSNEFT LADA SPORT||LADA Vesta Sport TCR||13||42.790||2:37.636||20|
|R||3||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||7||DNF||2:36.449||15|
|R||96||Mikel AZCONA||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||4||DNF||3:35.268||2|
|R||55||Bence BOLDIZS||Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||3||DNF||3:25.610||18|
|R||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||2||DNF||3:35.272||1|
|R||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||1||DNF||N/A||10|
|R||16||Gilles MAGNUS||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||0||DNF||N/A||9|
|NS||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||–||DNS||N/A||21|
|NS||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||–||DNS||N/A||–|