López continues title charge with victory in the opening race
Double podium for Honda as Michelisz claims Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy brace
José María López and Ma Qing Hua helped Citroën extend its winning tally in the FIA World Touring Car Championship to 31 by taking it in turns to triumph on the challenging Vila Real streets as OSCARO.com WTCC Race of Portugal delivered action and drama aplenty.
In ambient temperatures approaching 30 degrees centigrade and in front of an estimated 180,000 fans over the three-day event, López bossed the opening counter to head fellow C-Elysée driver Sébastien Loeb with Norbert Michelisz third for Honda. Ma held firm in race two for his first win of 2015 and his second triumph in the WTCC following his historic victory in Russia last season when he became the first driver from China to win an FIA world championship motor race.
Behind second-placed Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini completed the race-two podium for Honda but it proved an afternoon to forget for team-mate Tiago Monteiro when the Portuguese was eliminated in a hefty start-line clash with LADA driver Jaap van Lagen. Michelisz made it two Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy top scores as fifth for López means it’s ‘catch him if you can time’ with the Argentine leading the title chase by 55 points heading into the summer break before the race for WTCC success resumes in Japan in mid-September.
RACE ONE ROUND-UP: LÓPEZ LANDS VILA REAL GOLD
José María López rocketed off the line and was never headed during the 13-lap contest, beating team-mate Sébastien Loeb to earn Citroën its 30th WTCC victory and his sixth of the season. However, it could have been a different story when the C-Elysée drivers ran slightly wide at a chicane on the opening lap although both recovered without delay. Thereafter it was a case of keeping concentration and away from the crash barriers that line the challenging 4.755-kilometre course that was hosting the WTCC for the first time. Loeb was a constant threat to López but the nine-time world rally champion admitted circulating in close proximity to López caused his car to understeer and he ultimately settled for second. Norbert Michelisz benefited from Hugo Valente’s sluggish start from third on the grid, which was caused by clutch setting issues, to snatch third with fellow Honda drivers Gabriele Tarquini and home hero Tiago Montiero fourth and fifth respectively. Michelisz reported struggling with significant tyre wear in the closing stages, while Monteiro suggested fifth was the best he could have hoped for following a frustrating Qualifying on Saturday. Ma Qing Hua survived a few hits on the opening lap to finish sixth with Yvan Muller seventh ahead of LADA trio Jaap van Lagen, Nicky Catsburg and Rob Huff. Valente pitted with a broken upright after a contact-filled first lap, while an ignition issue stopped Néstor Girolami’s Honda.
RACE TWO ROUND-UP: MA TRIUMPHS AMID THE DRAMA
Ma Qing Hua was sublime out in front to keep a cool head for his second WTCC-career win from pole position. But while the Chinese driver never faltered, race two developed into an incident-packed affair. While Ma and Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller pulled clear, Nicky Catsburg switched to defence mode to keep a pack of rivals behind as he hunted his first WTCC podium. But when the Dutchman ran wide exiting a right-hander on lap 10, Gabriele Tarquini pounced to snatch third. Catsburg then became embroiled in a collision with Norbert Michelisz and Sébastien Loeb, which left Loeb skating into a tyre barrier and retirement. Catsburg continued only to crash heavily a lap later, which resulted in the race being stopped early. Hopes of home success were dashed on the charge to the first corner when Tiago Monteiro’s bid to squeeze between LADA drivers Catsburg and Jaap van Lagen ended in a heavy collision. Monteiro’s Honda suffered significant damage after it clouted a retaining wall, which prompted the intervention of the safety car for four laps while the track was cleared of stricken cars and debris. Van Laagen, who had started third, was also out on the spot, while Stefano D’Aste retired when he ran over a detached wheel. There were no such problems for Hugo Valente, who finished seventh ahead of Néstor Girolami, Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani. Girolami’s eighth place provided some payback for his Honda Racing team Sweden mechanics who worked into the early hours of the morning to fix his damaged Civic following a crash in Qualifying.
YOKOHAMA DRIVERS’ TROPHY: MICHELISZ AT THE DOUBLE
Norbert Michelisz claimed top honours in race one by a comfortable margin over Mehdi Bennani after Hugo Valente retired his Chevrolet Cruze. Tom Coronel finished third with Stefano D’Aste fourth in another Chevrolet. Tom Chilton was next up despite an electrical issue causing a fright on the slowing down lap when his car’s engine cut. John Filippi edged Grégoire Demoustier following an entertaining battle between the pair. Michelisz won again in race two to open up a comfortable championship lead. Valente and Bennani completed the podium ahead of Coronel, Demoustier and Chilton, who was only able to start race two after his ROAL Motorsport mechanics rushed to rectify an electrical issue. Filippi completed the independent finishers.
RACE WINNER QUOTES (full transcript available soon athttp://media.fiawtcc.com)
José María López (race one winner): “It was very demanding. Maybe from the outside it looked easy but there was a lot of things to do, especially the start. We didn’t know how the car was going to react in a different part of the track and I had a bit of doubt about that. But it went in my favour and actually the place where I started from was very good, probably better than the outside. Then I pull away but it’s very quick and the heat was there. You can hear and feel the car was suffering on the track because of the bumps and kerbs and everything and sometimes if you relax a bit you can have a mistake and it happened to me a few times.”
Ma Qing Hua (race two winner): “We were playing for the reverse grid yesterday and today the target was to be in front in race two. I did everything quite good and the team too to make everything happen. I did a good start and I’m really happy. I really like this feeling to be back on the podium again. I was really focused on Yvan at the restart because he’s very fast. I tried to make a gap, keep a clear mind and keep a good pace to the end. I did nothing crazy and just focused on the track. It’s more good news for Chinese motorsport.”
Race one pole position (presented by DHL): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race one Yokohama Performer: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two pole position (presented by DHL): Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two Yokohama Performer: Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
NEXT RACE JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of Japan, Motegi, 11-13 September, www.twinring.jp