Photo: TCR Media

Gianni Morbidelli wins exciting Race 1 in Monza

Gianni Morbidelli won the first race in Monza, Italy, despite a bad start from the Honda driver which triggered an exciting fight lasting for almost the entire race. Pepe Oriola came second in his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil Racing SEAT, while Andrea Belicchi completed the podium for Target Competition. Former championship leader Stefano Comini retired with three laps to go after an off at Lesmo 1.

At the start it was Oriola who took the lead from Andrea Belicchi and Stefano Comini, with Morbidelli in fourth. Jordi Gené had a great start and went up to fifth ahead of Fernando Monje’s Opel Astra OPC, while Sergey Afanasyev dropped down the order after a poor start.

Morbidelli was quick to grab third position back, but struggled to pass his rivals, and was actually overtaken by Comini who progressed up to second and attacked Pepe Oriola. At Parabolica, though, he tried too hard and lost a place to Morbidelli, who went up to second.

It took no more than two laps for the WestCoast Racing driver to claim the lead and never leave it. Comini took advantage of the situation, but went straight at the first corner and had to give the place back to his title rival.

With three laps to go, the Swiss driver went wide at Lesmo 2 and, despite a great save, was forced to stop soon after. More drama came when Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Mikhail Grachev and Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Sergey Afanasyev touched while fighting for eighth place at the Biassono bend, hitting Target Competition’s Michel Nykjaer in the process. All three failed to finish the race.

A last gasp attempt for the last podium spot was performed by Jordi Gené, but Andrea Belicchi sucessfully defended and retained third.

The race finished with Morbidelli winning ahead of Oriola and Belicchi. Gené claimed a good fourth, while a perfect race led Fernando Monje to fifth, a season-best for the Opel Astra OPC. The Spaniard defended all race long from a charging Kevin Gleason, who finished sixth ahead of Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Lorenzo Veglia. Zengo Motorsport’s Zsolt Szàbo came home eighth, with local driver Antonio D’Amico finished ninth ahead of Tom Boardman, who gave the Ford Focus its first point despite being well off the pace for the entire race.

The first head triggered a major shake-up in the championship standings, as Oriola now leads by four points over Morbidelli, with former leader Comini a further point behind. Jordi Gené is fourth, 23 points behind his team-mate, with Andrea Belicchi a further 10 points adrift.

Race 2 is scheduled for 14.05 local time.