The WTCC was in Argentina last weekend (15th & 16th July) for rounds 11 and 12 of the Championship. This weekend would see the Hondas put on an extra 10kg of ballast, while the Volvo will drop 20kg. It would also be the debut for Zsolt Szabo, who replaces Panis at Zengo for the rest of the season.
The weekend would start well for Volvo and Nicky Catsburg, as he scored pole for the feature race. It wasn’t without controversy, as it would take 3 hours for the FIA to decide if his lap was legal. He would be joined by Norbert Michelisz on the front row. Monteiro would line up third. Further down the field, Yann Ehrlacher secured pole for the opening race in his RC Motorsport Lada. He had the third Honda of Ryo Michigami would qualify 2nd, but was dropped to the back of the gird due to an engine change. Tom Chilton lined up next to the young Frenchman’s Lada,
Ehrlacher got off the line quick, defended hard from Chilton and held the lead from the Brit. Bennani would slot into third behind Chilton. Further behind, the Hondas of Monteiro and Michelisz would come to blows, leaving Michelisz with a puncture. Later in the lap, Chilton would push Ehrlacher wide and took the lead. This allowed Bennani to get alongside, but Ehrlacher held him off. Ehrlacher would continue to soak up the pressure from Bennani, which allowed home boy Guerrieri to catch up. Crucially, it allowed Chilton to pull away at the front.
The battle for second became a 6 way fight. Bjork tried to stay on the back of Guerrieri as his two team mates played back up. Guerrieri would run wide at the start of the fifth lap, that gave Bjork a gap to try and get passed. Guerrieri hung him out to dry, with the two making contact dropping Bjork down. This would be catastrophic for Volvo, as it allowed Monteiro to get passed Bjork and Girolami. Rob Huff also managed to pass Girolami.
Things would get worse for Volvo as his front left tyre failed after just 7 laps, which would end his race. That promoted Monteiro to fifth and put Bjork back up to 6th. Shortly after, Girolami’s car would stop in the pit lane entrance, just outside of the pit lane. That would leave Monteiro and Bjork to fight with Guerrieri for fifth. 10 laps in, Chilton’s hopes of victory would take a huge blow. With a 3 second lead over Ehrlacher, he was handed a 5 second time penalty. Chilton would try and push on to push and open up a gap. That meant that the battle between Ehrlacher and Bennani was for the lead of the race.
Chilton would try and push on, but it wouldn’t be enough for him. He would cross the line 3.4 seconds in front. That meant that Ehrlacher would take his maiden win in the WTCC. Bennani would come home second with Esteban Guerrieri on the podium at his home race. Chilton would end up fourth and off the podium.
Catsburg would make a strong start, holding the lead. Further back, Chilton would end up on the grass trying climb up the field. It would be Michelisz behind Catsburg with Monteiro chasing in third, the Honda duo absorbing the pressure from Thed Bjork. Guerrieri and Girolami were fighting it out behind, the former almost loosing a place to Mehdi Bennani in the process. Girolami’s Volvo drifted out wide, allowing the Chevrolet to squeeze through. At the back, the late comers to Szabo and Kevin Gleason were engaged in a good battle. Szabo would go wide, which allowed Gleason to have a dive down the inside of the Zengo car.
The battle for 8th would start to hot up. Chilton, who was nursing damage from the start, try and hold Ehrlacher and Huff behind him. Huff came into the race leading the Independent’s Championship by just 2 points from Bennani. With Bennani in front, he was trying to make up for lost time. At the front, Michelisz would push Catsburg hard in the fight for the lead. Catsburg would respond by setting the fastest lap, allowing him to pull out a gap of just over a second from the chasing Hondas. This was a must win race for Catsburg to stay in the running for the Championship.
It wasn’t to be. Catsburg suffered a puncture again after the same number of laps as in the first race. This promoted Michelisz to the lead with Monteiro behind. Chilton on the other hand would continue to soak up the pressure from Ehrlacher. Huff would up the aggression level as he tired to move up the field. The Britt dived down the inside, Ehrlacher would be having none of it. Huff would dive out of the slipstream, but Ehrlacher would park the car in Huff’s path. This allowed Tom Coronel to catch up.
The chequered flag would fall with Michelisz and Monteiro taking a Honda 1-2. Thed Bjork would help Volvo’s cause in third with Bennani behind in fourth. The fight between Chilton, Ehrlacher and Huff would end in the same order.
Monteiro would hold the lead in the championship, sitting 12 points ahead of Thed Bjork’s Volvo. Michelisz and Bennani move up to 3rd and 4th thanks to Catsburg’s double DNF. Catsburg drops to 5th, 41 points down. Bennani and Chilton now lead the WTCC Trophy, equal on points. Huff now drops to third, on equal points with the SLR duo.
Drivers Championship Top 10
1 – Tiago Monteiro – Honda – 200
2 – Thed Bjork – Volvo – 188
3 – Norbert Michelisz – Honda – 171
4 – Mehdi Bennani – Citroen (T) – 164
5 – Nicky Catsburg – Volvo – 159
6 – Tom Chilton – Citroen (T) – 147
7 – Rob Huff – Citroen (T) – 135
8 – Esteban Guerrieri – Chevrolet (T) – 113
9 – Nestor Girolami – Volvo – 68
10 – Yann Ehrlacher – Lada (T) – 45
WTCC Trophy Top 5
1 – Mehdi Bennani – Citroen – 87
2 – Tom Chilton – Citroen – 87
3 – Rob Huff – Citroen – 87
4 – Esteban Guerrieri – Chevrolet – 70
5 – Yann Ehrlacher – Lada – 47
Image: Yann Ehrlacher