After the one on one battle between Yvan Muller and Jose Maria Lopez at Spa, the FIA World Touring Car Championship moved to Argentina for the next two rounds in this years series... Homeland of Jose Maria Lopez, the 2014 championship leader.
Quite frankly, "The Lopez Effect" in Argentina is the same as "Norbi Fever" in Hungary, "Mansell Mania" in the UK and when Senna raced in Brazil...
And the home fans were not disappointed.
Jose Maria Lopez stormed to a sensation pole position on home soil in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship in Argentina, beating team-mate Yvan Muller by 0.428 seconds.
Lopez was only slightly quicker than title rival Muller after sectors one and two, but a mammoth final sector saw the Argentine driver take pole position by more than four tenths of a second.
“You need to go for it – I have two team-mates that really push – it’s not easy,” said Lopez, who scored his fourth pole of the season. “When I did the last lap in Q3 I wasn’t sure I would be on pole.”
Muller would start alongside his team-mate for the first of Sunday’s races, with Sebastien Loeb completing a Citroen 1-2-3 on the grid in third.
Norbert Michelisz was the top Honda driver in fourth .The Zengo Motorsport driver out-qualified works Honda driver Tiago Monteiro, who was 1.408 seconds off the pace in fifth after making a mistake on his single Q3 lap.
ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton was the top Chevrolet driver in sixth, unable to challenge for a spot in Q3 despite having been the top non-Citroen driver in second free practice earlier.
Seventh was Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, who only completed one flying lap in Q2 and missed out on progression to the final part of qualifying by half a second. The Italian will have independent Proteam Racing Honda driver Mehdi Bennani alongside him in eighth.
Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente and LADA’s Rob Huff completed the top ten respectively, with the latter securing his first reverse-grid pole position of the season for race two.
Tom Coronel and Rene Munnich were 11th and 12th respectively, with the Chevrolet drivers seemingly struggling around the Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
LADA’s James Thompson only just missed out on progressing from Q1, with the Brit bumped out in the final seconds by team-mate Huff. He would start both of Sunday’s races from 13th on the grid, ahead of Campos Racing’s Dusan Borkovic, Munnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli and fellow LADA driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy.
Franz Engstler again took pole position in the TC2 class ahead of John Filippi, with the second Engstler BMW driven by local Camilo Echevarria struggling to third in class.
Lopez took victory in the opening World Touring Car Championship race in Argentina, beating Norbert Michelisz by 2.526 seconds.
Lopez led the entire race from pole position and was never challenged by the Honda of Michelisz. The Hungarian driver made his way into second at the start of the race as both Muller and Loeb in front of him got off to slow starts.
Muller took the final podium position in third, with the Frenchman seeing his deficit to Lopez in the championship increase to 50 points. Loeb was fourth, after the French duo repassed a fast-starting Honda of Tiago Monteiro on the opening lap of the race. Monteiro finished in fifth, unable to pressure the Citroen duo in front after initially getting the better of the pair on the opening lap.
Tom Chilton finished sixth with the Brit being the only Chevrolet driver to finish in the points in a difficult race for the Cruze cars. LADA had reason to celebrate, as Rob Huff finished in seventh. The Brit got past the works Honda of Gabriele Tarquini on the opening lap of the race and the Italian was unable to repass, being forced to settle for eighth.
Trust me, after all the times Gabriele has...helped Huffy off the track in recent years, it was good to see the LADA hold off the Honda.
Ninth went to Mehdi Bennani, ensuring that all four Honda Civics finished inside the top ten. James Thompson took the final point for LADA in tenth, after passing Tom Coronel for the position at the final corner on the final lap. It marks only the second time that the Russian marque has had two cars inside the top ten in a race.
Coronel went on to finish in 11th ahead of Morbidelli, Munnich and Kozlovskiy who was the final TC1 driver in 14th.
For the 12th time in 2014 victory in the TC2 class went to Franz Engstler ahead of Campos Racing’s John Filippi.
Both of the Campos Racing cars retired from race one. Borkovic retired with a left-rear puncture whilst running in 13th, whilst team mate Hugo Valente completed only seven laps due to brake problems.
Lopez went on to become the first World Touring Car Championship driver of the season to win both races in a weekend in race two in Argentina, as Huff scored LADAs first-ever podium in second.
Lopez enjoyed a dream weekend on home soil in Argentina, adding to his victory in the first race of the day by scything his way through the field from tenth on the grid in race two.
The championship leader crucially got past title rival Muller on the second lap of the race and has now extended his lead over the Frenchman to 60 points.
Poleman Huff held on to take second, having led the first eight laps of the race. The result marks the first-ever podium finish for LADA in the WTCC, since the marque first appeared in the 2008 season. The final podium position went to Muller as the reigning champion was unable to carve his way through the field as easily as his team-mate.
Tarquini and Monteiro missed out on a podium result and took fourth and fifth respectively, despite having ran behind early race leader Huff. Loeb finished in sixth, again unable to make the same rapid progress as his experienced circuit racing team-mates. The Citroen driver made slight contact with Tom Chilton when moving into sixth, but held on to the position.
Michelisz finished in seventh, ahead of Borkovic in eighth, with the Serb being the only Chevrolet driver inside the top ten.
Completing the top ten were Bennani in ninth and Thompson in tenth. Bennani had moved into second at the start of the race, but the Moroccan dropped down the order at the half-way stage of the race.
Coronel finished outside the points in 11th for the second consecutive race. Morbidelli also failed to score any points, with the Munnich Motorsport driver handed a drive-through penalty for contact with Thompson early on in the race.
Victory in the TC2 category went to Franz Engstler once again ahead of one-time team-mate Camilo Echevarría.
Hugo Valente, who started the race on the front row of the grid, endured his second retirement of the weekend and stopped after eight laps. Chilton also pulled off the circuit on the same lap.
So with a 60 point lead and four race weekends left, Lopez has moved closer to claiming his first ever WTCC title. With current points scoring system, aperfect weekend gives 5 points for pole in Race One with 25 points per race win. Meaning that for Muller to catch Lopez would mean Muller having a perfect points scoring weekend and Lopez qualifying outside of the top five.
Remember, anything can happen before and at Macau...
Normally the next stop on the calendar would be at the Sonoma Raceway the US, however due to logistical issues this round has been replaced by a venue in Beijing which be followed be a 2nd race weekend at the Shanghai Grand Prix circuit one week later, followed by the WTCC heading to Suzuka to use the full Grand Prix Circuit (FINALLY!!) before the finale at Macau.
Wow! Three WTCC weekends in October... Well thats made me happy...
Honda have improved again, making ground on Citroen whilst LADA have shown they now have Race Two winning potential. Remember Thommo was leading Race Two at Macau last year before Pepe Oriola put him in the wall at Maternity Corner, so a LADA win is not unreasonable.
All the best!