Tiago Monteiro took his Castrol Honda Civic to victory in race one of the WTCC weekend at the Slovakiaring, but was made to work for the honour by a feisty Mehdi Bennani.

The Moroccan started on the outside of the front row, alongside Lada's Hugo Valente, but made the most of the polesitter's tardy getaway to hold the advantage into turn one. Monteiro also jumped the Frenchman to slot into P2 and thus began a race-long pursuit of Bennani's heavier Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen.

As he sank down the order, Valente was given no quarter by veteran Lada team-mate Gabriele Tarquini, who muscled his way by the youngster in his bid to keep tabs on the top three - which had the second Castrol Honda of Rob Huff playing tailgunner after losing a little more time joining his team-mate in the lead group. The factory Citroens were next up with both Yvan Muller and Jose Maria Lopez making up places in the early laps, but Nicky Catsburg, who will line up on the front row alongside Muller in race two, failed to make good on his bid to keep his nose clean from row five after running briefly off the road on the opening lap, dropping outside the top ten.

With Huff giving him the hurry up from P3, Monteiro took several laps to work out where Bennani might be weakest and, as the Citroen's tyres showed signs of suffering under the 80kg weight penalty being carried by all C-Elyssees this weekend, eventually pounced at turn eight with two laps remaining.

"I made a fantastic start, which was the key to the race and put me in a position to battle for victory," Monteiro commented, "Mehdi drove really well and made no mistakes, so it was tricky to judge when to make my move, but when I did, it worked and we were able to take the victory."

Bennani admitted that he was caught between celebrating another podium and lamenting a potential victory that went begging.

"Realistically, we are an independent team, but S?bastien Loeb Racing still does an excellent job," he said, "The WTCC meetings are never easy and, as we have shown this weekend, work pays. We were penalised by the handicap weight, the front tyres were in agony and I resisted to the end, but this season has only played two rounds. The balance sheet remains very positive as we continue to score points and show that we can fight with the works drivers."

As Monteiro pulled clear, Bennani showed that he was in no mood to fall further back, resisting Huff's advances to the flag, although the Briton appeared content with another podium finish.

"We knew there was still a bit of speed left to find in the Civic WTCC overnight and the team found it, so that result was for them," he acknowledged, "Race day begins with a terrific start and a very strong podium finish."

Further back, Lopez and Muller closed relentlessly on Tarquini but, just as the pair appeared to be lining up a late assault on the Italian's Lada, Norbert Michelisz played white knight, charging to the Lada's rescue as he dive bombed Muller for P6 and almost succeeded in jumping Lopez into the bargain. Running side-by-side with the reigning champion was enough to allow Tarquini to pull away, ensuring that he would finish as best of the rest behind the podium trio.

As the remaining Ladas faded to eleventh (Catsburg) and twelfth respectively, both Volvos moved into the top ten, with Thed Bjork and Fredrik Ekblom sandwiching Tom Chilton's Citroen at the flag. There wasn't such good news for Ferenc Ficza, however, as the Hungarian's WTCC debut ended with his Zeng Motorsport Honda Civic on fire in a gravel trap three laps from home - and just one week from his home race in Budapest...



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