After what seems like an eternity (2 months), the FIA World Touring Car Championship returned in Beijing to begin its Asian Tour and the final third of the series as we head to Macau, looking to crown the 2014 WTCC champion.
And theres been a few changes...
RML have provided updates for the TC1 Chevrolet Cruze's run by ROAL Motorsport, Munnich Motorsport and Campos Racing, who have tested these in Barcelona. Honda have been testing engine and chassis updates on the new Civic WTCC test car whilst Lada have also tested updates to the Grants TC1 as well as announcing that they will use the new Vesta TC1 from next year, whilst confirming they will retain Huff, Thompson and Kozlovskiy for 2015.
Also, this final third of the championship offers Jose Maria Lopez a good few oppurtunitiesto be crowned 2014 WTCC Champion before Macau with the huge points lead he has over teammate Yvan Muller.
So this is how it panned out...
ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton took a surprise pole position in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship in Beijing, beating Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini to the top time in a session featuring no Citroën drivers on the front row.
Chilton was the fastest driver in the all-important Q3 session, pipping Tarquini to pole by just 0.032 seconds after the Italian admitted to making a small mistake on his single lap.
Citroën’s Yvan Muller was third fastest, also within a tenth of a second of Chilton but unable to go faster than his former team-mate. Championship leader José María López was fourth, unable to match the pace he had in Q2 which would have been good enough for pole.
Münnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli, who had on Saturday been the fastest Chevrolet driver in two of the three sessions, could only manage fifth fastest, just over half a second off the pace.
Zengő Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was the top driver to miss out on Q3, posting the sixth fastest time in his independent Honda. Sébastien Loeb was seventh, having missed out on entry into the final qualifying segment by two tenths of a second.
It was a good qualifying session for the LADA drivers, with both James Thompson (eighth) and Rob Huff (tenth) making it into Q2. Huff therefore starts race two from pole position, with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel alongside him after the Dutchman was ninth fastest.
It turned out to be a poor qualifying session for Saturday’s pace-setter Tiago Monteiro. The Honda driver was only 11th in Q2, missing out on both Q3 and the reverse grid for race two after being more than a second off the pace. He will be joined on row six of the grid by Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente, who failed to make an impression.
Q1 was twice red-flagged. The first came when Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Filipe Clemente de Souza went off at the final corner and beeched his BMW in the gravel. The second came after Campos Racing’s Dušan Borković lost control of his Chevrolet and spun onto the infield, dislodging his front splitter and requiring a tow back to the pits. He was thus only 16th fastest.
Franz Engstler again took class pole for TC2, with the Liqui Moly driver ahead of Campos Racing’s John Filippi and Michael Soong.
Tom Chilton went on to score his first World Touring Car Championship win of the season in the opening race in Beijing, comfortably finishing ahead of Yvan Muller and José María López.
Chilton got off to a strong start away from the line, whilst behind him Muller got past front row start Gabriele Tarquini for second.
The race was neutralised after three laps, however, when the safety car came out as a result of a collision between Dušan Borković and René Münnich, with both Chevrolets having sustained damage in the wall. Borković later explained that their coming together was a result of Münnich in front having picked up a puncture.
The race eventually resumed on lap 11 and Chilton pulled away from the chasing pack untroubled, leaving Muller to defend from Tarquini. However the Italian pulled into the pits and out of the race on lap 23 having suffered from mechanical problems with his Honda.
Tarquini’s demise promoted López to third, reducing the gain of Muller into the Argentine’s championship lead.
Morbidelli finished the race in fourth for Münnich Motorsport after a quiet race, ahead of the third Citroën of Sébastien Loeb in fifth.
Norbert Michelisz was sixth, despite having passed Loeb for fifth on lap 12, with the Frenchman getting back past the Hungarian in the final laps of the race.
LADA duo James Thompson and Rob Huff finished the race in seventh and eighth, with the former taking his best result of the season, ahead of Proteam Racing’s Mehdi Bennani in ninth. Bennani had earlier had a close race with Tiago Monteiro, but the Moroccan hit the back of Monteiro’s car and caused damage that would force the Portuguese driver out of the race.
Franz Engstler won the TC2 class once again, with the race’s high attrition rate allowing him to finish inside the top ten for only the second time this season.
Hugo Valente had been running in tenth but picked up a puncture on the final lap and thus finished in 12th position.
Ma Qing Hua made progress from his starting position of 14th and was running in eighth ahead of Thompson before the Chinese driver went off the circuit on lap 22. He would retire from the race just two laps later with a puncture.
Also failing to finish was Tom Coronel, who would start race two from the front row of the grid alongside pole sitter Rob Huff.
Rob Huff took LADA’s first-ever World Touring Car Championship victory in race two in Beijing, scoring a lights-to-flag win ahead of Tom Coronel and Sébastien Loeb.
Huff, who started the race from pole position, led the entire race and was never challenged by Coronel, with the Brit opening up a lead of over four seconds just after the halfway stage of the race.
The win is the 26th of Huff’s career, and crucially the first-ever win for LADA in the championship.
Coronel and Loeb completed the podium, having been in the top three positions since the first corner of the race.
Championship leader José María López extended his points advantage by finishing in fourth, having made up more positions than anyone else inside the top ten. López, who started seventh, was in sixth by the end of lap one and then got past James Thompson for fifth on lap 11.
Norbert Michelisz was fifth, finishing one place better than race one, having lost out to the charging López on lap 16.
Thompson completed a strong day for the Russian marque by taking his best result of the season in sixth. The Brit had started third, but lost out to Loeb and Michelisz at the start and he was then hunted down and passed by López later in the race.
Gianni Morbidelli followed up his fourth in race one with seventh in race two, unable to make any progress in his Chevrolet and losing out to López at the start of the race.
Completing the top ten were race one winner Chilton, Muller and Tarquini. Muller therefore loses more ground to López in the title fight after being unable to repass Chilton after the ROAL Motorsport driver got by early in the race.
Monteiro had another poor race on the back of a disastrous qualifying and race one, finishing down in 13th position. Monteiro had spent much of the race battling with Ma Qing Hua, who finished in 12th and thus scored no points at home in China.
Franz Engstler was again victorious in TC2 for the 15th time this season despite a spin in the race, finishing ahead of John Filippi.
The only disappointment for LADA came at the start, with Mikhail Kozlovskiy failing to get to the grid after a fire in his car.
After their crashes in race one, neither Dušan Borković nor René Münnich took the start of race two.
The WTCC Circus had little time to recover as it now heads to the Shanghai International Grand Prix circuit, using the shorter layout, where Citroen has its first chance to secure the Manufacturers Title.
Frankly, after their performance this year, that has never been in doubt. But what is good to see is that the pace of the Chevrolet's and Honda's had increased and that they were able to make life more difficult for Citroen, which is good for the championship as it moves back towards offering the close racing we know and love from the WTCC.
All the best!