Nathanaël Berthon was relieved to end his win drought in the FIA World Touring Car Cup at Anneau du Rhin, with the Comtoyou Racing driver taking his first victory in the series in almost two years.
Berthon had qualified his Audi on the front row of the grid for Sunday’s opening race, but after a strong start and top-end speed he was able to pass pole-sitter Néstor Girolami in the run to the first braking zone.
Thereafter, despite never opening up a lead of much more than half a second, the Frenchman was able to hold on to clinch his first win of the season.
“We were lucky enough to have the speed on the straight because here it’s so difficult to overtake,” said Berthon. “Bebu [Girolami] did an incredible job so it was not easy to keep him behind, but it’s so good to win here in France. It’s been a long time so it’s good.”
Berthon had a late-race scare when he picked up a vibration in his car in the closing laps, leading him to fear a tyre failure.
“[It was] very hard [to manage the tyres]. I was managing since lap one, I would say. I had a vibration with three laps to go.
“I was terrified of losing a win again. I’ve already lost a podium and a fourth position twice… A lot of points have gone for that reason and this time it would have been a victory. It would have been a disaster.
“Finally, the victory is home. I’m very happy, but it was very stressful.”
Berthon explained that the team had worked hard to manage the risk of tyre issues, although the situation was helped by a 40 kg weight reduction ahead of the weekend (the removal of all of the compensation weight carried at the previous round).
On top of this, the Audis also enjoyed a further reduction of 20 kg in the minimum racing weight, offered to all competitors as a result of previous tyre issues.
“We worked a lot. We are a very good, very well-connected team and we work well together. The drivers, engineers, team manager… we’re always trying different stuff.
“We are four cars so we are going faster, for example, than Hyundai who have only two. Also, we lost the 40 kg [compensation weight] this weekend, so that helped. We are lucky there is a long straight here because the start was good.
“I could use the tow [from Girolami], we touched a little bit, but I was faster in the straight and I could manage the first corner easily. Then I saw the fighting behind, I could manage things a bit more and it’s super to get the victory.”
Combined with finishing eighth in race two, Berthon is now up to fifth overall in the drivers’ championship standings, although he is 79 points from the lead of the series.