Saturday, 22 November 2014

WTCC 2014: Its Macau Baby!!!

Street Circuits.

For the avid motorsport fan, the thought of motorsport taking place on a street circuit offers a greater challenge to the teams and drivers taking part. There are little or no run off areas, however in their place are metal barriers or concrete barriers. In order to gain the fastest laptime in Qualifying or the race, drivers have to be inch perfect whilst skimming the barriers to gain the fastest laptime.

Now almost every major series has a street circuit involved in its calendar: Formula One has Monaco, the DTM has the Norisring, the WEC has Le Mans...

And the FIA World Touring Car Championship has the awesome spectacle that is Macau. Sharing the weekend with the legendary Formula Three, Superbike and GT races that attract the best in the world of motorsport, Macau has been the finale of the WTCC for the last ten years and the 2014 edition didn't disappoint...

Lets see how this panned out...

Citroen’s Jose Maria Lopez claimed pole position for Round 23 of the World Touring Car Championship in Macau, heading teammates Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller.

Lopez, who is tackling the street circuit for the first time this weekend, set a fastest lap of 2:24.294s in the third segment of qualifying that was enough for him to seal top spot by 0.228s from Loeb, ahead of Sunday’s races.

The qualifying hour got off to a somewhat predictable start around the narrow streets, with Pepe Oriola – standing in for the injured Dusan Borkovic at Campos Racing – crashing his Chevrolet at Maternity, bringing the red flags out before anybody had had the chance to set a time.

As the session restarted, it was the Honda quartet of Tiago Monteiro, Gabriele Tarquini, Norbert Michelisz and Mehdi Bennani who headed onto the circuit first, with the former initially going fastest before Muller usurped him with a 2:26.918s.

The stoppage earlier in the session meant that by the time that drivers had set their first times and returned to the pits, half of the 30-minute Q1 had elapsed, and the field were keen to get on with things as Loeb went quickest with a time of 2:26.036s, while Tarquini and Rob Huff improved to fourth and seventh respectively, before Michelisz then set the fastest time in the session with a 2:25.920s.

Bennani’s second run hadn’t gone to plan, as he scuffed his tyres and found himself in 13th when he pitted for a third time, when he was forced to visit the weighbridge before he could return to the track.

But with the Moroccan able to rejoin the action, the pressure was on those in front of him to improve, and Ma Qing Hua in the fourth Citroen was that bit overzealous in his attempts to improve on a precarious 12th place, as he had a huge slide having set the fastest first sector. That hindered James Thompson in the LADA Granta, who finished the session in 14th place.

The session was then brought to a premature end by Thompson’s teammate Mikhail Kozlovskiy, who spun and blocked the track at Lisboa briefly. With the red flag flown for a second time and less than a minute-and-a-half remaining on the clock, race control decided not to restart the session, eliminating Bennani, Thompson, Kozlovskiy and Rene Munnich from the TC1 field.

Q2 was a much less dramatic affair, as the Citroen drivers all immediately got down to business on a less congested track, with Lopez fastest on a 2:24.539s. 

Just five minutes remained as the cars headed out for their final runs, although Morbidelli decided to remain in the pits, settling for 12th place on the grid for both of Sunday’s races. Tarquini made a late attempt to claim a spot in the shootout, but narrowly missed out with sixth place. He was beaten by the three Citroens, while Tom Coronel and Michelisz also made the final session after building on fast first runs. Hugo Valente would go on to start the final race of the season from pole position having qualified in tenth, where he is ahead Chilton and Huff.

Michelisz continued his fine form into Q3 at the track with a 2:25.327s, which was good enough for fourth as Coronel hit the wall and aborted his lap, having been faster than the Hungarian in the first sector. It was then left to the Citroen trio to battle for pole. Muller went first and set a WTCC lap record of 2:24.779s with his effort, before Loeb eclipsed that time by two-tenths-of-a-second with a time of 2:24.522s. But taking to the track last, it was champion Lopez who stole the show to claim a seventh pole of the season, with his 2:24.294s, which is now the best lap by a World Touring Car around the legendary street circuit.

Jose Maria Lopez won the penultimate WTCC race of the season, finishing ahead of a Honda trio headed up by Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz. Lopez cruised to his tenth win of the season from pole position, whilst behind him his Citroen team-mates struggled to maintain their qualifying form.

Loeb, who started alongside Lopez on the front row of the grid, lost out to Michelisz at the very start of the race. The former rally star tried to keep the pressure on the Hungarian, but on lap three he locked up at Lisboa and lost ground at the only real overtaking opportunity on the circuit. Loeb’s mistake allowed three cars to pass, the first of which was an under the weather Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian would maintain third for the remainder of the race despite his condition.

Tiago Monteiro finished the race in fourth, despite trying hard to pass his works’ Honda team-mate throughout the race. The Portuguese driver also had to defend from the Citroen of Yvan Muller, who finished fifth after having lost out to the Honda trio on the opening lap of the race. Following his earlier mistake Loeb finished the race in sixth and failed to consistently challenge Muller for the position ahead, guaranteeing his fellow Frenchman second overall in the championship.

Coronel finished the race as the top Chevrolet driver in seventh, ahead of the fourth Citroen of Ma Qing Hua, who passed three cars in the race to take eighth. Rob Huff was ninth, losing just one place from his grid position when Ma passed him into Lisboa on lap three due to a superior straightline speed advantage. Morbidelli completed the top ten, although the Italian benefitted the most from a bizarre penultimate lap incident involving Proteam Racing’s Mehdi Bennani and Campos Racing’s TC2 entry of Henry Kwong. As the Moroccan went to lap the slower car on the start straight, Kwong moved over and hit the TC1 car, sending Bennani into a slide which ended with frontal contact with the barriers and a retirement from the race.

Franz Engstler took class victory in TC2, even finishing ahead of the TC1 Chevrolet of Rene Munnich. John Filippi was once again second in class, and the only Campos driver not to crash in the race after one-off drivers Kwong and William Lok both experienced self-inflicted contact with the barrier during the race.

Rob Huff took a dramatic final-lap victory in the final WTCC race of the season, after early race leader Tiago Monteiro suffered a mechanical problem on the penultimate lap of the race. Huff, who started the race from third, was immediately on the move as the lights went out, following Monteiro past front-row starters Valente and Chilton to settle in second position.

As the race progressed Muller, who also made a strong start to move from eighth on the grid up to third, began to pressure Huff for second. However the Brit put up a resolute defence of his position, continuing to hold second after a safety car period two laps from the finish, which was caused when Ma planted his car in the barriers at the final turn.

It all changed at the front just before the start of the final lap when Monteiro, who looked set for his first win of the season, suddenly slowed with apparent power steering problems. That promoted Huff to the lead for the final lap and one last defence into Lisboa corner on the final lap essentially secured him a second win of the season. Completing the podium behind Muller was Valente, who recovered to third after a disastrous opening lap. The Campos Racing driver, having lost the lead at the start, then tried too hard into Lisboa a couple of corners later and dropped to fifth. A strong restart after the safety car allowed the Frenchman to retake fourth from Michelisz, who settled for fourth.

Lopez finished the race in fifth, with Loeb directly behind him in sixth. The Frenchman made a pair of overtaking moves on ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton on laps five and six respectively to show strong racing skills to end a promising debut season. Chilton got past team-mate Coronel late in the race to take seventh, with the Dutchman following home in eighth. Completing the top ten were Thompson, who had been unable to emulate the performances of his team-mate all weekend, and TC2’s Franz Engstler.

Mikhail Kozlovskiy failed to take the chequered flag, retiring once again with mechanical problems on his LADA. There was also a retirement for Morbidelli on lap four when the Italian spun into the barriers at Fisherman’s Bend. A number of drivers failed to start the race. Tarquini, still suffering from illness, peeled into the pits at the end of the formation lap and called it a day. Mehdi Bennani also didn’t start due to the damage inflicted on his Honda in race one by TC2 driver Henry Kwong. Campos Racing’s William Lok also failed to start after planting his SEAT in the barriers in race one.

And so the 10th season of WTCC comes to an end with the new TC1 regulation cars still offering the same close racing that WTCC has been known for whilst offering a fresh challenge to the drivers.

Already there are rumours abound of what will happen in 2015 with the calendar due to be confirmed at the FIA World Motorsport Council meeting on 1-2 of December in Doha. We know there will be a special blue riband event held at the legendary Nurburgring in Germany whilst the season ending finale of Macau looks to be remaining on the calendar.

Meanwhile there rumours and whispers of who will drive what car with what team for next year. Already confirmed are Muller, Lopez and Loeb at Citroen whilst Sebastien Loeb Racing will field two more Citroens making five C-Elysee's taking part. LADA have confirmed that Huff, Thompson and Kozlovskiy will pilot thrre brand new TC1 Vesta's with increased support from french engine partner Oreca. As for the rest...

Well...we'll soon know.

So thank you for reading my WTCC blogposts this year and I look forward to bringing you more WTCC in 2015!

All the best!!!


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