Jean-Karl Vernay reignited his FIA WTCR – World Touring Car Cup title hopes by beating WTCR Race of France pole position starter Yvan Muller to win Race 2.
The Frenchman got the better of his countryman at the start and brushed off the threat of a late safety car intervention to win on home soil in his Goodyear-equipped Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Elantra N TCR.
Vernay got the drop on Muller from the lights and with the inside line into Turn 1 swept into a lead he wouldn’t lose. “That was the key, we said it yesterday,” said the delighted winner, who claimed his second victory of the season. “I did a much better job than Yvan. I really wanted this one. Yesterday I was annoyed after Q3 not to have pole position. But after the start it was just a case of managing the tyres in case of a safety car which arrived with a surprise for the last lap.”
Behind the top two, there was plenty of action at Circuit Pau-Arnos as WTCR Race of France burst into excitement in the second half of the race. Norbert Michelisz was running third, but started to struggle to pace. “I have a vibration,” he reported on his radio.
Santiago Urrutia began to pile on pressure, tagging Michelisz on successive laps and receiving a stewards’ warning. Meanwhile, the following pack concertinaed, Race 1 winner Frédéric Vervisch taking a chance to demote Esteban Guerrieri on lap 17. The pair made contact and Guerrieri lost two places on the lap – most crucially slipping behind WTCR title rival and Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Yann Ehrlacher.
Michelisz finally lost his battle to cling on to a podium finish on the following lap, both Urrutia and Vervisch passing the Hungarian. Now he came under pressure from Ehrlacher. The Frenchman was frustrated to be held up by the Hyundai and it allowed Guerrieri to attempt to make up for what he’d lost on lap 19.
The battle came to a head at the back chicane, Guerrieri making a move up the inside and nudging a tyre stack out of position. The pair collided and the Lynk & Co was forced to cut the second tyre stack, with Vervisch also getting in on the action. After all the drama the order was now Vervisch in fourth from Michelisz, Ehrlacher and Guerrieri – but the displaced tyre stack led to the Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Safety Car heading out for what should have been the last lap. Two more were added to the race total to ensure the race could finish under green flag conditions.
Racing resumed on lap 22 for what was a single-lap shootout, a disgruntled Vernay keeping his cool to head Muller to the line. Urrutia followed in third to complete the podium with Vervisch adding a fourth place to his Race 1 win. But a struggling Michelisz couldn’t hold back Ehrlacher who grabbed fifth place on the run to the finish, with Guerrieri back in seventh.
The result means King of WTCR Ehrlacher heads Vernay who has jumped up to second in the table, 16 points behind the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader. Guerrieri has dropped to third, 22 points down on Ehrlacher with Vervisch up to fourth – meaning four customer racing brands fill the top four places with two meetings and four races to go.
Gabriele Tarquini finished eighth in his Hyundai, with Thed Björk (Lynk & Co) and Nathanaël Berthon (Audi) completing the top 10. The other points scorers were Luca Engstler in P11, Tiago Monteiro – whose Honda returned to the fray after his crash in Race 1 – Tom Coronel (Audi), Mikel Azcona (CUPRA) and Rob Huff (CUPRA).
Néstor Girolami was out of luck. He was running sixth in the early stages until he reported a tyre problem and slipped down the order, eventually choosing to pit.