Floodlit spectacular will settle podium places in final standings
Legends López and Muller to bow out of WTCC in the Middle East
Friday night fever to appeal to peak TV audiences in Europe and South America
There will be a duel in the desert when the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship reaches its climax at WTCC DHL Race of Qatar on Friday 25 November, as second and third in the final standings are decided at the Losail International Circuit.
But while the thrilling on-track battle for positions will take centre stage during the pair of night races, two motorsport greats will sign off from WTCC duty. Although José María López hopes to return to World Touring Car action in the future having made it three consecutive WTCC titles this season, Yvan Muller will retire from the championship following unprecedented success.
No driver has won more titles (four) and races (48), claimed more pole positions (29), set more fastest laps (38) or led more races (571) than the 48-year-old French legend. And Muller intends to go out with a bang rather than a whimper by beating Tiago Monteiro to the coveted runner-up spot in the final standings behind his Citroën team-mate López. With a 31-point advantage over the Portuguese Honda driver, Muller has high hopes: “I realise it’s a special race and there might be some emotions. It’s also more than a race because I want to be second for my team. It’s always good to race at night so I hope it will be another special moment.”
For López, the WTCC’s desert duel also marks the end of an era. After claiming a hat-trick of drivers’ titles and breaking the record of most wins in one season (10), the Argentine ace has chosen the FIA Formula E Championship for his next motorsport challenge although he admits a WTCC comeback is part of a long-term plan. “It’s not a goodbye but a ‘see you later’,” he said. “I am still young and I can be back if I have still the doors open, which I think I will have. I think one day if I have the opportunity I will be back.”
While second in the final table remains Monteiro’s target, he will also be keeping an eye on fellow factory Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff, who are 14 and 24 points behind respectively. “I lost quite a lot of points in China, but I’m not going to give up,” said Monteiro.
Bennani revved up for second WTCC ‘homecoming’
Mehdi Bennani heads to Qatar sixth in the WTCC Drivers’ standings with 176 points but could end up a career-high third if results go his way in Qatar. The Moroccan, who became the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race when he won at WTCC Race of China in 2014, will head to the Middle East as the WTCC Trophy winner for 2016 following another impressive season driving a Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. He describes WTCC DHL Race of Qatar as a second ‘home’ event. “Morocco and Qatar are very close, the people are very close because there are a lot of partnerships between both countries. And when I race in Qatar it’s really like Marrakech so I hope to have a fantastic race. It could be a bit more special now I am already world champion. And I think I will be even stronger because I will have nothing to lose and nothing to win and in the end it could good so I will do my best to do two strong races and get some good points overall.”
Weight falls for WTCC Hondas
The five Honda Civic WTCCs will run with 30 kilograms of compensation weight at WTCC DHL Race of Qatar, half the amount carried by the Japanese machines during the last event in China and 50 kilograms less than the extra load that will be fitted to Citroën’s pacesetting C-Elysée WTCCs in the Middle East. While the Citroëns have run with the maximum permitted 80 kilograms all season, the amount of success ballast in the Hondas has fluctuated throughout the campaign. Apart from the opening two events of the season in France and Slovakia, when they ran with zero additional weight, not since Russia in early June have the the Hondas run at 30 kilograms. Although the Civics have been competitive running with 80 kilograms, the drop in weight will doubtless benefit its quintet of drivers racing in Qatar. As at WTCC Race of China, the trio of factory LADA Vestas and pair of Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s will run without compensation weight at the Losail International Circuit. Drivers of the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 will also benefit from running at the 1100-kilogram minimum base weight in Qatar. The compensation weight system is 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.
Qatar set for WTCC MAC3 magic
There will be more on-track drama in store from 16h00 local time on Friday 25 November 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 Losail 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 Citroën will be out for revenge in Qatar after Honda took the WTCC MAC3 honours in China, its fifth outright triumph and sixth in total.
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 Qatar from the previous round in China. 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 has expanded to three cars with Tom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier joining Mehdi Bennani. Honda:Independent champion Norbert Michelisz gets his big factory break, while Rob Huffjoins from LADA. Tiago Monteiro stays put but there’s no drive for Gabriele Tarquini… LADA: Gabriele Tarquini continues in the WTCC with a switch to 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 following an encouraging part-programme the previous 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 line-up with Robert Dahlgren returning to the fold in Qatar. WTCC Trophy: Bennani, Chilton and Demoustier aside, Tom Coronel is back for WTCC season 12 in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet. Campos Racing’s John Filippi turned 21 in February and gets Yvan Muller as a driver coach. John Bryant-Meisner crosses over from single-seater racing with Nika International, while James Thompson is deputising for René Münnich at ALL.INK.COM Münnich Motorsport. Zengo Motorsport enters two Hondas for Hungarian youngsters Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy.
Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk arrives in Qatar on a high following his maiden WTCC triumph in China and on the back of the team’s three-day test in southern Europe recently. But he’ll face stiff opposition from departing champion José María López, who will be gunning to equal his record of 10 wins in one season with a victory double. Yvan Muller will hope to sign off from the WTCC with a record-extending top score, while works LADA trio Nicky Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente all need to make an impact in order to secure drives for 2017 following the Russian make’s decision to focus on its domestic motorsport campaign from next season. Rob Huff and Tiago Monteiro both struggled for form in China but will need to be back up to speed in Qatar with the championship standings still wide open.
FACTS AND STATS
Race wins 2016: López 8; Coronel and Monteiro 2; Bennani, Björk, Catsburg, Chilton, Huff, Michelisz, Muller and Tarquini 1
Pole positions 2016: López 7; Catsburg, Monteiro and Muller 1
Fastest laps 2016: López 8; Huff 3; Björk 2; Bennani, Catsburg, Chilton, Ficza, Muller, Tarquini and Valente 1
Laps led 2016: López 78; Huff 38; Michelisz 34; Coronel 28; Catsburg 24; Bennani 22; Monteiro 19; Chilton 13; Tarquini 11; Muller and Valente 6; Björk 1
All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 48; López 29; Huff 28; Menu 23; Tarquini 21
All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29; López 21; Tarquini 17; Menu 15; Farfus and Huff 11
All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38; López 29; Huff 27; Tarquini 23; Menu 20
All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 569; Huff 344; López 301; Menu 297; Tarquini 285
WTCC RACE OF QATAR WINNERS
2015: Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée)
WTCC RACE OF QATAR VENUES
2015-Present: Losail International Circuit
DID YOU KNOW?
Located north of the capital Doha, the Losail International Circuit was built by 1000 workers at a cost of $US58 million. The track’s electrical system generates 5.4 million watts of power, enough illumination to light a residential street from Doha to Moscow. Bordered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the west and the Persian Gulf to the east, the State of Qatar’s most famous motorsport personality is arguably double Dakar winner and WRC2 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, who guest-drove a Chevrolet Cruze in WTCC Race of Qatar last season, finishing on each occasion.
THE BIG NUMBER: 31
Tiago Monteiro must cancel out a 31-point deficit in order to wrestle second place from Yvan Muller in the final FIA World Touring Car Championship standings.
THREE WTCC FIRSTS
1: The Losail International Circuit was the setting of the WTCC’s first night race and the first to take place in the Middle East in 2015. 2: Thed Björk, Robert Dahlgren, Ferenc Ficza, Dániel Nagy and James Thompson will all be racing in Qatar for the first time. 3: Polestar Cyan Racing will round out its maiden season in the WTCC on the back of its first victory in China when the championship was last on track in late September.
HOW THEY STAND (after Round 20)*
Drivers: 1 López 361; 2 Muller 235; 3 Monteiro 204; 4 Michelisz 190; 5 Huff 180; 6 Bennani 176; etc. Manufacturers: 1 Citroën 869; 2 Honda 625; 3 LADA 493; 4 Volvo-Polestar 285. WTCC Trophy: 1 Bennani 176; 2 Chilton 145; 3 Coronel 115; 4 Thompson 81; 5 Filippi 77; 6 Demoustier 71; etc. WTCC Teams’ Trophy: 1 Sébastien Loeb Racing 309; 2 ROAL Motorsport 113; 3 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 105; 4 Campos Racing 90; 5 Zengo Motorsport 57. *Full standings at http://redirmj.epresspack.net/
THEY SAID WHAT?
Robert Dahlgren (Polestar Cyan Racing): “I’ve done some evening races but I’ve never raced at night although I will approach it like I do any other race because it looks fantastic. It feels great to be back in the car and to get the chance to race again having been given the opportunity to test as well. I want to have a drive next year full time and Qatar can be important for that because it’s what people will remember over the winter. I hope I can deliver the results.”
Rob Huff (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “You never quite know what to expect when you go to Qatar to race a car. You obviously have the sand aspect and because there’s not a huge amount of motorsport happening you never gain a huge amount of grip. It’s a challenging track, fast and exciting. Qatar fits very well with the World Touring Car Championship and introducing things like night races is partly why, after 11 years, the World Touring Car Championship is alive and why races like Qatar work.”
Yvan Muller (Citroën Total WTCC): “I realise it’s a special race and there might be some emotions. It’s also more than a race because I want to be second for my team. It’s always good to race at night, it’s always a special moment and it was a cool thing to do last year. It’s not easy to overtake at this track but most of the circuits are not designed for overtaking. And it’s a fact if you follow another touring car you lose downforce and once you lose downforce you lose time.”
Gabriele Tarquini (LADA Sport Rosneft): “I raced in the night in the past in England and Italy but never with proper lights on like in Qatar, which makes it a lot like a normal race because the light is very powerful. But it’s different for people watching and that’s good. I want to give LADA the best possible result because it’s their last race but I hope it won’t be my last race. I want to drive a World Touring Car again, I love the category and I love the WTCC.”
Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing, WTCC Trophy): “There are a lot of partnerships between Morocco and Qatar and when I race in Qatar it’s really like Marrakech so I hope to have a fantastic race. It could be a bit more special now I am already world champion and I think I will be even stronger because I will have nothing to lose and nothing to win. I will do my best to do two strong races and get some good points overall because I need to think about this overall championship. I hope to score more points to be close to the top five.”
Name: Losail International Circuit Location: Al Wusail, North Relief Road
Website: www.circuitlosail.com and www.qmmf.com
Length: 5.380 kilometres
Lap record (qualifying): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 2m00.947s (160.1kph), 27/11/15
Lap record (race): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 2m01.628s (159.2kph), 27/11/15
WTCC appearances: One
Time zone: GMT +3 hours Sunrise/sunset: 05h58/16h43 (Friday 25 November)
Average temperature: 17°C-24°C (November)
The venue: Opened in 2004, the Losail International Circuit can operate 24 hours a day thanks to a state-of-the-art floodlighting system, which meant the WTCC’s first visit to the Middle East in 2015, took place under the cover of darkness for a memorable season finale, which also marked Qatar’s maiden WTCC appearance with a Friday night spectacular. Losail has staged MotoGP races from the outset with Sete Gibernau winning the inaugural race for Honda in 2004. The track, a 30-minute drive from the capital Doha, also hosted the 2006 Grand Prix Masters of Qatar, won by former F1 world champion Nigel Mansell.
The timetable: ? Uniquely, WTCC DHL Race of Qatar takes place on a Friday to coincide with the Arabic weekend when television audiences in Europe, Central and South America will be at their peak. It’s the championship’s second ever night race and follows on from the hugely successful inaugural edition in 2015. The track activity begins on Thursday 24 November with two 30-minute Free Practice sessions. Qualifying, WTCC MAC3, the Opening Race and Main Race follow on Friday 25 November with the Opening Race taking place over 12 laps from 21h20 and the Main Race following at 23h10 over 13 laps.
A LAP OF THE TRACK WITH TOM CORONEL
FIA WTCC DHL Race of Qatar is unique in terms of other World Touring Car Championship events with both races taking place under floodlights. Leading privateer Tom Coronel is your guide to the 5.380-kilometre Losail International Circuit. “We’re doing 245kph when we approach Turn 1, a third-gear corner with two points. Firstly it has a very soft banking but it’s also a good point for out-braking because you can run very deep into the corner and I am the type of guy that likes to do that. From Turn 1 you change up to fourth gear for a very short straight to Turn 2, which is taken in third gear at 110kph. Apart from being a left-hander, Turn 2 is nearly the same as Turn 1. If you go deep into Turn 1, there’s a possibility you can out-brake the car in front into Turn 2, especially in the opening laps when there is a lot of defending going on. The exit of Turn 3 is important because Turn 3 is easy-flat and then you have a straight before Turn 4. However, if you don’t line the car up enough you get very light wheelspin in Turn 3 and you work the tyres more. You approach Turn 4 at 220kph in fourth gear and basically you try to make Turn 4 and 5 in one swing. If your car doesn’t have good balance there then you are in deep trouble but if you brake a little too late into Turn 4 you destroy completely the exit of Turn 4 and also the entry of Turn 5. There’s also a big run-off area between Turn 4 and 5 and I remember a lot of people went wide there last year. Turn 6 is a very tight left-hander taken in second gear where it’s possible to get a lot of wheelspin. It’s the opposite case for Turn 7, which is taken in fourth gear. After Turn 8, which is not really a corner, you a very fast through Turn 9, fifth gear at 190kph before the hard-braking for Turn 10. It’s important not to go over the kerb exiting Turn 9 because you’ll also destroy your exit from Turn 10, which is one of the most important corners for avoiding wheelspin on the exit. It’s quite a slow corner, third gear at 110kph. Turn 11 is easy-flat in fifth gear. You enter at 230 and the mid-corner speed is 180 so it’s really, really fast. You accelerate a little bit between T12 and T13 and you go back to fourth gear all the way through Turn 15 where I remember having a few oversteer moments on the kerbs at T15, which is taken at 160kph. This was eating up the power and traction and generally upsetting the car. If you get a little wobble here then it’s very easy for somebody to overtake you on the inside of Turn 16, which you approach at 210kph, where it’s really important to get a nice, clean exit with no wheelspin. And if you get a good exit then there is a possibility to make a pass at Turn 1 by diving down the inside.”
WTCC FLASHBACK 2015 (26-27 NOVEMBER)
Yvan Muller beat Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb to the coveted runner-up spot in the FIA World Touring Car Championship by a single point as the all-action 2015 season concluded with a floodlit spectacular at the Losail International Circuit, venue of the WTCC’s maiden night race and the first in the Middle East. And there were celebrations too for Norbert Michelisz at the finish of WTCC DHL Race of Qatar with the Hungarian Honda driver capturing his second Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy by four points ahead of Mehdi Bennani, who finished second overall in race one. José María López equalled his own record of 10 wins in one season by triumphing in the opening counter before Muller claimed race two honours after John Filippi had led away from the reverse-grid pole. Hugo Valente joined López and Bennani on the race one podium, while Ma Qing Hua and Michelisz completed the podium for race two. Elsewhere, ROAL Motorsport, the team co-owned by touring car legend Roberto Ravaglia, secured the Yokohama Teams’ Trophy thanks to drivers Toms Chilton and Coronel. Local hero Nasser Al-Attiyah, the Olympic medallist and Dakar Rally winner, finished twice on his WTCC debut.