Photo: TCR Series

Nicki Thiim wins chaotic first race in Portimao

Nicki Thiim won the first race of the day at the Autodromó Internacional do Algarve comfortably, while championship protagonists Stefano Comini, Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli were embroiled in battles behind the podium spots, with both Oriola and Morbidelli forced to retire losing ground in the championship battle.

At the start, Jordi Gené made a great getaway from second on the grid in the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT León and led into Turn 1, but Thiim grabbed the switch-back into Turn 2 in the Audi TT, and then began to pull away comfortably from the Spaniard, with Lorenzo Veglia having made his way past a poor-starting Pepe Oriola for third in the Engstler-run SEAT.

Points leader Stefano Comini had made a great start from seventh on the grid in the Target SEAT, and worked his way up to fourth by the end of the first lap ahead of Pepe Oriola’s Craft-Bamboo SEAT and Kelvin van der Linde’s Engstler Audi.

Van der Linde was able to pass Oriola’s car on the second lap and then began to attack Comini, who was able to resist the Audi at every turn. Van der Linde briefly snuck ahead at Turn 1 at the start of lap four, but Comini grabbed the spot back at Turn 2 and an unsettled van der Linde fell behind both Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli’s WestCoast Racing Honda.

Oriola had a run at Comini on the following lap, and Morbidelli tried to join in, seeing all three cars briefly running side-by-side.

Comini still emerged ahead of the confrontation, but two laps alter the Swiss made a mistake into Turn 2 and ran wide, allowing Oriola up and past on the inside. As Comini rejoined the track he made contact with Morbidelli’s Honda, which spun Comini through the next corner and into Oriola’s SEAT, running the Spaniard off the track and he picked up what was terminal damage to the rear-left bumper.

Comini was now again in fourth, while Morbidelli was slipping down the order with damage from the incident. The Italian gave best to his WestCoast Racing team-mate Kevin Gleason and handed over eighth position, before he was hit by a charging Andrea Belicchi in the other Target Competition SEAT, who locked up and speared into the rear of Morbidelli’s Honda.

Morbidelli was now forced to retire into the pits, as had Pepe Oriola just one lap prior, joining Michel Nykjaer as the only three drivers not to finish the race, with the Dane having stopped at the end of lap two.

Up front, Thiim took a comfortable victory ahead of Jordi Gené’s SEAT with Lorenzo Veglia third, with the top three having avoided all of the drama behind them.

Kelvin van der Linde eventually grabbed fourth off Comini on lap ten, with the Swiss driver’s tyres now wiped out after the laps battling Oriola, with Mikhail Grachev putting on a quiet drive through the field to snatch sixth in the other Engstler SEAT after having started 14th on the grid.

The second race follows at 14:05 WEST.