The FIA World Touring Car Championship moved to Moscow Raceway for its next two races with two points of duscussion earlier in the season now firmly dealt with...
Citroen have conquered the traction issue in Touring Car racing to dominate in WTCC and Jose Maria Lopez looks to be the most settled driver in the team as he leads four-time WTCC Champion Yvan Muller in the Drivers Championship.
Yes, thats right, I did just say that somebody is beating Muller, in the same team, with the same equipment...and that hasn't happened since Gabriele Tarquini did in it 2009 at SEAT and Rob Huff did it at Chevrolet in 2012...
Third time lucky Pechito?
Something else thats also developing well are the Honda's. During pre season testing, it was obvious that the new TC1 Civic was going to need serious development to bridge the gap to Citroen and Honda have worked hard. The Civic makes the best starts and so far Monteiro has taken more podiums than Tarquini, showing that the car is capable and at Moscow it held off the Citroens quite nicely.
So to Qualifying at Moscow Raceway where Lopez took pole position ahead of Tarquini and Monteiro, showing for the first time this season that the Honda's had split the Citroens in qualifying. Loeb came fourth with Chilton fifth and Muller in sixth after not qualifying into Q3 for the first time this season. The anger of the Frenchman not making it into Q3 was evident as he slammed the door of his Citroen C-Elysee and left the pit garage immediatley.
Bennani and Michelisz took seventh and eigth with new Citroen driver Qing Hua Ma qualifying ninth ahead of Hugo Valente who took tenth and the race two pole position. Munnich and Borkovic were 11th and 12th with Coronel, Huff, Kozlovskiy and Thompson ahead of Morbidelli who wrecked his tyres in quali to start 17th just ahead of TC2 Pole winner Franz Engstler.
Race one saw Tarquini rocket ahead of Lopez into turn one but with a combination of a tap behind from Monteiro and Lopez going wide, the Citroen driver stayed ahead. Loeb managed to pass Monteiro for third whilst further back Huff passed Valente for 11th...all on lap one. Muller began hassling Monteiro whilst also defending from Chilton behind him in the second ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet.
At the end of lap two, Borkovic suffered a mechanical failure, leading to him spearing into Valente at the final turn and it was obvious that Borkovic was very upset at hitting his team mate. At the final corner on lap four, Muller tried down the inside of Monteiro for fourth but both cars went wide with Monteiro going through the gravel whilst Muller came back on track and lost out in a drag race to Chilton who took fourth and looked faster than Muller as he defended lap after lap.
Coronel spent several laps hassling Michelisz in the Zengo Motorsport Honda and each time down the back straight was able to close his Chevrolet to the Honda. His efforts finally paid off on lap eight as Coronel was sideways through the final corner, allowing him to come alongside Michelisz up the pits straight and pass the Hungarian into turn one for eighth place.
The Lada's didn't show too well on home ground with Huffy again the quicker of the three red Russian machines holding off Bennani and Morbidelli late in the race ahead of Thompson and Kozlovskiy who both suffered with steering and setup issues again while the team tries to make all three entries competitive. Muller spent the final few laps hassling Chilton and his efforts paid off as he passed his 2013 team mate into turn two on the final lap. Loeb spent all of the race hunting Tarquini but to no avail whilst put front Lopez looked serene and secure in a race where most of the overtaking was done at either Turn One or the Final Corner.
Lopez won race one from Tarquini, who held off the charging Loeb for second with Muller and Chilton with Ma finishing in sixth in his first WTCC race. Monteiro, Coronel, Michelisz and Huff completed the top ten with Bennani, Morbidelli, Munnich, Thompson and Kozlovskiy completing the TC1 finishers. Franz Engstler won the TC2 Class in his BMW 320TC.
In between races one and two, Campos Racing set about working on both its TC1 Chevrolets but with the focus being on Valente as he was the race two Poleman. After much repairs and welding, he left the pitlane with 3 seconds to spare allowing him join Qing Mua Ha on the grid. As for Borkovic he would start from the back of the grid in race two. Now Valente has been fast in the Chevrolet this year and its only been bad luck that has robbed him of podiums or points finishes, therefore everyone had their fingers and toes crossed for him.
The race two grid saw Valente on pole from Ma, Michelisz, Bennani, Muller, Chilton, Loeb, Monteiro, Tarquini and Lopez in the reverse of the race one grid and this would be a much more dramatic race...
Race Two saw drama from the start with Lopez failing to get off the line with gearbox issues leaving him to retire on the spot whilst others avoided the stranded Citroen. This was where Muller woulld seize his chance to close down his team mates points advantage.
Up front, Valente got a good clean start and led away from Michelisz getting another trademark Honda getaway into 2nd place ahead of Ma. Further behind Bennani pushed Muller wide in turn one after contact on the side of the Citroen with the front of the Honda leaving Muller with catchup to do from falling to 9th position behind team mate Loeb. Morbidelli passed Thompson, Huff and Kozlovskiy in three corners as Munnich and Kozlovskiy made contact causing the Russian Driver to retire but also make contact with Thompson causing James to fall back at the rear of the field...
All on Lap One!!!
Ma went to pass Michelisz at the final corner only for the Zengo Honda to pull alongside and out drag the Citroen into turn one to keep second place in a move what would be repeated for several laps by Ma as he tried to get ahead of Norbert. Loeb and Muller meanwhile were in the middle of a ROAL Motorsport squeeze with Chilton ahead of Loeb in 7th and Coronel pressuring Muller for 9th position.
Disaster struck for Valente as he was awarded a drive through penalty for not having its wheels on the car by the 5 minute board. Valente would take his drive through several laps later in the meantime showing his TC1 Cruze had good pace. Behind this Michelisz fended off another challenge from Ma whilst Coronel passed Loeb who wobbled at turn one sending him wide allowing the Dutchman through.
In the Battle of the Honda's, Monteiro was passed by Tarquini in turn one as Ma and Michelisz fought for honours ahead, also allowing Chilton passed Tiago. A few corners later and Chilton was sent wide after contact from Tiago's Honda. Morbidelli also passed Chilton with contact as the englishman came back on. Morbidelli would also get past Loeb in the chaos on track. Bennani would go wide at the final corner on lap 6 with Tarquini and Monteiro passing him for fourth and fifth places, however Muller passed Monteiro and Bennani into turn two as he hunted after more places and points.
Coronel chased Bennani and Monteiro ahead of him as behind Loeb and Morbidelli swapped more paint with each other. Valente finally took his drive through penalty on lap 7 whilst Tarquini slowed with a problem leading to retirement. After seven laps of trying, Ma finally got past Michelisz and took the lead of the race, slowly building a gap. Loeb finally passed Morbidelli on the pits straight as Ma led. With Tarquini out, this left Muller in third amazingly and he set about trying to pass Michelisz.
Lopez watched from the pits as Muller hunted after Michelisz whilst Valente passed Munnich for tenth place in his battered Chevrolet Cruze. Muller finally passed Michelisz for 2nd on lap 8 and suddenly Citroen Team Orders became the worry. Ma is in his first WTCC weekend whilst Muller is fighting for Championship number five and so we all watched with baited breath in a race that held no let up at all to see if they would order Ma to let Muller through.
Monteiro was now chasing Michelisz for third as the Zengo Honda shed its rear bumper from previous contact earlier in the race. However Bennani was not done yet either as he too held off Coronel and Loeb whilst hassling the Castrol Honda. Bennani pushed Tiago into Turn two on lap 11 as Huff pulled his Lada in to retire with a gearbox problem in another quiet, pointless weekend for the Russian Outfit. Michelisz held off Monteiro again for 3rd on lap 12 as Monteiro would later pull off into a double retirement for the Castrol Honda Team in a weekend where they showed improved pace.
Valente hunted Morbidelli for eighth place on lap 13, giving plenty of contact with the former Italian Touring Car Champion and Gianni has shown he's not afraid to bump and barge this season. Up front Muller reeled in Ma over the final laps to close in for what seemed to be an almost certified victory for the french driver in the making whilst Michelisz, Bennani, Coronel, Loeb and Chilton fought for third. Michelisz slid wide on lap 15 out of 16 laps to allow Bennani and Coronel through, however on the last lap Muller closed down Ma and a final corner pass seemed to be on as Ma was slow out of the final turn...
However Muller slowed as well handing Victory to Ma and giving Citroen a 1-2 finish. Bennani and Coronel followed with Loeb taking 5th and Chilton 6th after both passed Michelisz at the final turn. Morbidelli, Valente and Munnich completed the top ten with Borkovic and Thompson the remaining TC1 runners in 11th and 12th places. Engstler stayed ahead of team mate Di Sabatino to clinch another TC2 victory.
So Muller closes on Lopez to be 41 points behind him as the series now moves to the epic, legendary and classic circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. Now the WTCC raced there only once in 2005 in the original S2000 regulation cars but with the newer TC1 cars having more downforce, seeing these beauties flying through Eau Rouge and coming through Blanchimont at full chat before braking for the Bus Stop Chicane will be a sight to see and one I'm looking forward to.
For me I'm happy to see Spa and later on in the season, the full Suzuka Grand Prix Circuit in use this year as it will challenge the teams with TC1 cars with regards to balancing a good setup against two of the most classic, high speed circuits in the world and put on an excellent show.
Most people think that Touring Cars don't work so well on circuits designed for Formula One but Shanghai, Monza and the Hungaroring have often shown good Tintop racing so Spa and Suzuka should both be special weekends, but its also something that I wish the BTCC would embrace as well by using the Silverstone GP layout...
But thats for another post...
This weekend is the Spa round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship as well as a return of one of my favourite Grand Prix venues in the form of the Red Bull Ring and the Austrian Grand Prix so The Guru will be a happy bunny this weekend!!