Photo: TCR Media

Gianni Morbidelli wins thrilling race in Portugal

Gianni Morbidelli won the first race of the day at Estoril, Portugal, after a long fight with pole sitter Mat’o Homola, with the B3 Racing driver eventually slipping down to fourth. The WestCoast Racing Honda Civic came home ahead of Leopard Racing’s Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini in the Volkswagen Golf Gti TCRs.

At the start Morbidelli took the lead ahead of team-mate Aku Pellinen, but the Finn went wide in the first corner and Homola was able to jump back up to second, with Vernay in third. As Pellinen slid down the order, Homola was quick to claim his lead back at Turn 1 on the second lap, with the Honda settling in the SEAT’s slipstream.

Craft-Bamboo Lukoil drivers Sergey Afanasyev and James Nash overtook Pellinen, whereas championship leader Pepe Oriola struggled to do the same and had to defend from Loris Hezemans’ SEAT instead, with a charging Dusan Borkovic in the repaired SEAT trying to pass as well.

Morbidelli followed Homola until midway through the race, when he started attacking the Slovakian for the lead. A very good defensive drive meant the Italian spent four more laps behind the SEAT before finally overtaking with four laps to go.

The fight had allowed Vernay and Comini to close in on the leaders, and the Frenchman was quick to make full use of the opportunity by passing Homola at the hairpin after a minor contact between the two. It took Comini one more lap to finally pass the Slovakian to climb up to third.

Afanasiev and Nash also closed in on the B3 Racing SEAT, but there was not enough time to pass. An unfortunate contact between Borkovic and Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Mikhail Grachev at Turn 1 ended up with both going off the track and the top ten, leaving Race 2 pole sitter Loris Hezemans in ninth ahead of his Baporo Motorsport team-mate Francisco Mora.

Morbidelli won the race ahead of Vernay and Comini, with Homola still managing a good fourth despite an evident lack of grip towards the end of the race. Afanasyev came home fifth ahead of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team-mate Nash, with Aku Pellinen finishing a lonely seventh ahead of Pepe Oriola. Hezemans and Mora completed the top ten.

Race 2 is scheduled for 17.05 local time.