Photo: ACI Sport

Marco Butti strikes late to take penultimate TCR Italy win of the season

Target Competition’s Marco Butti claimed victory in a restarted opening TCR Italy race of the Imola finale as Franco Girolami edged closer to the championship title.

The race was halted within seconds of the original start as polesitter Ruben Volt stalled on the grid and was collected by Paolo Rocca’s Audi.

Further contact from unsighted drivers behind left cars strewn across the track, forcing the red flags to come out and a lengthy recovery operation to be carried out.

Half an hour later, action resumed, with Butti prevailing in a three-car lead battle to head home Girolami’s Audi and the Honda of reigning series champion Niels Langeveld.

Unfortunately for Volt, his race was run from the off, as the Honda Civic Type-R remained stationary as the lights went out. Rocca tagged the rear of the Estonian’s car, spearing it across the track.

Volt was then hit by Park Junesong’s Hyundai while the Cupras of Sylvain Pussier and Cosimo Baberini were also caught up in the melee.

Unseen to most, Matteo Poloni emerged in the lead of the race, but the Audi driver was subsequently penalised 25-seconds for overtaking Girolami under red flag conditions, dropping him out of the top 10 at the end of the race.

Until his penalty, Poloni had driven a superb defensive race as he withstood waves of attack from Girolami; the Argentinian prepared to drive a more circumspect race given his main title rival Aurélien Comte started ninth on the grid.

Not that it stopped Girolami from trying his luck at times, as the Audi driver put his nose down the inside of Tosa and Rivazza as Poloni struggled with rear-end grip.

Eventually, Poloni’s time at the top came to an end, but this time it was Butti who seized the advantage having got past Girolami on the exit of Variante Alta with just under eight minutes to go as the Audi ran wide.

Butti quickly moved onto the tail of Poloni and made a decisive move down the inside of Rivazza after getting a perfect cutback from the Variante Alta. Poloni’s goose was cooked thereafter as Girolami took second place at Piratella, the resulting shove wide allowing Langeveld to snatch third.

Poloni held onto fourth on the road at the end, but his penalty enabled Felice Jelmini to take the first place off the podium, ahead of Park Junul.

The Korean driver staved off a strong attack from Comte, who suffered a pair of off-track moments in his Cupra, while Denis Baubin took seventh in his Hyundai.

Rodolfo Massaro was eighth, ahead of Hyundai stablemate Eric Brigliadori while the Audi of Marco Pellegrini rounded out the top 10 finishers.

Girolami’s second place means he takes a 28-point margin over Langeveld into Sunday’s final race of the season. Comte is 10 points further adrift in third.

The TCR Italy season concludes tomorrow, with the final race of the year scheduled to take place at 10:35 CET.

Edit: Girolami was mathematically crowned champion in controversial fashion before the race began following the decision to overturn the Audi driver’s penalty from the Monza round which resulted in him losing his victory.

In a ruling by ACI Sport, Girolami’s team appealed the penalty from the September round, which was accepted on the eve of the Imola weekend, reinstating Girolami as the winner and provisional champion.

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