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Kevin Ceccon claimed the first victory for Alfa Romeo in the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) in the opening race at Suzuka, passing pole-sitter Aurélien Comte to also claim his and Team Mulsanne’s first win.
Pole-sitter Comte made a strong start to lead on the opening lap, but Ceccon began to apply pressure from the second lap and made his way past with a move at the high-speed 130R corner after getting a better run down the back straight.
The Italian was untouchable after that, despite two safety car interventions twice requiring him to rebuild his lead.
The victory marks the first for Alfa Romeo in FIA-level touring cars since James Thompson was victorious in Valencia in the WTCC in 2007.
Comte had to settle for second in his DG Sport Peugeot, unable to keep pace with Ceccon through the flowing first sector, despite twice being close to the leading Italian at the restarts.
YMR’s Yvan Muller completed the podium, and in doing so the Frenchman has drawn level with Gabriele Tarquini at the top of the drivers’ standings on 251 points.
The duo are now 17 points clear of Thed Björk, who had to retire from the race on lap three after hitting the tyre stack at the chicane and damaging the front-right corner of his Hyundai. The incident also prompted a first two-lap safety car period for the tyre stack to be replaced.
Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri was the leading Honda driver in fourth, being the only driver for the Japanese marque inside the points at Honda’s home circuit.
Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehid Bennani was fifth, the only Volkswagen driver on the lead lap after team-mate Rob Huff came into the pits after four laps with mechanical issues on his Golf GTi.
Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil’s Jean-Karl Vernay took sixth, unable to make significant ground in the race at a circuit where the Audis have yet to find their feet, the Frenchman mostly benefitting when grid penalties for drivers ahead of him elevated him to start from fifth after qualifying in ninth.
Mat’o Homola brought the second Peugeot home in seventh, ahead of BRC Racing’s Tarquini in eighth, with the Hyundai driver losing out to Homola at the chicane on the first lap.
Comtoyou Racing’s Frédéric Vervisch and Campos Racing’s Pepe Oriola completed the top ten, with both drivers passing Münnich Motorsport’s Yann Ehrlacher in the first few laps of the race.
Ehrlacher then retired on lap seven when he went off into the gravel at 130R, causing a second safety car intervention. The incident which lead to the Frenchman’s retirement is being investigated following possible contact from Gordon Shedden.
Newcomer Luigi Ferrara took the chequered flag in 14th position in his first WTCR race, notably claiming the highest top speed figure in the race won by his team-mate.
Boutsen Ginion Racing’s Tiago Monteiro finished in 15th on his return to racing after over a year recovering from injury, ending the race as the second-best Honda driver in the field.
Race two is scheduled to take place at 11:05 local time on Sunday (02:05 GMT, 03:05 CET) followed by race three at 12:30 local time (03:30 GMT, 04:30 CET).