Mikel Azcona edges closer to title with opening race win in Bahrain

Hyundai’s Mikel Azcona edged closer to title glory in the final season of the FIA World Touring Car Cup, after claiming a lights-to-flag victory in the opening race in Bahrain.

BRC Racing’s Azcona was never headed in the first race of the event, which took place under the Sakhir floodlights.

The Spaniard had earlier eked out his points advantage by claiming pole position, and he enjoyed the support of team-mate Norbert Michelisz on his way to a comfortable victory in race one.

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At the start, Azcona easily held his lead, as Michelisz made a strong start to leap from fourth on the grid up to second before Turn 1.

Michelisz’s jump had been aided by a poor start for Comtoyou Racing’s Nathanaël Berthon, who had started on the front row but dropped to fourth by the end of the opening tour, with Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami also getting through into third.

Girolami soon dropped back from the leading Hyundai Elantras, and was soon under pressure from the Audi of Berthon.

On lap four the Frenchman made his move into Turn 6, after Girolami had earlier defended into Turns 1 and 4 before quickly ceding ground to the faster Audi.

Thereafter Girolami steadily dropped further away from the leading trio, and although he held fourth for a further six laps, Tom Coronel was able to get through with ease on lap ten.

Coronel had made up for his poor qualifying by leaping from 12th on the grid to seventh by the end of the opening lap, and the Dutchman then punted the Honda of Attila Tassi out of sixth on the third tour and Mehdi Bennani’s Audi for fifth on lap seven.

However, Coronel would be handed a five-second time penalty for the nudge on Tassi at Turn 10, and so when he got by Girolami for fourth, the Argentine knew that all he had to do was keep within five seconds to get the place back at the end of the race.

In the end, that is what happened, meaning Girolami limits the deficit to points leader Azcona, who now holds a 53-point lead with only 90 still up for grabs.

Catsburg claimed fifth from Bennani on the penultimate lap, going around the outside of the Audi at Turn 10 even though he had moments earlier been asked by his team not to attack the Moroccan.

After his penalty, Coronel ended up sixth in the ranking, less than a second ahead of Bennani in seventh.

Guerrieri was eighth, ahead of Team Engstler’s Tassi in ninth and the wildcard Audi of Viktor Davidovski in tenth.

Comtoyou Racing’s Franco Girolami had initially crossed the line in ninth, but the Argentine was handed a ten-second time penalty for contact with Catsburg on the opening lap, meaning he was classified in 14th and last.

Both Zengő Motorsport CUPRAs of Dániel Nagy and Bence Boldizs, which had starting grid positions of tenth and 11th respectively, started from the pitlane, likely to avoid the risk of damage for the cash-strapped Hungarian team. They finished in 11th and 13th respectively.

Comtoyou’s Gilles Magnus was the only retirement of the race, the Belgian failing to complete the opening tour after picking up front-right suspension damage when he hit Guerrieri, who had checked up to avoid the spinning Catsburg.

He had earlier been given a grid penalty, dropping him from seventh where he qualified to the back of the grid, after an engine change earlier in the day.

Race two is scheduled to get underway at 10:00 local time (07:00 GMT, 08:00 CET) on Saturday.

Race result

POS NO CL NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME BEST GD
1 96 Mikel AZCONA BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 15 33:34.107 2:11.319 1
2 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 15 1.955 2:11.155 4
3 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 3.443 2:11.814 2
4 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 9.193 2:12.421 3
5 88 Nicky CATSBURG BRC Hyundai N Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 15 10.291 2:12.799 5
6 33 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 11.336 2:12.315 12
7 25 Mehdi BENNANI Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 12.247 2:12.444 9
8 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 14.605 2:13.361 7
9 9 Attila TASSI Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 19.527 2:13.625 6
10 110 Viktor DAVIDOVSKI Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 20.006 2:13.611 14
11 99 Dániel NAGY Zengő Motorsport Services Kft CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 15 20.503 2:13.327 10
12 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 26.817 2:13.434 13
13 66 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport Services Kft CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 15 27.269 2:13.100 11
14 72 Franco GIROLAMI Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 28.993 2:13.487 8
R 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 0 DNF N/A 15
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