Nathanaël Berthon wins action-packed first Jeddah race
Comtoyou Racing’s Nathanaël Berthon claimed the victory in Sunday’s Race 1 at Jeddah, although his victory was far from easy as Hyundai’s Norbert Michelisz challenged the Frenchman for most of the race.
Berthon led at the start followed by BRC Racing Team’s Michelisz and team-mate Tom Coronel.
Azcona lost to Coronel at the start and went wide, also losing fourth place to Franco Girolami. Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami had a good first lap, climbing up to eleventh place from the back of the grid.
Engstler Motorsport’s Attila Tassi didn’t get off at the green light as he couldn’t get his car into gear, with the safety car called into action to recover the Honda Civic Type R TCR.
The race was relaunched on lap four, with Franco Girolami attacking Coronel as Berthon was also closely watched by Michelisz.
Further back, Zengo Motorsport’s Rob Huff (Cupra Leon Competición) and Esteban Guerrieri, with a Honda Civic Type R TCR from Münnich Motorsport, had a feud for ninth place. The Briton overtook the Argentinian on lap nine, as Néstor Girolami was let through by Guerrieri.
Hyundai’s Nicky Catsburg also overtook Comtoyou’s Viktor Davidovski (Audi) for seventh place, with the Macedonian not giving up on re-attacking the Dutch.
Michelisz intensified his pressure on Berthon on lap ten, with the Hungarian coming just within half-a-second of the leader.
Catsburg reported issues with his left front tyre as Davidovski attacked the Hyundai driver. Zengo Motorsport’s Dániel Nagy retired to the pits with a tyre problem on lap 19.
The battle at the front continued as Franco Girolami joined the leading duo with five minutes to go, attacking Michelisz for second place.
Magnus went wide on lap 25, with Azcona taking advantage to claim fifth place from the Belgian. Further ahead, Michelisz had to defend hard from Franco Girolami, as Magnus reclaimed fifth position from Azcona.
The scrap between the two continued, as Azcona tried the inside, colliding with Magnus and sent the Audi out of the track. The Spaniard gave the position back to the Belgian soon after.
Franco Girolami attacked Michelisz again at Turn 1 on lap 26, with the Hungarian closing the door the two made contact.
Berthon took the victory as the chequered flag fell, followed by Michelisz, while Franco Girolami slowed down to allow Tom Coronel to finish third.
Magnus was fifth, followed by Azcona, Catsburg and Davidovski. Rob Huff finished ninth, with Néstor Girolami crossing the line in tenth place.
“I’m so happy for the whole team and to see Tommy on the podium,” Berthon said after the race. “It wasn’t easy and I had to make not mistakes.”
“I had too much understeer, so we let Franco through to attack and he tried, but he couldn’t (overtake Michelisz) in the end,” Coronel explained.
“When I was close I tried to attack Nat and he defended well but, after three or four times doing this, it was too much for the tyres,” added Michelisz.
Néstor Girolami is still second in the championship on 245 points, but with Berthon now just five points behind.
The start of Race 2 is scheduled for 22:15 local time, 20:15 CET.