Nathanaël Berthon victorious in opening WTCR race at Anneau du Rhin

Comtoyou Racing’s Nathanaël Berthon secured his first win of the season in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race at Anneau du Rhin in France, getting the jump on pole-sitter Néstor Girolami at the start of the race.

Although Girolami got away better initially than Berthon, the Audi driver then tucked behind the Honda and with extra straight-line speed was able to pull alongside the Argentine on the run to the fast second corner, and he took the lead.

Thereafter, the race for Girolami seemed to be more about holding on to second, as Berthon clearly had more pace where he needed it most, although the Frenchman was never much more than half a second in front.

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Early in the race, Berthon was told to ‘respect the plan now’ by his team over the radio, to which he replied ‘I know exactly what I am doing’. It became clear that with Gilles Magnus, better placed in the championship, running in fifth, the team wanted Berthon to not scamper away into the distance.

On lap five, Magnus made contact with Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri ahead at Turn 2, pitching the Honda into a slide.

Guerrieri would subsequently pit for fresh tyres after picking up flat spots on all four corners, having by this stage dropped to eighth.

Magnus then passed Hyundai’s championship leader Mikel Azcona for third at the halfway stage into the final corner, with team-mate Tom Coronel briefly following into fourth, although Azcona held his ground through the fast first sector as Coronel backed out.

Coronel initially then held fifth, but five laps later he was passed for the place by BRC Racing’s Norbert Michelisz at the penultimate corner when the Dutchman went slightly wide.

Zengő Motorsport’s Rob Huff took advantage to move into sixth, whilst Coronel had his hands full defending as he went into the first corners of the lap four-wide, with Team Engstler’s Tiago Monteiro and Attila Tassi also in the mix, Tassi taking to the grass.

Whilst Coronel would hold position to finish the race in seventh, the same couldn’t be said for Tassi, who two laps later suffered from a front-left tyre failure, taking him out of the race.

Late in the race, Berthon at the front was asked to slow into the chicane, presumably to allow Magnus to get closer to Girolami for second, but ultimately the Belgian wasn’t close enough to attempt a pass and had to settle for third.

For Berthon, it is his first win of the season, lifting him to fifth overall in the drivers’ standings.

“It’s my first win of the season, which is cool, in France,” said Berthon. “Wow, it’s just so good. I was pushing at the maximum. It’s amazing.

“I had to manage the tyres first and I was just managing it. It was not easy – Bebu [Girolami] did an amazing job.

“I’m very happy for the team with all the energy we put in since the beginning of the year, or even two years ago.”

Azcona continues to lead the drivers’ standings with 222 points ahead of Girolami (197), Magnus (163), Huff (160) and Berthon (152).

Race result

POS NO CL NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME BEST GD
1 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021 22 32:59.625 1:29.079 2
2 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 22 0.299 1:28.995 1
3 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021 22 0.660 1:28.879 5
4 96 Mikel AZCONA BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 22 1.047 1:28.603 3
5 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 22 1.586 1:28.901 8
6 79 Rob HUFF Zengő Motorsport Services Kft CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 22 2.408 1:28.908 9
7 33 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021 22 4.603 1:28.871 7
8 99 Dániel NAGY Zengő Motorsport Services Kft CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 22 5.946 1:29.181 11
9 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 22 6.505 1:28.715 6
10 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 22 1:04.602 1:28.347 4
11 25 Mehdi BENNANI Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021 21 + 1 LAP 1:28.505 12
R 9 Attila TASSI Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 18 DNF 1:28.707 10
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