Sepang, Malaysia - Norbert Michelisz is the new King of the WTCR after the 2019 season ended with a thrilling super- finale at the inaugural Races of Malaysia, which featured dramatic action on two and four wheels.
As well as the three highly-charged and dramatic counters that made up the WTCR / OSCARO season decider, the event also included the 8 Hours of Sepang, round two of the FIM Endurance World Championship for motorbikes.
But while YART Yamaha celebrated success on two wheels, it was Hungarian Michelisz who celebrated most on four after his title win on the back of a Race 1 victory and points finishes in races two and three, which were won by Esteban Guerrieri and Johan Kristoffersson respectively.
Guerrieri charged through from ninth to first on the opening lap of Race 2 to keep his title hopes alive by cutting Michelisz’s advantage to 10 points with one race left, which ended in a sensational victory for Kristoffersson – from a staggering P22 on the grid.
SLR Volkswagen driver Kristoffersson prevailed after a jaw-dropping four-way fight for the win, which ultimately cost Guerrieri his shot at the WTCR / OSCARO title. Over the opening laps, the destiny of the title swung between Guerrieri and Michelisz almost by the corner, only for the ALL- INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda to lose power with a suspected blocked radiator after contact with Azcona forced a trip across the grass in the slippery conditions.
“First of all, I would honestly like to congratulate Esteban because his performances in Race 2 and Race 3 today were unbelievably strong,” said BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse driver Michelisz. “It was a very tough fight, we were going flat out. He had some technical issues and so did I. Before Race 3 it looked like I wouldn’t even start the race. But in the end with the car working at 90 per cent I managed to do the start – and in the end it’s unbelievable. It’s just a huge relief after a long season. We didn’t start off very good, but the second part of the season made up for that. Taking the championship is something I’ve been hoping for a couple of years now.
“It’s pretty difficult to describe all the emotions going through my body now. But the most important thing is to say a huge thank you to my family, to the team and all the Hungarian people who have been supporting me for a bit more than 10 years now.
“A bit more than 10 years ago I was still playing computer games and hoping to start a professional career. In the end I managed to do that. So a huge thank you to everyone. It’s just unbelievable.”
RACE 1 REPORT: MICHELISZ TRIUMPHS TO EXTEND POINTS LEAD
Norbert Michelisz took a significant step towards claiming the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO by keeping his cool in mixed weather conditions to win Race 1.
The BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse converted his DHL Pole Position into a flawless victory as the weather created a tense and unpredictable opening race of the Sepang super-finale. He finished ahead of Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing’s Aurélien Panis, who started second on the grid and claimed his first WTCR / OSCARO podium finish.
Michelisz’s title rivals Esteban Guerrieri rose from ninth on the grid to finish fourth, while Yvan Muller tore through the field from P16 to sixth. The result leaves Michelisz 27 points ahead of Guerrieri, with Muller a further eight points back.
“This is a bigger step than those before [from qualifying],” said a delighted Michelisz. “It was not easy at all, the conditions were far from ideal. There was pressure, but I’m really happy with my performance and the car. I could see Aurélien had decent pace, so I was not laid back and tried to build a gap early on in case I made a mistake. But it was the perfect race.”
The race started behind the safety car as changing weather forced teams to gamble on tyre choices. Many, including Michelisz, chose dry slick Yokohama tyres on the front and wet-weather treaded Yokohama tyres on the rears. After one lap behind the safety car, the action was unleashed with Michelisz and Panis making strong getaways to escape from the pack.
Michelisz’s team-mate and 2018 title winner Gabriele Tarquini rose from seventh on the grid to finish third, boosting the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s team title hopes, with Guerrieri behind him in fourth for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport.
Experienced wildcard João Paulo de Oliveira drove brilliantly in his KC Motorgroup Honda to protect fellow Civic Type R TCR driver Guerrieri, coming from P13 on the grid to finish fifth, holding off Muller’s Cyan Racing Lynk & Co as the Frenchman worked to improve his title chances. But Muller could not find a way past de Oliveira to challenge Guerrieri.
PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf finished seventh, ahead of SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson and BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing’s Team Nicky Catsburg, who overcame a five-place grid penalty to score a strong points finish.
Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Jean-Karl Vernay completed the top 10. The other points scorers were Andy Priaux in P11, Mehdi Bennani, Attila Tassi, Yann Ehrlacher and Gordon Shedden. Thed Björk finished down in P27 after gambling on a mid-race switch to slick dry tyres and the Lynk & Co driver is now out of the title hunt with two races at Sepang left to run.
Esteban Guerrieri turned the screw on his battle with Norbert Michelisz for the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO title by winning a dramatic red flag-interrupted reverse-grid Race 2 at WTCR Race of Malaysia.
The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver closed to within 10 points of WTCR / OSCARO points leader Michelisz, after rising from ninth on the grid, in a race run in heavy rain that ended under the floodlights as darkness fell. Race 1 winner Michelisz could only finish eighth.
“Amazing,” said Guerrieri. “I really gave it all. I visualised what would happen in the first lap and it happened. This was the race of my life. The car was awesome and thank you to my team. We are a bit closer and we are still in the fight.”
From the start, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami took the lead from DHL Pole Position man Ma Qinghua at Turn 1, but his team-mate Guerrieri was quickly on the move from ninth – and by the end of the first lap, sensationally he was already in the lead.
But drama behind him forced a red flag race suspension. Heavy rain led to a number of drivers running off the track, including WTCR / OSCARO points leader Michelisz. The safety car had just been called upon when Nicky Catsburg’s BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team Hyundai, which had skidded off after contact with Yvan Muller, caught fire after returning to the circuit. Catsburg escaped without injury.
Muller was furious about the contact with Catsburg. “He came from nowhere and I was his target,” said the Frenchman. “There should be a strong penalty, but there will probably be nothing.”
Catsburg held his hands up for the incident. “I was on slicks, he was on full wets I think,” said the Dutchman. “I locked the tyres, I couldn’t stop and I T-boned Yvan. It was fully my mistake and I didn’t do it intentionally. But I understand his frustration.”
The race was restarted with the drivers taking up the positions they held from sector two on that first lap. Incredibly, Catsburg’s mechanics prepared his car to restart despite the fire, but he was not allowed to take his place on the grid because he had received mechanical assistance under red flag conditions.
The new order at the start left Girolami and Guerrieri on the front row, with Muller in fifth on the grid, with fellow WTCR / OSCARO title contender Michelisz – who had dropped down the order from the first start – only in P17, although problems for those ahead promoted him to P13 under the safety car restart. By this time the rain had now set in and darkness had fallen.
From the restart, Girolami inevitably allowed Guerrieri through to lead and he didn’t look back, building a comfortable gap to claim his vital victory.
But there was plenty of action behind him as PWR Racing’sMikel Azcona and SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson battled hard and overcame Girolami to join Guerrieri on the podium, Kristoffersson having started P22 on the grid.
Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon finished fifth in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR, ahead of Muller who is now out of title contention ahead of the final race.
His nephew Yann Ehrlacher was seventh, with Michelisz content to take vital points in eighth – having originally started in P10. Rob Huff was next, with SLR Volkswagen’s Benjamin Leuchter completing the top 10.
How the title battle unfolded in thrilling Race 3
From the beginning, the two title protagonists were locked in a duel as they started from the front row of the grid. Michelisz, on the DHL Pole Position, just lost out at Turn 1 as Guerrieri swept around the outside line, pulling PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona with him into second as the evening drama played out on a wet track under floodlights.
The trio were soon joined by the remarkable Kristoffersson who seemingly came from nowhere to make it a four-way battle and demote Michelisz another place, only for the safety car to be called upon on lap two as Augusto Farfus beached his Hyundai in the gravel.
Racing resumed on lap five as the top four put on an unforgettable spectacle. The key moment was a duel between Guerrieri and Azcona, who tapped the Argentinian. The contact forced the Honda to briefly take to the grass – then Guerrieri reported he was “losing power”. Heartbreakingly, he dropped down the order, only to set the fastest lap of the race once the blockage had cleared.
Guerrieri’s loss meant Michelisz was safe to claim his WTCR / OSCARO crown and he dropped to fifth. Ahead of him Kristoffersson and Azcona were joined by the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR of Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon for a new three-way fight.
Following another brief safety car interruption, the trio scrapped corner by corner until Kristoffersson took a decisive lead from Azcona with an inspired outside pass at the last corner on lap 11. Azcona chased him all the way to the chequered flag on lap 14, with Ceccon completing the podium ahead of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch and a relieved Michelisz. However, a post-race penalty for the incident with Guerrieri dropped Azcona to P14, one place ahead of Malaysian MotoGP star Hafizh Syahrin, who was competing as a wildcard entrant, and gave Vervisch third behind Ceccon.
Michelisz’s BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team-mate and 2018 title winner Gabriele Tarquini finished sixth on the road, only for a 30-second penalty for driving breaches behind the safety car to demote him to P18. Guerrieri’s team-mate Néstor Girolami was promoted to fifth with KCMG’s Tiago Monteiro finishing sixth and Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Thed Björk in seventh. SLR Volkswagen’s Benjamin Leuchter was eighth with Rob Huff, Jean-Karl Vernay, Yvan Muller, Andy Priaulx and Daniel Haglöf next up.
Elsewhere, João Paulo de Oliveira won the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy on his WTCR / OSCARO debut, while the collective efforts of Thed Björk and Yvan Muller were enough for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co to win the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO for Teams. Meanwhile, promising Malaysian wildcard Mitchell Cheah finished a weekend-best P16 in Race 2.
RACE WINNER QUOTES
Race 1: Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse), Hyundai i30 N TCR
“In the end you could see that the race was far from straightforward. The problems started with the tyre choice because we were just in between wet and dry conditions, so we had to gamble a bit. But in the end the choice was quite good because the conditions stayed constant. I managed to [keep] my rhythm which again was far from easy because it was a constantly changing balance. But in the end the important thing was to win the race and extend the lead because this was a good step in the right direction. We went for slicks on the front and rain tyres on the rear. Usually this choice never works, but I think today we were also a bit lucky. For everyone who went for this choice, it was a big risk but in the end you have to go with a choice if you are not sure what the current conditions on the grid say. And between the five and two minutes boards we were still not sure, but the team made this choice and I am really thankful to them because in the end it was just the perfect one.”
Race 2: Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport), Honda Civic Type R TCR
“It was awesome. I knew I had to make a mega start, which I did, and from ninth for first, then the red flag and the grid position of second behind Néstor [Girolami]. It was good to take the lead. I had an awesome car, an incredible pace, and I could just pull away. This win kept alive our championship chances and it was very important. After the red flag I was worried they would re- position me to ninth, which would have been unfair but it didn’t happen so fair enough. The conditions were quite extreme with wet weather, but then the rain stopped and I had nobody in front of me so I was able to drive my lines and I really enjoyed that one.”
Race 3: Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen), Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
“I didn’t expect it, to be honest, to be able to fight again for a podium like I did in Race 2 because conditions were pretty constant and everyone was finding their line and their rhythm. I expected it to be a bit more tricky, but we did some changes on the car between the races and the car was working very, very well. We made the right tyre choice. I had a great first lap. First of all a good start and then I managed to drive my way up to P3 already on the first lap. So there was a lot of overtaking there, but the track in the rain is really nice and wide and you can use a lot of different lines. So in the end when I came close to [Mikel] Azcona towards the end of the race I didn’t want to pass him too early because I knew he would have a good slipstream and he was also very, very fast. Then the safety car came out and we ran out of laps, so I tried to make a move as fast as possible and from there on it was a bit tricky being all alone out front with no reference or a driver to watch. It was a bit tricky, but it was just head down and focussing 100 per cent. The last couple of laps were interesting, I have to say, as even Ceccon was putting pressure on us. I was not sure I would be able to win until the last corner. It’s so easy to make a mistake and run wide, and drivers can behind you can find a line that can be one second faster in a couple of corners. So you really have to fight all the way and after the race I felt pretty exhausted having had to stay focused for two races in a row.”
DHL Pole Position Race 1: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 1 winner: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 1 fastest lap: João Paulo de Oliveira (BRA) Honda Civic Type R TCR
DHL Pole Position Race 2: Ma Qinghua (CHN) Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR Race 2 winner: Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) Honda Civic Type R TCR
Race 2 fastest lap: Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) Honda Civic Type R TCR
DHL Pole Position Race 3: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 3 winner: Johan Kristoffersson (SWE) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
Race 3 fastest lap: Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) Honda Civic Type R TCR
TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy: João Paulo de Oliveira (BRA) Honda Civic Type R TCR TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) Hyundai i30 N TCR