Yann Ehrlacher leads Lynk & Co podium sweep as Vernay hits trouble

Yann Ehrlacher led a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co clean sweep of the podium in the opening World Touring Car Cup race at Estorial, as points leader Jean-Karl Vernay retired following a first lap incident.

Ehrlacher led from start to finish after getting the best start from the outside of the front row and beat team-mate Yvan Muller to the line by nearly two seconds.

Both Muller and Santiago Urrutia inherited a spot after polesitter Gabriele Tarquini was forced out with a front-right puncture just after halfway.

Off the start, Ehrlacher got the jump on Tarquini and survived slight contact in the braking zone to seize the lead at the first corner.

Further back, chaos ensued as Néstor Girolami missed his braking point and slammed into the back of Norbert Michelisz’s Hyundai, who in turn ran into the back of Girolami’s Honda stablemate Attila Tassi.

Tassi half-spun but held it together, but Michelisz suffered a puncture and also took team-mate and erstwhile points leader Jean-Karl Vernay – who got collected on the outside of the corner – with him into retirement.

Michelisz and Vernay crucially made it back to the pits under their own steam, while Girolami was forced to pull off at the side of the track, bringing out the safety car.

Following two laps of safety car, Ehrlacher maintained his slender lead over Tarquini with Muller comfortable in third.

Behind them, the third of the Cyan Racing Lynk & Co of Santiago Urrutia was embroiled in a frenetic scrap for fourth with the Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R TCR of Tiago Monteiro.

Monteiro looked like having the superior car in the early stages of the 15-lap race but failed to make suitable inroads to make a pass for position.

Urrutia maintained his spot and inherited third when Tarquini dropped out of second place just after half-distance with a front-right puncture but still had to fend off Monteiro behind.

Monteiro, meanwhile, was engaged in a back-and-forth radio discussion with his team in the final five laps over whether he should allow team-mate Esteban Guerrieri through to fourth in order for the Argentinian to attack Urrutia in front.

Guerrieri hadn’t been close enough to Monteiro, leaving the latter in a heated conversation about the switch. Eventually, Monteiro let Guerrieri past on the proviso that, if Guerrieri didn’t get past Urrutia, the places would be swapped back to their original positions.

The swap did happen, with Guerrieri easing out of the throttle at the line.

Ehrlacher was untroubled at the front and duly took the win by 1.7s from Muller, with Urrutia completing the one-two-three for Cyan Racing.

Behind the squabbling Hondas came the impressive Mikel Azcona in the Zengo Motorsport Cupra León Competición. Azcona, who claimed the first PURE ETCR race win last weekend, leapt from 13th on the grid to finish sixth, just ahead of Attila Tassi’s Honda.

Thed Björk drove an equally good race to jump from 12th on the grid to finish eighth at the flag, ahead of Gilles Magnus’ Comtoyou Racing Audi RS 3 LMS and the second Zengo Motorsport Cupra of Rob Huff.

Race two at Estoril is scheduled to take place at 16:15 CEST.