The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver delivered a home victory for Honda on the 2.243-km East Course circuit, ahead of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Dutchman Niels Langeveld and KCMG’s Tiago Monteiro, from Portugal.
“It is one of my best victories I’ve ever had,” said a delighted Argentine. “It is important for many reasons. Thank you to everyone involved in this project.”
At the start, Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch challenged Guerrieri for first place on the outside of Turns 1 and 2, which allowed team-mate Langeveld up the inside to take the lead. But on lap two the Dutch driver made a mistake at the final turn, which allowed Guerrieri to take a lead he would not lose.
“It was intense,” said Guerrieri. “The Audis were lighter and quicker on the straight. After the start I touched wheels with Vervisch, but the Honda is like a tractor and so reliable! Langeveld got inside and took the lead, but then made a mistake. From there I had the pace to control the race.”
There was bad luck for Vervisch, who lost his third place on lap seven when debris got lodged between the front-left brake caliper and wheel, splitting the rim in the process and triggering a safety car interlude when Vervisch stopped on track.
The racing action resumed on lap 10 with Guerrieri leading from Langeveld, ahead of Monteiro – who had started fourth rather than from the DHL Pole Position as one of a number of drivers to incur a grid penalty after qualifying.
On lap 14 there was further Audi misfortune as impressive wildcard entrant Ritomo Miyata dropped out of seventh place in his Audi Team Hitotsuyama RS 3 LMS with a paddle-shift failure.
The race ended under the Audi R8 safety car following a high-speed crash involving Andy Priaulx and Nicky Catsburg. The Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver, running in P13, was defending into Turn 1 from BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Catsburg. The Hyundai i30 N TCR made contact with the Lynk & Co, with Priaulx shooting across the gravel trap and hard into the barrier. Click here to find out what Catsburg and Priaulx said of the incident.
Behind the top three, Thed Björk finished fourth for Lynk & Co, ahead of SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson who held off Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Jean-Karl Vernay for fifth.
Gabriele Tarquini was seventh, ahead of Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR duo Kevin Ceccon and Ma Qinghua. Volkswagen-powered Sébastien Loeb Racing driver Rob Huff completed the top 10 followed by Yvan Muller, Yann Ehrlacher, erstwhile title leader Norbert Michelisz, Catsburg and Aurélien Panis, the first CUPRA driver home in P15.
Muller rose from P25 on the grid to finish in P11, as fellow title contender on the #RoadToMalaysia, Michelisz, lost his advantage at the head of the table in P13.
RACE WINNER QUOTES
Race 1: Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport), Honda Civic Type R TCR
“It was a very intense race. I knew at the start I had to do a good start, which I did actually. I expected the Audis to be quick on the straight, but not to arrive at the first corner side by side with me. Vervisch did a very risky move on the outside, I tried to defend going side by side into Turn 2 and we touched wheels, losing a bit of pace there. Langeveld came on the inside and we went side by side and there was no need for me to risk too much, so he moved to the front. Unfortunately for him he did a mistake on the second lap and again I got back in the lead. I knew I had the pace because the car felt very good on the infield, not so good on the straight, but I knew I could control the pace. It’s a very important win, a very enjoyable one for many reasons, but mostly winning here in Japan is very special as a Honda driver sharing the podium with a very experienced and a very loved driver by Honda in Tiago. It’s everything, you know, to win at Suzuka, a track full of history I used to watch races at as a kid. And for the championship it’s very important, so I am very thankful.”
*Race 1 results are provisional, subject to change