Norbert Michelisz clinched a dramatic victory in the reverse-grid Race 2 at WTCR Race of China to jump to the head of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO standings after an incident-packed encounter at the Ningbo International Speedpark.
A series of incidents on the first lap left long-time points leader Esteban Guerrieri in the barriers, while Michelisz came out on top in a battle with DHL Pole Position starter Andy Priaulx to win. The Hungarian now leads Guerrieri by 16 points in the WTCR / OSCARO title battle.
As Priaulx and Michelisz led the field away, a hectic first lap left six drivers out of the running. SLR Volkswagen’s Benjamin Leuchter, BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus and Tiago Monteiro were among them. But crucially so was Guerrieri, who was spun into the barriers, and Ma Qinghua’s Alfa Romeo ended up with broken suspension and heavy contact. Frédéric Vervisch was also out with gearbox problems.
A long safety car period was required to clear the track, during which light rain added more uncertainty. Once racing resumed on lap six, there was action down the field all the way to the chequered flag.
It was soon obvious that Priaulx was struggling to hold on to his first place as Michelisz piled on pressure, with Hyundai team-mate Gabriele Tarquini protecting his rear. Priaulx’s Lynk & Co clung on to the lead as Michelisz tried everything to get past until lap 12, when the three-time World Touring Car champion picked up a front-right puncture. That forced him to brake early and Michelisz hit him hard up the back, sustaining heavy damage to the Hyundai.
Tarquini now led, but in the interests of Michelisz’s title hopes soon allowed his team-mate to pass. The Hungarian nursed his damaged car to the flag, with Tarquini joining him on the podium.
Contact between Nicky Catsburg and PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf decided the final podium spot on the penultimate lap. It allowed Race 1 winner Yvan Muller through to finish third from P10 on the grid ahead of Lynk & Co team-mate Thed Björk. Haglöf recovered to finish fifth ahead of Attila Tassi, Rob Huff and Catsburg.
Door-to-door battles continued down the field, with Tom Coronel scoring good points in ninth ahead of Kevin Ceccon. Jean-Karl Vernay, Mehdi Bennani, Johan Kristoffersson, Gordon Shedden and Yann Ehrlacher were the other points finishers. Niels Langeveld was a non-starter with a gearbox issue.
Michelisz was critical of Priaulx’s defence after the race, but was unaware of Priaulx’s puncture. “I’m half happy,” said the winner. “I’m happy with the win, but I have big damage so hopefully the team can repair the car for Race 3.”