The last European round of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship took place at the legendary Spa circuit in Belgium and played its part in the growing "Muller vs Lopez" Championship battle.
It was Yvan Muller who took pole position in qualifying ahead of Citroen team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Jose María Lopez.
In the decisive Q3 shootout Muller was 0.146 seconds faster than Loeb, after championship leader Lopez made a mistake going through Eau Rouge on his attempt.
The result was Muller’s fourth pole of the season, the 25th of his WTCC career, and moved him an additional two points closer to Lopez in the championship battle.
Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente qualified in fourth after only his second visit to Q3 in his touring car career, whilst Gabriele Tarquini was fifth fastest in the top Honda, 1.538 seconds off the pace in the final shoot-out.
Tiago Monteiro qualified his Honda in sixth, missing out on entry into Q3 by just 0.018 seconds. Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was seventh, more than two seconds off the Q2 pace.
Completing the top ten were ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel in eighth, Proteam Racing’s Mehdi Bennani in ninth and Munnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli in tenth. The latter will start race two from pole position.
The second Campos car of Dusan Borkovic just missed out on the reverse pole and would start from 11th ahead of the second ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet of Tom Chilton.
Surprisingly Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua missed out on Q2 and would start from 14th, with the top LADA of Rob Huff out-qualifying the Citroen driver in 13th.
Franz Engstler took pole in the TC2 class for the fifth time this season ahead of Pasquale di Sabatino and John Filippi. Norbert Nagy, making his debut in the series this weekend, started from last.
Yvan Muller scored his fourth win of the season as he won the opening race at ahead of Citroen team-mates Jose María Lopez and Sebastien Loeb.
Muller led away from the line and had a comfortable lead throughout the nine-lap race as his Citroen team-mates squabbled behind him. The win moved him to within 32 points of championship leader Lopez.
Argentine Lopez finished in second after passing Loeb at Les Combes on the final lap of the race, having been glued to the rear bumper of the former rally star throughout. Loeb would finish third, unable to retake the position from his team-mate.
Gianni Morbidelli finished in fourth after a strong start which saw him move from ninth on the grid to fifth at the start of the race. The Italian had to defend heavily from Tom Coronel at the end of the race.
The Dutchman himself pipped Tiago Monteiro to sixth by just 0.073 seconds exiting the final chicane on the final lap after an extremely close four-car battle for fourth.
Gabriele Tarquini finished in eighth, with the Honda driver losing the most ground at the start of the race when he was battling with Hugo Valente for fourth. The duo went side-by-side into Eau Rouge, but Tarquini had to back out and lost several positions along the subsequent straight.
Dusan Borkovic finished as the top Campos driver in ninth despite having started from the back of the grid, ahead of Tom Chilton in tenth.
Ma Qing Hua just missed out on the points and was 11th, despite the Citroen driver completing most of the race with a damaged front windscreen.
Following drive-through penalties for exceeding the track limits, Valente and Mehdi Bennani finished the race in 12th and 13th positions respectively. Valente’s penalty came for running wide and gaining an advantage exiting turn one on the opening lap, whilst Bennani was penalised for overtaking two cars whilst cutting the chicane at Les Combes further around the lap.
The top LADA driver was Mikhail Kozlovskiy in 14th, lead driver Rob Huff had a tough race, spinning into the gravel on the opening lap and finishing down in 16th.
Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Franz Engstler once again won the TC2 class, ahead of John Filippi and Norbert Nagy.
Jose Maria Lopez ensured that Citroen team-mate and title rival Yvan Muller failed to significantly reduce his points lead in the second race, beating the Frenchman to the win.
Despite starting from eighth and tenth on the grid respectively, Lopez and Muller scythed their way through the field with their dominant C-Elysee cars. Both made up just one position on the opening lap, but had superior race pace to make passing look easy around the Belgian circuit.
Lopez was up to fifth on lap two, passing Gabriele Tarquini into Rivage. The Argentine then got by Norbert Michelisz for fourth further around the lap at the bus stop chicane. Fourth became third with the same move on Gianni Morbidelli just one lap later at the same corner.
Once past Tiago Monteiro for second, Lopez then set about reducing the 2.533 deficit to leader Tom Coronel. The ROAL Motorsport driver had taken the lead on the opening lap with a superb start that saw him lead Morbidelli before turn one. However on lap seven Lopez inevitably passed Coronel for the lead on the run to Eau Rouge to take his fifth win of the season.
By finishing in second, Muller failed to reduce the gap to rival Lopez in the championship. The Frenchman made steady progress with Lopez through the field finally passing Coronel for second into the bus stop chicane on lap seven.
Coronel held on to finish in third, taking his second podium finish of the season at effectively his home circuit. Monteiro finished in fourth, despite late-race pressure from Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb in fifth.
Pole-sitter Morbidelli took the chequered flag in sixth, unable to offer any response to the Citroen drivers. Michelisz finished seventh in his private Zengo Motorsport Civic.
Tarquini ended the race in eighth, having dropped down the order in the latter half of the race whilst battling with Loeb and Hugo Valente. Campos Racing driver Valente finished ninth, after Tarquini found a way back past the Frenchman in the battles on lap four.
Tom Chilton completed the top ten for ROAL Motorsport, taking his second points finish of the weekend.
None of the LADA drivers scored points for the seventh time this season, with Mikhail Kozlovskiy finishing in 12th to beat his two experienced British team-mates.
Victory in TC2 again went to Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Franz Engstler, ahead of team-mate Pasquale di Sabatino. Campos Racing’s rookie Norbert Nagy finished third in class.
There were retirements for Campos Racing’s Dusan Borkovic and Citroen’s Ma Qing Hua in the race, with the latter reporting an overheating problem with his car.
The title battle is now effectively between Muller and Lopez with Loeb looking secure in 3rd place in the championship as the series ended its European leg and begins the Flyaway section as we head towards the Macau Finale in November.
But Honda have been hard at work with a four day test in Spain using Honda Chassis number six so look for improvements there, whilst Lada also fitted in a test, looking to move further forward.
Argentina is next up where Pechito took his first WTCC win in his second WTCC race so expect Argentina to roar if he does that again.