Race preview: Battle for second takes centre stage in the WTCC
The thrilling fight for second place in the FIA World Touring Car Championship will take centre stage when the WTCC stops off at the Shanghai International Circuit in China from 23-25 September.
With José María López already crowned provisional champion for a third time* the focus shifts to the fight for the runner-up spot between seven drivers, all race winners this season.
Tiago Monteiro and Yvan Muller are best placed of the group on 199 points with Rob Huff 21 points further back. Norbert Michelisz, who is six points down on Huff, Mehdi Bennani, Nicky Catsburg and Tom Chilton are also in contention with plenty of points still up for grabs.
Tiago is my target in the championship, said factory Citroën driver Muller, a four-time WTCC champion. I am pleased we are equal on points and it will be a good fight between us for the rest of the season. Works Honda racer Monteiro, who has two wins compared to Muller’s sole triumph in 2016, said: We will fight for second and every point will count.
China joined the WTCC roster in 2011 and with the world’s biggest population at more than 1.3 billion, the country represents an important marketplace for the championship, its stakeholders and manufacturers. They include Volvo – a wholly owned subsidiary of Zhejian Geely Holding Group of China – which is represented in the WTCC by performance brand Polestar.
Polestar Cyan Racing is at the beginning of its WTCC adventure but arrives in China buoyed by a strong showing in Japan where Thed Björk set the fastest lap in the Opening Race and battled for a podium place. As a company with both Swedish and Chinese heritage, we hope to pick up some good results, said Björk. Japan was positive on several levels and I can’t wait for China.
China also represents a significant market for Citroën, which can make it three WTCC Manufacturers’ championship titles in succession* by scoring two points. Meanwhile, Citroën privateers Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton are locked in combat for the WTCC Trophy.
CAN CHINA SUCCESS INSPIRE WTCC TROPHY CHASER BENNANI?
The Shanghai International Circuit is significant in more ways than one for Mehdi Bennani. While a strong weekend for the Moroccan and a below par performance from his Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Tom Chilton will make the WTCC Trophy his providing he leaves China 23 points ahead of his British rival, the track was the scene of his maiden WTCC victory back in 2014. By winning the second of two races in a privateer Honda, Bennani became the first Arabic driver to take victory in an FIA world championship motor race.
WTCC MAC3 TO DELIVER EVEN MORE TRACK ACTION IN CHINA
There will be more on-track drama in store on Saturday afternoon (24 September) when the Manufacturers Against the Clock team trial takes place. New for 2016 and timed by TAG Heuer, the WTCC’s Official Timing Partner, the Tour de France-inspired competition puts squads from Citroën, Honda and LADA against the clock over two timed laps of the Shanghai International Circuit. The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third Volvo from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new Yokohama tyres. Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps. Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia earlier in the season when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory. And the competition in WTCC MAC3 has been close – even too close to call. After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals. And Honda will be out for revenge in China after Citroën took the WTCC MAC3 honours in Japan earlier this month, its fourth outright triumph and fifth in total.
INTRODUCING THE WTCC’S LIGHTER FIGHTERS
LADA and Polestar’s factory FIA World Touring Car Championship drivers will fight lighter when battle resumes at WTCC Race of China. The trio of LADA Vestas and pair of Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s will run without compensation weight at the Shanghai International Circuit under regulations designed to equalise performance in the WTCC through a lap time difference in seconds calculation based on average lap times from the previous three race weekends. While the Volvos ran with zero success ballast at WTCC Race of Japan, each LADA carried 50 kilograms, which works pilots Nicky Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente suggested had hindered their ultimate pace. Drivers of the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 will also benefit from running at the 1100-kilogram minimum base weight in China having had 10 kilograms fitted at Twin Ring Motegi. The compensation weight carried by the quintet of Honda Civic WTCCs falls from 80 to 60 kilograms but the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs continue to carry the maximum permitted 80 kilograms.