China to host thrilling seven-way chase of the coveted runner-up spot
Volvo Polestar demonstrates potential ahead of ‘home’ event
Sébastien Loeb Racing drivers Bennani and Chilton fight for WTCC Trophy
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 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.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2016
Hello Opening Race and Main Race!: Gone are Race 1 and Race 2 for 2016, in their place come Opening Race and Main Race with the reverse-grid now used for the first clash of the weekend and the grid for the second event based on the results of Qualifying. WTCC Premium TV: Bringing the WTCC’s video content to fans through mobile apps (iOS and Android) and online, WTCC TV Premium TV is a high-quality, interactive subscription service. Included in the package is the world feed plus a choice of 10 on-board cameras, no geo-blocking, video on demand, plus stats and facts.
New partnerships: TAG Heuer and OSCARO are welcomed as Official Series Partners. JVCKENWOOD’s renewed commitment will bring team radio to TV,Polestar will provide the Official Safety Car, the Volvo V60 Polestar, while a new alliance with the Goodwood Festival of Speed brought WTCC ‘art cars’ to the annual motorsport extravaganza in late June. DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, will present the DHL Pole Position Award at every event and was responsible for transporting all cars and equipment to Chia from the previous round in Japan. The new TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy goes to the driver setting the weekend’s fastest race lap of all.
WHO’S ON TRACK IN 2016
Citroën: World champion José María López and Yvan Muller drive the factory C-Elysée WTCCs. Privateer squad Sébastien Loeb Racing expands to three cars withTom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier joining Mehdi Bennani. Honda:Independent champion Norbert Michelisz gets his big factory break, while Rob Huff joins from LADA. Tiago Monteiro stays put, but there’s no drive for Gabriele Tarquini… LADA: Gabriele Tarquini continues in the WTCC at LADA after leaving Honda. Hugo Valente is handed a dream works ride after impressing as a privateer in 2015. Nicky Catsburg gets a full season. Polestar: Volvo’s performance brand begins its long-term WTCC campaign with two S60 Polestar TC1s. Multiple Scandinavian Touring Car champion Thed Björk is part of the factory driver line-up. WTCC Trophy: Bennani, Chilton and Demoustier aside, Tom Coronel is back for WTCC season 12 in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet. Campos Racing’s John Filippiturned 21 in February and gets Yvan Muller as a driver coach. John Bryant-Meisner crosses over from single-seater racing with Nika International, whileJames Thompson deputises for René Münnich at ALL.INK.COM Münnich Motorsport with the team founder busy at a clashing World Rallycross event. Zengo Motorsport enters two Hondas for Hungarian youngsters Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy.
José María López could be forgiven for easing off the gas during the closing races of the season, now that a third WTCC title is provisionally his. However, by handing the Main Race win in Japan to Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller, López is currently three wins short of his season record of 10, which he set in 2014 and matched in 2015. Having won in China for two years running, there’s a strong likelihood of more Argentine success. Mehdi Bennani, Tom Chilton, Rob Huff, Tiago Monteiro and Yvan Muller all have previous when it comes to winning in Shanghai and all are capable to taking the chequered flag first next weekend. With LADA and Polestar free of compensation weight in China, Nicky Catsburg will be looking to improve upon his strong showing in Shanghai 12 months ago when he qualified third and finished fourth in the first race for LADA. The Chinese Grand Prix venue is one of few tracks Polestar’s Thed Björk has prior experience of, which will serve as a timely boost for the Swede.
FACTS AND STATS
Race wins 2016: López 7; Coronel and Monteiro 2; Bennani, Catsburg, Chilton, Huff, Michelisz, Muller and Tarquini 1
Pole positions 2016: López 6; Catsburg, Monteiro and Muller 1
Fastest laps 2016: López 7; Huff 3; Bennani, Björk, Catsburg, Chilton, Ficza, Muller, Tarquini and Valente 1
Laps led 2016: López 63; Huff 38; Coronel 28; Catsburg 24; Bennani 22; Michelisz and Monteiro 19; Chilton 13; Tarquini 11; Michelisz and Valente 6; Muller 4
All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 48; Huff 28; López 28; Menu 23; Tarquini 21
All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29; López 20; Tarquini 17; Menu 15; Farfus and Huff 11
All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38; López 28; Huff 27; Tarquini 23; Menu 20
All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 569; Huff 344; Menu 297; Tarquini 285; López 286
WTCC RACE OF CHINA WINNERS
2015: Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée)
2014: R1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); R2: Mehdi Bennani (Honda Civic)
2013: R1 Tom Chilton (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic)
2012: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze)
2011: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze)
WTCC RACE OF CHINA VENUES
2012-Present: Shanghai International Circuit
2011: Tianma Circuit
DID YOU KNOW?
China is widely credited with the invention of football in the second and third centuries BC. Linzi, the capital of the ancient Chinese state of Qi, is said to be the birthplace of ‘cuju’ – ‘kick ball with foot’. Meanwhile, superstition and numerology are prevalent in Chinese culture – a 13th floor is often absent from hotels and commercial buildings and vehicle licence plates and phone numbers are often devoid of the number four.
THE BIG NUMBER: 1175
When it comes to long straights in the WTCC, they don’t get much longer than the blast from Turn 13 to 14, which measures 1175 metres in length.
THREE WTCC FIRSTS
1: The Shanghai International Circuit represents unchartered territory for Hungarian youngsters Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy, who will be racing at the track for the first time in their Zengo Motorsport Honda Civics.
2: Mehdi Bennani became the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race when he triumphed in the second of two races at Shanghai in 2014.
3: Thed Björk will start WTCC Race of China with a renewed sense of optimism after he claimed his first fastest lap in the world championship last time out in Japan.
HOW THEY STAND (after Round 18)*
Drivers: 1 López 319**; 2 Monteiro 199; 3 Muller 199; 4 Huff 178; 5 Michelisz 172; 6 Bennani 159; etc. Manufacturers: 1 Citroën 791; 2 Honda 583; 3 LADA 435; 4 Volvo-Polestar 234. WTCC Trophy: 1 Bennani 156; 2 Chilton 136; 3 Coronel 99; 4 Filippi 73; 5 Thompson 70; 6 Demoustier 64; etc. WTCC Teams’ Trophy: 1 Sébastien Loeb Racing 278**; 2 ROAL Motorsport 97; 3 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 94; 4 Campos Racing 86; 5 Zengo Motorsport 45. *Full standings athttp://media.fiawtcc.com/statistics; **Provisional champion
THEY SAID WHAT?
Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing): “I raced at Shanghai in 2013 and what hit me the first time I came to this track is the big arena. The corners aren’t so fast but the atmosphere is really good. The fans are really interested in the racing and I hope they enjoy watching the Volvo S60 Polestar TC1. China is obviously a very important race for us because Volvo is a company with Swedish but also Chinese heritage so we hope we make a good result. That would certainly be nice as we have lots of guests from Volvo coming to the race. It can be hot for sure in China but the last time I was here we had changeable conditions. However, if we have a lot of heat I say it won’t be so difficult because I experienced some really big heat in Vila Real.”
Nicky Catsburg (LADA Sport Rosneft): “Last year was my first time at the track. It’s pretty cool and we had some good results. You have this massively long straight and a really big braking zone where you can gain or lose a lot of time and also a lot of positions, which makes it a good track for racing. The weight of our car was a little bit biased by what happened in Russia [where we won] but having gone down quite a lot we should be able to fight for podiums again. I’m seventh in the championship and it’s still pretty close to the top five. That’s the target.”
Rob Huff (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “I have mixed feelings because anyone can be fast on a modern Formula One track. When you can go out, out-brake yourself in every corner to find your limit and then try again, that’s not racing. Of course China is great for the brands and the manufacturers because market-wise it’s huge. Facility-wise it’s great and overtaking-wise the back straight provides a great opportunity for overtaking. The opening laps of the races are possibly the most exciting we have and it’s the same every year, possibly because the track is so wide and you can make a mistake and not be punished. You can go four wide before you get a problem and the situation explodes.”
José María López (Citroën Total WTCC): “My approach won’t be different to the last two years. I like what I do, I like to fight, I like to win. The Manufacturers’ championship is the main objective for us and, if I can, I will try to help Yvan to get second place in the championship as well.”
Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing, WTCC Trophy): “We were fighting for the WTCC Trophy until the end last year but Norbert Michelisz was stronger than me for two points. It’s another big challenge this year because the private drivers are very strong in this championship. We need to improve but we’re not just fighting for the WTCC Trophy, we’re fighting for the general podium as well and we scored good points in Japan.”
Name: Shanghai International Circuit Location: 29/F Jiushi Towers, 28 Zhongshanng Road (South), 200010 Shanghai, China
Length: 4.603 kilometres
Lap record (qualifying): José María López (Citroën), 1m48.782s (152.33kph), 11/10/14
Lap record (race): Ma Qing Hua (Citroën), 1m50.833s (149.511kph), 12/10/14
WTCC appearances: Four (WTCC Race of China also took place at Tianma Circuit)
Time zone: GMT +8 hours Sunrise/sunset: 05h44/17h47 (Sunday 25 September)
Average temperature: 20°C-27°C (September)
The venue: It took 18 months to convert swampland in the Jiading district of Shanghai into an international-standard racetrack ahead of its opening in 2004. Since then the venue has been ever-present on the Formula One calendar as well as staging MotoGP, V8 Supercars and WEC events. And, since 2012, the WTCC has been an annual visitor on a slightly shorter layout. Designed by Hermann Tilke, the track is characterised by its long back straight and tight hairpin, which help to guarantee great WTCC action. Shanghai is also notable for Mehdi Bennani’s race-two victory in 2014, the first by an Arabic driver.
The timetable: ?The track activity begins in earnest on Saturday 24 September with two 30-minute Free Practice sessions, Qualifying and WTCC MAC3. Sunday’s Opening Race is due to begin at 14h35 over a distance of 14 laps with the Main Race following at 15h50 over 15 laps.
WTCC FLASHBACK 2015 (25-27 SEPTEMBER)
José María López and Yvan Muller combined to help Citroën secure a second FIA World Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship by claiming a win apiece in ROSNEFT WTCC Race of China in Shanghai. López, from Argentina, took the opening honours from the DHL-presented pole position before Frenchman Muller pulled off a stunning overtaking manoeuvre to snatch victory from Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini in race two. Sébastien Loeb followed Muller home in the opening counter with López unable to oust Italian Tarquini for the runner-up spot in the second event.
Nevertheless his performances hand him a 75-point championship lead. Morocco’s Mehdi Bennani scored a Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy double but there was frustration for local hero Ma Qing Hua. After a slow getaway from the front row of the grid in race one, the Chinese driver was forced to retire with a driveshaft glitch. Meanwhile, Hugo Valente started the reverse-grid second race from pole but contact with Tarquini damaged his Chevrolet and caused him to spin, much to the frustration of the young Frenchman who remonstrated with Tarquini afterwards.