Yann Ehrlacher crowned WTCR champion after frenetic reverse-grid race

In a dramatic reverse-grid race at Sochi Autodrom, Yann Ehrlacher has been crowned FIA World Touring Car Champion with a race to spare. Mikel Azcona took the chequered flag, but misfortune for others meant that sixth place would be enough for the reigning champ to defend his title.

To keep any hopes of beating Ehrlacher alive, Frederic Vervisch had to win this race. However, a woeful start in the heavy rain from the front row of the grid made that look very unlikely, right from the outset. 

With the Belgian dropping down to third, it was Jean-Karl Vernay in the Hyundai who actually got the best start, and even managed to drag past Gilles Magnus for the lead. However, running too deep into turn two, the first real corner on the circuit, Magnus was able to get back through. Behind though, carnage ensued. 

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Struggling on the slippery circuit, Vervisch understeered wide at turn three, resulting in side-to-side contact with Honda’s Esteban Guerrieri. The Argentine consequently ran onto the gripless painted surface, causing his car to spin off into the barriers at high speed. 

Norbert Michelisz, who had also run wide, narrowly avoided collecting the Honda which lay stricken with heavy damage. Naturally, the safety car was called for, and with that accident, Guerrieri’s own slim hopes of winning the championship were over. 

Two laps later, the safety car was withdrawn, and Magnus left it late to get proceedings back underway. Vernay managed to stick to his rear bumper through the final turn though, but the straight line speed of the Audi gave Magnus a little extra breathing room on the run down into turn two. 

However, apexes would prove hard to hit for the Audi drivers in these conditions, and so Vernay drafted his way past on the exit of the following sweeping left-hander. Already out of sorts, Magnus then took the opportunity to allow his team-mate Vervisch through into second place. The 35 year old needed every point he could get, so from now on Magnus’ role in this race would be reduced to rear-gunner. 

Immediately though, Magnus came under threat from Rob Huff, running side by side with the Brit for nearly two thirds of a lap, but somehow still managing to hold onto the position. In fact, Huff compromised his own exit out of the final bend as the cars headed onto lap five, which in turn opened the door for his team-mate Mikel Azcona to sweep past for fourth. 

Azcona picked up where Huff left off, and was up the inside of Magnus by turn eight. However, the youngster in the Audi fought back, and reclaimed the position at turn fifteen. Azcona then retaliated by diving up the inside of turn sixteen, running the pair of them wide at turn seventeen. This opened the door for Huff to take that final spot on the podium. 

All the time, the CUPRAs were still closing in on Vervisch’s ailing Audi. At turn fourteen, Huff attempted a pass but Vervisch just about held on to the position. He then ran deep into the following corner though, creating another opportunity for Huff to get by. But this time, side-to-side contact was made as Vervisch corrected the course of his car. It was an innocuous hit, but unfortunately for Huff, it proved enough to break his CUPRA’s notoriously weak suspension. The Brit’s race was done. 

The most recent melee had allowed Azcona up into second position, and with just one lap to go the Spaniard was all over the back of Vernay in the leading Hyundai. With far better grip, Azcona managed to hang on around the outside of turn three, giving him the inside line and first position at turn four.

Azcona held on to take the chequered flag ahead of Vernay, while Vervisch was the first of the Audis home in third. However, those retirements that he ironically caused for Guerrieri and Huff had seen his title rival Ehrlacher move back up into sixth position. As such, the deficit between them was now 31 points, with just 25 left on offer in the final race.

So with that, Ehrlacher was crowned WTCR champion for the second year in a row. A thoroughly deserving winner, the Frenchman has pulled off another near-faultless campaign. The rest of the Cyan Racing garage were celebrating too, as the results from this race would also be enough for them to wrap up the teams’ title. 

Back to the race order though, and it was the further two Audis of Magnus and Nathanael Berthon who finished fourth and fifth. Behind Ehrlacher, Yvan Muller was overtaken late in the race for seventh position by Attila Tassi. Santiago Urrutia and Thed Bjork rounded out the top ten. 

So, with all of the championships now decided, the drivers can be let loose in the final race of the year. The second race of the day here at Sochi Autodrom gets underway at 14:15 local time (11:15 GMT).

Race result

POS NO CL NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME BEST GD
1 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 11 11 LAPS 2:33.647 8
2 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 11 1.403 2:34.311 3
3 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 11 2.432 2:33.516 2
4 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 11 2.737 2:34.071 1
5 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 11 4.492 2:33.833 7
6 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 11 6.003 2:33.861 6
7 9 Attila TASSI ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 11 7.500 2:33.841 13
8 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 11 8.316 2:34.193 9
9 12 Santiago URRUTIA Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 11 9.961 2:34.260 10
10 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 11 13.554 2:34.457 18
11 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 11 14.116 2:33.633 11
12 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 11 19.602 2:35.447 12
13 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 11 21.582 2:35.629 15
14 3 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 11 22.034 2:34.793 16
15 28 Jordi GENÉ Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 11 23.433 2:34.995 14
16 32 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 11 24.781 2:35.341 17
17 55 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 11 25.740 2:35.006 19
18 20 Kirill LADYGIN ROSNEFT LADA SPORT LADA Vesta Sport TCR 11 34.196 2:36.466 20
19 30 Mikhail MITYAEV ROSNEFT LADA SPORT LADA Vesta Sport TCR 11 39.983 2:36.904 21
R 79 Rob HUFF Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 9 DNF 2:33.452 4
R 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 0 DNF N/A 5
NS 18 Tiago MONTEIRO ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR DNS N/A
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