Esteban Guerrieri completed the final season of the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup in its current format at WTCR Race of Saudi Arabia last month with the record of most wins having celebrated 10 triumphs for Honda-powered ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. To mark his achievement, the 37-year-old Argentine recalls his favourites.
KEEPING COOL ON MACAU’S UNFORGIVING STREETS (2018)
Setting the scene: The pressure from the chasing Rob Huff was immense but Guerrieri kept a cool head during the season finale to win the third of three races on the world’s toughest street track.
Esteban Guerrieri: “We had the sixth gear limiting after Mandarin so the only chance I had was to do a mega start. I pulled the overtake before Mandarin and then I was trying to hold off the tyre degradation because I needed good traction out of the last two corners. Around the infield I was going 80 per cent and Rob was actually hitting me in some slow corners. It was so tight but I knew the corners where I could be at risk of losing the position, so I was pushing in those places, but still trying to save some tyres for the last two corners. Then I would push in the last two to try to make this little gap that would be enough with Mandarin flat out every single lap because I knew I couldn’t make a small lift. And with used tyres I remember I was getting an on-the-limit feeling in the rear through Mandarin, but I needed to go flat because after I was catching the limiter and Rob was catching me really quick on the last part of the straight [before Lisboa]. That was very much a demanding concentration race, not being able to make one mistake. Rob is a great driver who wanted again the win in Macau, so it was about focusing on the victory with the concentration. After I celebrated with Yamamoto-san, he was there from Honda and back then he was the head of Honda Motorsport before going into Formula One. My team was there at the finish as well and for me it was a dream to win in Macau. The qualifying laps were also great considering the car specification we had at that race. We knew we didn’t have the best car, but we had a chance to make it happen. It was a great feeling to make a hot lap in Macau and in that race every lap was a hot lap.”
SENSATIONAL IN SEPANG (2019)
Setting the scene: Guerrieri’s opening lap in Race 2 at WTCR Race of Malaysia will forever remain one of the standout first laps in FIA World Touring Car history. Starting ninth, he took the lead a little more than halfway round the lap, waited patiently for race to resume following a red-flag stoppage, then went on to win with points rival Norbert Michelisz down in eighth. It was his fourth win of the season and set up a thrilling final-race title showdown.
Esteban Guerrieri: “This was my best race because I did what I needed to do to keep the title fight alive. I felt I could do it. I had this feeling starting from ninth with Norbi 10th. I studied the little tricks around the track because in Race 1 we had similar conditions, I was on the same pace like the others but nothing special. Then for the second race I knew where was the grip to try to pull every move I could. And every move worked out in the first lap, it was incredible, it was mad, and also I had three Hyundais in front of me. It was like a wall, impossible to overtake because they wanted to cover me from Norbi. But I managed to overtake one at the start and the other two in the first corner around the inside. For me this lap was one of those laps when you are in the zone, floating completely with whatever is coming. It was a flawless race and lap after lap I would just go and extend my lead. It was effortless, a mega race and that gave me the chance to go for the title in Race 3. For sure that win wasn’t expected and I remember on the [open-top] bus we had to go to the main paddock in my family and friends had some songs for me. I would sing with them but I knew I there was another job to be done, another fight in front of me. I was enjoying the moment but not relaxing of course.”
Watch again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
PULLING OFF THAT MOVE TO WIN IN THE RAIN AT THE RING (2020)
Setting the scene: With wet conditions making the super-challenging Nürburgring Nordschleife even more super-challenging, Guerrieri was undeterred as he completed a dramatic around-the-outside pass on Yvan Muller for the lead in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Germany in September 2020. It was so good that it was chosen as the WTCR’s nomination for the #FIAActionoftheYear video vote that year.
Esteban Guerrieri: “We didn’t have much experience of the track in wet conditions but when I went to do some private testing with a road car I realised where the grip was better in some places than others. I realised in that corner, Aremberg, there was more grip than what you would expect, and I knew the place to overtake would be that corner. I really risked it on the fast left-hander to stay close to him and then show my car on the right side and then make the move around the outside on the left and it worked out. It was a risk and a bit of front locking I would have been off because I had no margin. He tried to make himself wider and push me a little bit off, I went over the kerb, but I kept it full throttle. Going on the downhill we were side by side I was determined not to lift and eventually he lifted and went behind me. After that I kept pushing to make a gap, but I went off in the third sector although the TV never showed that. I quickly got back on the track, but it was a crazy lap and a great victory. But actually my first win in 2018 was also very good. We were hitting the rev limiter on the Döttinger Höhe straight so I had to get the lead in the first few corners going into the Nordschleife so I could make the gap around the corners of the Nordschleife and then obviously I knew I would lose this gap on the big straight. I overtook Pepe Oriola on the Grand Prix circuit and then I pushed really hard around the circuit to make a gap of around three seconds. When I went into Turn One he was right on my back again so I had to do again, all the push around the lap to make the gap for the Döttinger Höhe. I managed it and won my first WTCR race.”
Watch again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
DOING THE DOUBLE IN HUNGARY (2020)
Setting the scene: Guerrieri was struggling to keep in the title fight only for a win double at the Hungaroring to change all that. Starting from pole position on both occasions, Guerrieri’s Race 3 victory was particularly memorable after he led home a Honda-powered podium lockout. He left Hungary 22 points behind title rival Yann Ehrlacher although, as he revealed afterwards, has Civic wasn’t in full working order in both races.
Esteban Guerrieri: “It was under rain conditions on the Saturday and we were very good in the wet because on the Monday before we had a private test in Slovakia where it was also raining. We managed to gather a lot of information about the tyres. We were in the first year with the Goodyear tyres but we were spot on with the temperatures and the pressures after that test in Slovakia. That test made the difference to start with a gap compared to our competitors. I managed the two pole positions, which was great but these wins were more of a team effort because my team-mates were supporting me and I was able to do all I had to do. We had some issues with the car so I had to pray the car would not break down. But we survived and I took some very important points, which gave us the chance to fight for the title in Spain.”
BACK FROM THE BRINK AT MOTORLAND ARAGÓN (2020)
Setting the scene: The 2020 season marked the third in a row where Guerrieri had gone to the deciding weekend bidding to become King of WTCR. However, staying in the fight looked a tall order at a MotorLand Aragón circuit far from well-suited to the strengths of his Honda. But an unusually cold November morning allowed ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport to deploy all its know-how from a testing trip to the circuit earlier that year, when engineers observed the track taking a long time to clear of condensation. The decision was taken on the grid to start with wet rear tyres, and it proved an inspired one: team-mate Néstor Girolami, the best of the Honda qualifiers, raced from 11th on the grid to lead by the time he got to the final sector on lap one, with Guerrieri advancing to seventh from 16th. He was soon through to second, and on the final lap was gifted first by a magnanimous Girolami, the pair sealing a stunning 1-2 that prolonged the title chase.
Esteban Guerrieri: “I was following [Gabriele] Tarquini to the grid. He was with full slicks and I was aware how much he was struggling but I did not overtake him on purpose, pretending I was also on the limit so he would not know what I was doing. Even just touching the Tarmac with my hand it was damp and cold and there was no way 20 cars going for nine laps was going to make the track dry enough. It was sunny but the sun was not strong at that time of the day and after Turn 1 in the race I realised we were on the right path. We knew before the track was not for the Honda so the only option was to try something different because, apart from my analysis, there was nothing to lose for the title even if the chances were small.”
On holding the record of WTCR wins…
“I’m not going to compare my statistics with the statistics of the others because I obviously would have liked to have won the title, which was always the maximum goal. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, for many reasons. We were always fighting but it didn’t come our way. I’m a very fair and straightforward competitor. My motivation is always to go moment by moment, race by race. I try to get the chances that are available, like Sepang, where I analysed how to make the moves and made them happen. Or Aragón with the tyre choice and making it work. Ten wins is good because if you are successful in motorsport it brings you opportunities for more chances ahead. But we always looked for good results and the team was always motivated to get this. What is important now is what is ahead. But when you close a chapter like WTCR and you look at all the results it’s nice to see what was achieved with the team.”
On five years racing in WTCR…
“I enjoyed it for sure, it’s the pinnacle of touring car racing and to go around the world racing such high-profile drivers and teams was very exciting. For the first two years it looked like the ramp was really ramping up, everything was good but COVID-19 happened and it stopped the snowball from keeping growing. Things were more difficult after that but the racing was always good, the profile was always there and the series was always difficult for the drivers. It was pure racing, short sprint races and you had to be a real specialist to drive this type of car and to drive it well. You could be fast but the last three tenths were really difficult to find. And you then had to be consistent in the races with the tyre degradation and so on. It was one of the more difficult types of motorsport that I tried, the level was always high and there was a lot of respect both inside and outside. But this chapter has now finished and I am obviously a bit nostalgic about that.”
On what happens next…
“I would like to keep involved in touring cars and I also have some exciting possibilities in sportscar racing. It’s two very different types of racing and there are some big challenges but that’s what I like. Now I just want to thank everybody who made the last five years of WTCR possible, René Münnich and all the team and Honda Racing. My first race for Honda was in Japan [at Motegi in 2017]. I remember going to the museum of Honda and it was very special and I started to study Japanese culture and how respectful everyone is. I developed a very good relationship with Honda and it was nice when I won for Honda in Japan [at Suzuka in 2019] because it was an important box ticked. I remember one of the fans gave me a headband which said ‘ichiban’, which means number one. I gave it to one of my mechanics before the race and told him to keep it in his pocket and give it to me afterwards. I won the race and I wore the headband on the podium. The fans were really excited, it was an enjoyable win and a very special one.”