Esteban Guerrieri fends off Yann Ehrlacher for race one victory
Esteban Guerrieri saw off race long pressure from championship leader Yann Ehrlacher to secure victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the weekend at the Hungaroring.
Although track conditions were dry for the first time in the weekend, the field still faced a huge challenge going into the opening race thanks to low temperatures at the Budapest circuit, making the green flag lap key to get heat into the tyres.
Guerrieri made the best start when the lights quickly went out but Mikel Azcona alongside on the front row was caught out and dropped down the order to eighth as Ehrlacher blasted up to second.
Guerrieri then ran wide through turn four to give Ehrlacher the chance to look around the outside into turn five, but the Frenchman wisely elected against trying to pursue the move and slotted back into second.
As first man on the road, Guerrieri took it steady through the opening lap but held on to the lead ahead of Ehrlacher and Yvan Muller, with Néstor Girolami, Attila Tassi and Santiago Urrutia rounding out the top six.
Further back, Tom Coronel had made it up to 13th on the opening lap, with Gilles Magnus and Tiago Monteiro up to 16th and 17th from the back after their respective penalties.
If Muller’s plan was to try and act as the rear gunner for Ehrlacher, it didn’t last long as Girolami managed to find a way ahead on the second lap of the race, leaving the points leader as the filling in a Honda sandwich at the front.
Clearly riled behind, Azcona made a forceful move on Jean-Karl Vernay for seventh spot at the start of the third lap, with the two drivers banging wheels on the run from turn three to four before Azcona was able to make the move stick.
Also moving forwards was defending champion Norbert Michelisz, who ended the third lap having managed to work his way up to ninth in the lead Hyundai.
As Guerrieri continued to lead the way, so the train behind started to grow and by the end of the fourth lap, the leading seven cars were pretty much line astern, with Vernay in eighth posting the fastest lap in the Alfa Romeo as he looked to join the party.
Tassi was being forced to go defensive thanks to pressure from Urrutia over fifth place, but that was putting the Lynk & Co driver under pressure from Azcona behind. The Zengő Motorsport man tried around the outside into turn one at the start of the sixth lap but was run wide by his rival. and then tapped the rear of Urrutia’s car through turn two but was unable to find a way through.
Michelisz’s wretched weekend would go on when he was then forced to pit and dropped off the lead lap, moving Luca Engstler up to ninth place. In clear air, the young German immediately started setting quick laps as he cased down the train of cars ahead.
Heading out of turn one on lap eighth, Azcona was finally able to make a move stick on Urrutia to move into sixth spot and then set his sights on Tassi. Azcona tried around the outside into turn one on lap ten and then tried to get the cut back on the exit, although that put the Cupra on the outside for turn two.
Azcona briefly nosed ahead but Tassi wasn’t going to give up the spot easily and held his line to remain in the position, with Urrutia also waiting to pounce behind and Engstler and Thed Björk also looming as they looked to join the fight.
The battle for fifth spot allowed the leading four drivers to break away slightly, with Guerrieri continuing to place his Honda in the ideal place lap after lap to keep Ehrlacher at bay.
It was only on the final lap that Guerrieri was able to get some real breathing space as he took victory by half a second from Ehrlacher, with Girolami rounding out the podium places having edged away from Muller.
Tassi took fifth despite the best efforts of Azcona, with Urrutia managing hold off Vernay to take seventh. Engstler and Björk rounded out the top ten.
Coronel managed to fight his way up to eleventh spot after his clutch issue on Saturday in the leading Audi after a race long battle with team-mate Nathanaël Berthon, with Luca Filippi, Tiago Monteiro and Gilles Magnus rounding out the points scoring positions.
With Filippi not eligible to score, Bence Boldizs scored the final point ahead of his big moment in race two, where he will start from pole at 12:15 CEST.
Having returned to action after his stop, Michelisz was left to wonder what might have been, having set the fastest lap by a second.