Sunday, 11 May 2014

WTCC 2014: Loeb wins in the rain...

Last weekend saw the FIA World Touring Car Championship make its visit to the popular Slovakiaring in Slovakia, which has provided good close and fast racing on previous visits.

Once again, with the onus being on Cutroen carrying max ballast whilst the Lada's, Chevrolets and Honda's ran at the lightest weight due to there being no difference from the Citroen domination in the previous rounds, it was hoped that the other manufacturers could close the gap.

Qualifying saw a few incidents in the dry conditions that affected some of the top runners. Loeb encountered a fuel pump issue and only just made it into Q3 whilst Tarquini suffered a failure on his bonnet catches at 140mph, sending him off the track and causing Huff and Monteiro to go off as well. Bennani didnt go out at all with more issues on the car after the turbo problems he suffered in Hungary.

Lopez took pole from Loeb for race one whilst Muller again completed the top three behind his team mates. Its seems that he is finding Q3 and these new TC1 cars a challenge this year, but one he is enjoying. Michelisz took 4th in his Zengo Honda with Hungary race two winner Gianni Morbidelli taking 5th.

Behind them came Chilton, Coronel, Tarquini, Valente and Monteiro with the Portuguese Honda driver on Pole for race two. Borkovic, Huff, Munnich and Thompson were next with Engstler taling Pole position in TC2. That class saw the return of 2013 FIA European Touring Car Cup winner Petr Fulin to Campos alongside John Filippi in a 2nd SEAT Leon WTCC.

It would also be a busy weekend for Engstler and Fulin who were both competing in the two ETCC races as well. Bennani started from the back whilst Kozlovskiy didnt make the start due to turbo issues.

On Race day, the circuit was hit with a very heavy downpour and come the time for race one of the WTCC entrants it began raining harder. At the start, Lopez and Loeb made a great get away, however Muller jumped the start and stopped the car out of position. This later earned the four time WTCC Champion a drive through penalty and dropped him down the field.

Loeb took the lead from Lopez into turn one with Michelisz trying to keep in with them but he fell back to settle in as the condition grew worse. With Mullers drive through, this left Chilton ahead of Coronel. Huffy passed the work Honda's on the first lap whilst Morbidelli fell behind at the start. At the end of a very wet lap one, Loeb led from Lopez, Michelisz, Muller, Chilton, Coronel, Morbidelli, Huff, Tarquini and Monteiro.

On lap 2 Tarquini and Monteiro would pass Huff back whilst Coronel pursued Chilton for 4th place. Muller took his penalty on lap 3 promoting everyone and making the start of a comeback drive from 15th. The Campos Chevrolets of Borkovic and Valente were suffering as the cars seemed to squirm a lot with Borkovic having several offs and Valente suffering some serious aquaplaning down the start finish straight on lap 5 and for the next few laps.

Whilst Lopez chased Loeb, Coronel passed Chilton on lap 5 for 4th as the rain began to get worse. Both the TC2 Engstler BMW's suffered offs whilst Fulin led from Filippi. Huff was hassling the two Works Honda's to try and pass them back but the rain was getting harder each lap and even with the new extra downforce this year, the cars were squirming more and more.

The safety car was brought out on lap 7 to close up the field and make a decision as to whether or not the conditions allowed for further racing or not. Finally on lap 9 the race was stopped with full points awarded to the finishing order. This confirmed Loeb as the winner from Lopez and Michelisz. Coronel, Chilton and Morbidelli followed with Monteiro, Tarquini, Huff and Muller completing the top ten. Behind them were Valente, Borkovic, Munnich, Thompson and Bennani with Fulin taking the TC2 win.

Race two was due 4 hours later but the conditions remained just as bad and race two was cancelled on safety grounds. This was a welcome decision as several of the drivers took to twitter making their feelings clear that ot was too dangerous to race.

So this left Lopez leading the championship from Loeb who was 25 points behind with Muller down to 3rd a further 4 points down on Loeb. Monteiro is the highest non Citroen driver in the championship but already he is 67 points adrift of Lopez.

The safety aspect of cancelling race two was a good move seeing as the newer wider tyres were shedding a lot of water but when you have a 380bhp TC1 squirming under power as they accelerate down a pits straight that is as wide as a runway and your asking for an accident to happen and as proven in Marrakech earlier in the year, these cars are fragile.

So the series is reduced to 23 races and now moves on to the Salzburgring in Austria, home of the last lap tyre shredding fiasco in 2012 and the 2013 "Nobody wants to give a tow" Qualifying fiasco that led to 12 drivers being penalised...

Its good fun in Austria when the Touring cars go there. Its also the home of the ETCC for the past few years and they will be in action as well.

The bad news is its on a weekend where the FIA also has the Monaco Grand Prix in operation and the 2nd round of the new World Rallycross Championship from Lydden Hill in Kent...

Its good to see the FIA likes to make its fans choose where they want to go this year, but does anyone else remember a time when the WTCC didnt clash with F1...



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