Jean-Karl Vernay secures Macau win as title fight goes to Tarquini and Muller
Jean-Karl Vernay stole a surprise Macau victory away from race favourite Rob Huff, as the WRT Audi stormed around both Rob Huff’s Volkswagen and later Yvan Muller’s Hyundai to grab his first touring car victory at the circuit.
At the start, Vernay quickly made his way past the Münnich Honda of Esteban Guerrieri, with the Argentinian struggling for straight-line speed at the Mandarin bend, while Yvan Muller outdragged Macau-favourite Rob Huff to take the lead into Lisboa, and looked set to maximise his points uptake against title rival Gabriele Tarquini.
The safety car was soon out when the second SLR Volkswagen of Mehdi Bennani made contact with the Comtoyou Audi of Frédéric Vervisch at Lisboa as they were battling for sixth with Guerrieri.
The race restarted on lap three, when Vernay blasted straight past Muller at the first corner to take the lead.
Vernay was then left defending against Muller and Huff, who were faster than the 60kg of compensation weight-laden Audi around the back of the circuit, but couldn’t get close to him in the first sector in order to make a move.
The race was then red-flagged in typical Macau fashion on lap five, when Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Shedden hit the barriers at Police and blocked the track.
The race resumed for a four-lap sprint, but Vernay was still untouchable, with Huff vocally critical of the Audi’s speed advantage in the first sector.
Vernay claimed the win by half a second over Muller, and catapulted himself back to third in the drivers’ championship.
Behind the top three, championship leader Gabriele Tarquini worked his way from seventh to fourth, and scored key points in the title race, which are critical considering he starts 14th for both of tomorrow’s races.
The Italian now leads Yvan Muller by 33 points with 55 available, and the two drivers are now the only ones who can win the inaugural WTCR drivers’ title.
Race 2 is scheduled for 08:20 tomorrow (01:20 CET), with Münnich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider starting from pole position for the first time.