The FIA World Touring Car Championship made its second visit to China at the Shanghai International Grand Prix circuit, one week after the series saw race wins for Tom Chilton and for Rob Huff and Lada take place in Beijing.
With the traction advantage of the Citroens this year, Shanghai was a circuit where they were expected to shine with its long corners and high speed back straight and it provided the first oppurtunity for Citroen to seal the Manufacturers Title before the season finale in Macau.
Lets see how things panned out shall we...
In Qualifying, It was Jose Maria Lopez who took his fifth pole position of the season in the Citroen C-Elysee ahead of his Chinese team-mate Qing Hua Ma. Title challenger Yvan Muller secured third ahead of the Zengo Motorsport Honda Civic of Norbert Michelisz with Sebastian Loeb completing the top five, despite hitting a tyre stack on his fast lap.
Completing the Top Ten for the race one grid were the works Honda drivers of Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini in sixth and seventh respectively. Tom Chilton made it to eigth place in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze whilst Hugo Valente qualified his Campos Racing Chevrolet in ninth place. Mehdi Bennani secured tenth place in his ProTeam Honda Civic in the dying moments of Q2, beating Tom Coronel by two tenths to take the race two Pole Position.
The big losses in Qualifying were Tom Coronel, who was called in for a weight check whilst he was in tenth place, denying him the chance to try and secure the spot leaving the popular Dutchman in Eleventh place. Dusan Borkovic hauled his repaired Campos Cruze into twelfth whilst Gianni Morbidelli was mystified by a lack of pace to put his Munnich Mototsport Cruze in Thirteenth place ahead of the Lada trio who were suffering on the high speed back straight. James Thompson led Mikhail Kozlovskiy from Rob Huff whilst Franz Engstler took Pole Position in the TC2 catergory.
Before race one had even begun, Thompson was in the pits with a broken steering arm on the Lada Granta TC1. At the start, Lopez held off Ma for the lead whilst Muller made his way back past Michelisz after a poor start. Loeb found himself with a fightback on his hands after falling behind the two works Hondas of Tarquini ahead of Monteiro. Further back, Chilton led a Chevrolet train with Valente, Coronel and Borkovic ahead of Bennani.
Loeb managed to pass Monteiro around the outside of the hairpin and the inside at the final turn for sixth place, however on lap three the right rear wheel flew off from Tom Chiltons Chevrolet, putting him into retirement. Loeb set about trying to pass Michelisz for fourth and did this on lap six into the hairpin, giving Citroen a 1-2-3-4 with Ma hasseling Lopez up front whilst Muller began to fall back.
Campos Racing's TC2 entrant William Lok retired on lap eight after hitting the tyre stack on the last corner with his SEAT Leon, causing double waved yellows. Whilst Tarquini and Monteiro chased Michelisz, further back Bennani was hounding Valente for ninth place with the Honda proving quicker than the Cruze. The Lada's suffered further with retirements for Huff and Kozlovskiy sealing a bad first race for them.
Lopez went on to secure his eighth win of the season ahead of Ma with Muller in third, being chased to the finish line. This result also secured the WTCC Manufactuers Title for Citroen in its first year. Michelisz came home in fourth ahed of Tarquini and Monteiro, with Coronel, Valente and Bennani completing the top ten. Engstler dominated the TC2 Class, winning from pole position.
Race Two saw Chilton's car fixed and starting from the pitlane after his first race retirement. At the light, Bennani launched into the lead with Tarquiniband Monteiro passing Valente into turn one after better starts. Loeb and Muller made good starts into fifth and sixth respectively ahead of Michelisz whilst Lopez, Coronel and Ma completed the top ten.
Muller passed Loeb for fifth at the end of lap one whilst Lopez passed Michelisz for seventh on lap two. From the back, Thompson made it up to fifteenth from last on the grid whilst Chilton passed the TC2 cars after his pitlane start. As the cars streamed down the back straight on lap two Muller tried to pass Valente into the hairpin, however the Campos Racing driver defended and this left Muller open to Loeb who hit his team-mate and damaged the right rear wheel, sending Muller into retirement. Loeb would carry on but he would be awarded a thirty second penalty by the stewards after the race.
On lap four, Bennani led from Tarquini, Monteiro, Valente and Loeb in fifth with Lopez, Michelisz being chased by Ma for seventh whilst Coronel and Borkovic completed the top ten positions. But that all changed at the hairpin with Lopez passing Loeb for fifth whilst Ma went wide while trying to pass Michelisz for seventh. Tarquini suffered engine issues on lap five whilst Huff and Morbidelli both retired from contact at turn two.
With Muller out, Lopez looked to further his points advantage iver Muller in the Drivers Championship by passing Valente for third with all of this holding up Loeb and allowing Michelisz to close. Thompson and Chilton continued their way up the field to be tenth and eleventh respectively. Meanwhile Valente was now defending from Loeb, Michelisz and Ma in the fight for fourth place. Loeb passed Valente on lap seven for fourth with Michelisz passing the Campos Chevrolet on the same lap to take fifth place with Ma passing the Frenchman on lap nine as he fell back.
Bennani went on to secure his first ever WTCC win and Honda's first win of the year in the TC1 Honda Civic, also taking ProTeam's first ever WTCC in the process with Monteiro and Lopez completing the podium. Loeb finished fourth on the road but would drop out of the top ten. Michelisz was classified fourth and Ma with Coronel, Chilton, Valente, Borkovic and Thompson completing the top ten.
Engstler again dominated the TC2 Class in his BMW 320TC, winning from pole position.
The series now moves to Suzuka for the penultimate weekend in the championship where this year the cars will use the full Grand Prix circuit after three years of using the East Circuit. It is also the next chance that Jose Maria Lopez has to secure the FIA WTCC Drivers Title
This is one of the WTCC Weekends I've been waitng for, ever since the confirmation that the full Grand Prix Circuit will be used. Its a thrill watching on TV as the F1 cars take the awesome 130R corner nearly flat out. Seeing how the TC1 cars do with the new Aero package and the extra engine power should be just as good to watch!
All the best!