For the 2nd year in a row, the FIA World Touring Car Championship headed to the Grand Prix circuit at Shanghai for the penultimate two races before heading to the legendary Macau Guia circuit for the season finale.
Now I love watching the WTCC racing at Shanghai as its the final purpose built circuit the series races on and it provides good racing from the tintops. Last year, the three works Chevrolet drivers of Rob Huff, Yvan Muller and Alain Menu were fighting it out for the title and no quarter was given or asked by any of them.
This year, with Muller crowned as Champion, the view turns to who will end up 2nd in the title race. A fight that is between three drivers: Tom Chilton, Gabriele Tarquini and James Nash.
The two Chinese rounds also saw two swedish touring car legends return to the WTCC for one off appearances:
Rickard Rydell and Volvo.
Rydell returned to the series to occupy the seat at Nika Racing vacated by former 2012 STCC team-mate Michel Nykjaer and Japan WTCC event only entrant Hiroki Yoshimoto. Rydell is familiar with the car and team having raced for them in 2011 and 2012 in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship.
Volvo returned to the WTCC after last competing in the 2011 season with a lone C30 Drive, then driven by Robert Dahlgren. This time it was driven by 2013 STCC Champion Thed Bjork. The one off visit to the Chinese round was to evaluate if the WTCC was maintaining its "Cost Effective" racing.
Now I admit, I'm a big Rydell fan and Volvo fan from back in the SuperTouring days when the Rydell/Volvo combination was mighty in the BTCC, but I also maintain that the experience he holds makes him just as good a driver as Muller and Tarquini. When all three men were team-mates at SEAT, Rydell was the match of both men.
So personally, as I've written in previous blogs, I hope that both Rickard Rydell and Alain Menu will return to the WTCC and that Volvo will consider a return also.
Anyway, to business...
In Qualifying, the top 6 positions for race one were taken by Chevrolets. Yvan Muller took Pole from RML team-mate Chilton. Row Two was taken by Tuenti Racings Pepe Oriola and Bamboo Engineerings James Nash with Alex MacDowall and Rickard Rydell locking out row three. Norbert Michelisz took 7th ahead of Rob Huff in the Munnich Motorsport SEAT Leon whilst the two Works Hondas of Tarquini and Montiero locked out row five, giving Montiero Pole for race two.
Notable losers in Qualifying were James Thompson, Tom Coronel and Thed Bjork in the Volvo. Bjork qualified 12 in Q1 meaning he could progress through to Q2, however as he was not scoring points and wasnt eligible to go through to Q2 due to the one off entry, this would have elevated Tom Coronel to 12th... However it didnt...
When Q2 began only 11 cars would go out. Bjork would later suffer a 5 place grid drop for being underweight by 5kgs due to not having an on board camera and would start 17th for both races.
James Thompson showed good speed in the Lada Granta but didnt make it into Q2. However the Lada has always showed better race pace than qualifying pace this year.
Whilst Qualifying took place on a dry track, race day was damp with both races declared wet. First retirement was Thed Bjork in the Volvo, which refused to fire up due to Battery issues.
From the start, Muller led Chilton away whilst Oriola pursued both of the RML Chevrolets. With the young spaniard on wets, he soon overtook the slick shod cars and took the lead. But Oriola was unable to make a gap big enough to defend his lead and later on in the race, he fell back.
Rydell and Thompson also took to wet tyres and both moved through the pack in the beginning, however it was Rob Huff who made good progress. The SEAT driver fell back behind the three Honda Civics due to the track conditions but the 2012 WTCC Champion made his way back past them to end up challenging Oriola for 5th at the flag.
As Rydell fell into the clutches of Nash, MacDowall, Michelisz, Huff, Tarquini and Montiero, Oriola lost out to Muller and Chilton. Tom then started to put pressure on Yvan and on the final lap got a great run out of the hairpin to run side by side through the final corner and take the race win by hundreths of a second.
Chilton won from Muller, Nash, MacDowall and Oriola, who held off Huff for 5th. Tarquini took 7th from James Thompson who held on to 8th. Surprise of race one was Tom Boardman who worked his way up to finish 9th with Michelisz 10th. Montiero finished 11th whilst Rydell fell to 14th.
Race Two was an all Honda affair as Montiero led away from Tarquini, Michelisz and Huff. Coronel made contact with Rydell who held on to a fantastic slide, however the Swede would retire later on with damage.
Whilst the Works Hondas broke away, Michelisz led a pack of cars that included Huff, Muller, Nash, Oriola and Coronel. Chilton lost ground at the standing start and found himself battling with the BMW's. Muller soon found his way past Nash, however he couldnt break the stern defence of Huff and would finish behind his ex team mate.
Oriola, Nash and Coronel would have an exciting battle between them with Coronel passing Nash, only for the BMW to lose out to the superior grip of the Chevrolets and watched as both Oriola and Nash passed back again.
Chilton would fight his way past the BMW's, following the canny Stefano D'Aste who made his way quietly through the field. Both Fredy Barth and Darryl O'Young collided at the hairpin on the last lap in thier BMW's.
So Montiero took his first WTCC win in three years followed by Tarquini, Michelisz, Huff and Muller. Nash, Oriola, Coronel, D'Aste and Chilton completed the top ten.
Now time for some 2014 WTCC News...
One confirmation for 2014 was announced when Lada confirmed that Rob Huff would be joining James Thompson and Michael Kozlovskiy on a 3 Lada Team on a 2 year contract. Having both of these drivers in the team will push Lada forward in 2014 with both Huffy and Thommo well known for developing cars. This knowledge will also be useful for the Lada Priora WTCC car being considered for the 2015 season.
Meanwhile on the run up to the Chinese WTCC weekend, Honda confirmed that they would retain Tarquini and Montiero in the Works Castrol Honda's. Zengo Motorsport confirmed a one car effort for Norbert Michelisz whilst Italian team ProTeam were confirmed as the recipient of the 4th 2014 Honda Civic with Mehdi Bennani at the wheel.
Several other announcements made were that Munnich Motorsport will run a partial WTCC program next year with the Class B SEAT Leon whilst they run a partial programme in the new FIA World Rallycross Championship using Audi A3's in the Supercar catergory. However the team confirmed they will return for a full WTCC programme in 2015.
Volvo have announced that since taking part in the WTCC this year, they are investigating the possibility of seeing if the S60 model can be converted to the 2014 Super 2000 rules for a potential future entry. Along with the V8 Supercars S60 being run by Garry Rogers Motorsport next year and the announcement of an NGTC Volvo being built for entry into the BTCC next year, could this be a full time return of Volvo to top line tintops?
Finally, many sources expect an announcement to take place either at or after the Macau finale regarding RML's 2014 Chevrolet plans for the 2014 season. Rumours say that between 6-8 new Cruzes could be seen next year but we'll have to wait and see who has them and who is driving them.
So, more pieces fall into place as the 2013 season winds down and prep begins for the 2014 season. But as they say...
"Anything can happen at Macau..."