L&T Motorsport

Bennani and Michelisz take the top steps in WTCC’s first joker races

Victory was shared between Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz in Portugal today. The fifth weekend of the WTCC season saw the debut of the new joker lap concept introduced for this round. Each race would see drivers complete 1 lap which is around 3 seconds slower than the regular lap. The idea was supposed to spice up the racing. Late on Saturday, all of the teams submitted a notice to the FIA expressing safety concerns. They were concerned about cars rejoining the regular lap on the racing line. As a result the FIA tightened the exit and allowed the teams 15 minutes running on Sunday morning.

One driver who wouldn’t see the alterations would be Tom Coronel, after a freak accident with an ambulance ended his weekend. The Dutch driver lost a wheel which sent him down an escape road. He wasn’t able to stop the car, and ended up jumping off a kerb, which sent him into the ambulance.

The first race would see Ryo Michigami taking his first opening race pole of the season. He had Nestor Girolami and Esteban Guerrieri alongside him. Bennani would start fourth. He wouldn’t stay there for long, as a lightning start would see him up to second. Bennani then made a move on Michigami to take the lead, then started to build up a gap. Further behind, Tiago Monteiro would make a good start, climbing from fourth to seventh. Tom Chilton would put himself in the history books, as the first driver to take the joker lap in WTCC. He was joined on lap 3 by Catsburg, Huff and Michelisz. The early move wouldn’t help Chilton, who lost a place to Bjork who jokered 1 lap later.

At the front, Bennani built up a 5 second gap, which allowed him to joker and still stay in the lead. His efforts were helped by Michigami, Girolami, Monteiro and Bjork who were all fighting. When Michigami went through the joker lap he rejoined fifth, but disaster struck when a puncture forced him into retirement. He would join the Lada of Kevin Gleason and Guerrieri’s Chevrolet on the sidelines.

The race ended with Bennani just 1 second ahead of Monteiro, who used the joker lap to his advantage. Bjork would put Volvo on the podium in third.

Then it was on to race two, which would see Norbert Michelisz on pole with Huff alongside. Thing’s weren’t going to be easy for Huff though, as he stalled on the grid, dropping to the back of the field. This promoted Bjork to second with Monteiro moving up to third. Huff would charge back through the field, getting on the tail of 10th place John Filippi by lap 2. Chilton was again first to take the joker lap, with team mate Filippi joining him in an attempt to cover off Huff. The front runners all jokered on the next two laps, with the order staying the same.

Huff then took the joker lap on lap 5, then started to push to make the most of his strategy. He went on to set the fastest lap of the race, helping him pass Bennani and Girolami. Huff then caught up to Chilton who was running fifth, and tried everything to get passed over the next 5 laps. He would pass the SLR driver with just three laps to go, and tried to catch Catsburg for fourth.

At the front, it would be Michelisz who would take his first win of the 2017 season ahead of Bjork’s Volvo and Monteiro. This would help Michelisz gain ground in the championship, promoting him to fourth. Monteiro takes the lead of the championship by just 4 points from Thed Bjork’s Volvo. Nicky Catsburg drops to third, 10 points behind Monteiro. The next round of the WTCC takes place on July 16th in Argentina.

Words: @WA10Tom
Image: FIA

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