Tiago Monteiro claimed his first WTCC win of the season in front of his home crowd in Portimão today. Monteiro managed his tyres in the Portuguese heat to take the chequered flag ahead of Chevrolet’s Yvan Muller and SR-Sport teammate Gabriele Tarquini.
Norbert Michelisz won the Rookie Challenge, in seventh overall, after a race long battle with Michel Nykjær. Another rookie, Fredy Barth, will start on pole for Race 2 after Nykjær’s last lap puncture dropped him from eighth to 17th.
The battle for Independents’ glory was also raging with Sergio Hernández taking the spoils in ninth just 0.132s ahead of Darryl O’Young and Kristian Poulsen in 10th and 11th.
With such a wide track there was plenty of space for the WTCC field to race side-by-side as they came down to Turn 1 off the rolling start. Tarquini had a good run to move up from fourth to second before Muller fought back and the pair raced wheel-to-wheel through the first few corners. Muller held onto second position despite the challenges of Tarquini and teammate Rob Huff while Monteiro began to pull away in the lead. Tom Coronel also had a great start moving up from 15th to tenth by the end of the first lap.
Rookie Norbert Michelisz went to the outside of turns one and two at the start and dropped back two places to eighth after battling his way through the first lap. The order at the end of lap one was now Monteiro from Muller, Tarquini, Huff, Farfus, Gené, Menu, Michelisz, Nykjær, Coronel and Barth.
Andy Priaulx’s race was over only a couple of laps in after coming together with Barth and damaging the left-rear of his BMW 320si. He limped back to the pits but rejoined in the latter stages.
Rookie drivers Michelisz and Nykjær both made moves to demote Menu two places to ninth and continued their battle for the Rookie Challenge. The pair raced side-by-side switching positions, but as Nykjær moved ahead on lap four the pair touched and ran wide allowing Menu and Coronel through for seventh and eighth positions.
Up at the front, Monteiro had now pulled out a 1.57-second lead while Tarquini continued to push Muller for second. The battle in the Independents was also heating up with Turkington in 12th holding off the challenges from Hernández, D’Aste and O’Young. After series newcomer Turkington came together with Barth and spun, Hernández was able to capitalize to move into the Independents’ lead. Mehdi Bennani’s race ended on lap five after spinning out at Turn 9 , while Farfus was beginning to catch the leading trio in his BMW 320si.
Monteiro made a couple of mistakes with only a few laps remaining allowing Muller to really close the gap. The potential tyre problems in the heat were also on everyone’s minds as Jordi Gené and Rob Huff both retired with punctures. The order was now Monteiro from Muller, Tarquini, Farfus, Menu, Coronel, Michelisz, Nykjær, Hernández, Barth and O’Young.
As they began the penultimate lap, the top four had a 5-second gap from the rest of the field. After easing off the pace to protect his tyres Monteiro was defending from Muller and Tarquini with Farfus, in fourth, waiting for an opportune moment to pounce. Monteiro, however, held on and claimed his first victory of the season, celebrating with a jump in the circuit’s swimming pool. Nykjær was not so lucky, suffering another last lap tyre blow out and losing pole for Race 2.
Muller, Tarquini and Farfus remained as they were ahead of Menu and Coronel who came through to sixth from 15th on the grid. Michelisz claimed his fourth consecutive Rookie victory in seventh putting him alongside Barth, on pole, for Race 2 later today.
Hernández fought hard, first with Turkington and then with a fast O’Young at the end, to seal the Independents’ trophy. The Spaniard finished ninth overall with O’Young rounding out the top ten.