Rodrigo Baptista converts pole into comfortable race one win

Rodrigo Baptista converted pole position into a comfortable victory in the opening TCR South America race of the weekend at El Pinar’s Autódromo Víctor Borrat Fabini circuit in Uruguay.

Qualifying had seen Baptista put his Audi on pole position ahead of the Hyundai of Rodrigo Pflucker, with a field of ten cars lining up to take the start; the Alfa Romeo of Ayrton Chorne having hit trouble in practice and Juan Manuel Casella – a late replacement for Fabio Casagrande – not taking up his place on the grid having qualified sixth fastest.

Baptista held the lead at the start but the man in the move was Pepe Oriola from fourth spot, with the points leader making the best start to rocket ahead of Raphael Reis and Pflucker on the run to turn one.

Pflucker tried to come back at the Spaniard, but Oriola held on to end the opening lap half a second down on Baptista at the front and the front two quickly established a slender gap over Pflucker who, in turn, had got enough of a gap to not be under pressure from Reis.

José Manuel Sapag’s Honda followed behind in fifth, with Cyro Fontes giving chase in the first of the PMO Motorsport-run Lynk & Cos.

The early laps would see little in the way of overtaking – save for Gonzalo Reilly nipping ahead of Pablo Otero for seventh – with Baptista gradually edging away from Oriola’s Honda; the gap between the pair opening up to more than 2.5s by the end of the fifth lap.

As Baptista continued to stretch his legs, and with Pflucker comfortable in third, the focus turned to the fight for fourth between Reis and Sapag with the two Honda drivers running together on track.

Sapag briefly drew alongside on lap eight but then ran wide across the grass and instead came under pressure from Fontes – briefly slipping behind the Uruguayan but reclaiming the place before the end of the lap.

It only took a matter of laps for Sapag to close back onto the rear of Reis as Fontes came under pressure from Reilly for sixth; the pair swapping positions on lap eleven as Reilly nipped ahead.

Sapag finally managed to get ahead of Reis and Reilly wasted little time in following him through as the man who had started from third found himself shuffled back down to sixth.

Once clear of Reis, Sapag was on a charge and he chased down an ailing Pflucker before forcing the Hyundai raced into an error to grab third, but behind, Reilly’s hold on fifth would be short-lived when he went off into the gravel to become the first retirement of the race.

Baptista wrapped up a comfortable win by nearly ten seconds when the chequered flag dropped ahead of Oriola, with Sapag rounding out the podium places with a solid third.

Reis would end up reclaiming fourth before the finish ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Diego Martinez, which showed improved pace compared to qualifying to come from the back of the field to fifth.

Fontes took sixth ahead of the Pflucker’s slowing Hyundai, with Adalberto Baptista and Pablo Otero completing the finishers.

Oriola now leads Baptista by 17 points, with Reis in third – 50 points in arrears – going into race two on Sunday.