Citroën closes in on WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship glory
José María López might be 74 points to the good in his quest for back-to-back FIA World Touring Car Championship crowns, but his rivals aren’t about to let the Argentine start his title celebrations early when the Shanghai International Circuit hosts Rosneft WTCC Race of China next week (25-27 September).
Overtaking opportunities aplenty at Chinese Grand Prix venue
With Honda driver Tiago Monteiro scoring a dominant victory and Rob Huff bagging a standout podium for LADA in the second of two WTCC races in Japan recently, the prospects are strong for two action-packed races and a Shanghai surprise or two. And with local hero Ma Qing Hua firmly in the mix for success at a track known for its overtaking opportunities, a thrilling weekend of touring car racing is in store.
Shanghai sensation Ma Qing Hua to carry the hopes of a nation
Shanghai-based Ma partners López in the Citroën Total WTCC line-up and became the first Chinese to win an FIA world championship motor race when he triumphed in Russia last season. And Ma, who was also victorious when the WTCC visited Portugal in the summer, knows that two good results on home soil will boost his chances of a top-four championship finish, while also helping Citroën secure the 58 points it needs to take the WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship for a second time.
Ma finished second to López in the opening race at Shanghai in 2014 and would relish going one better this year. However, fourth place for Ma in the final standings is far from clear-cut with Japan race one polesitter Norbert Michelisz and fellow Honda drivers Gabriele Tarquini and Monteiro all in hot pursuit.
In the battle for overall title honours, only Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb can now prevent López from securing a second successive WTCC accolade, but both French drivers need points. And fast. Muller struggled to achieve top form in Japan and non-scored in race two. Loeb faired slightly better and can take heart from the fact he beat López in a straight fight in Argentina and France earlier this season.
The Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy
Shanghai holds a special place in Mehdi Bennani’s heart after the Moroccan scored his first victory – and the first for an Arabic driver – in the WTCC in race two last season. The Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy contender ended a frustrating run with a promising showing in Japan last weekend and will aim to make more progress in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC in Shanghai. Like Bennani, Huff and fellow Briton Tom Chilton were WTCC winners in China last season when Beijing also hosted a pair of races. Huff heads the LADA Sport attack, which enjoys significant support from WTCC Race of China sponsor Rosneft, and is partnered by Nicky Catsburg and new recruit Nicolas Lapierre, the Le Mans 24 Hours class winner who scored points on his WTCC debut in Japan.
Like ROAL Motorsport team-mate Tom Coronel, Chilton has finished on the WTCC podium in 2015 in his privately-entered Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 and will be a contender for Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy honours in China where his class rivals include Grégoire Demoustier, Stefano D’Aste, John Filippi and Hugo Valente, who placed a fine second in race two in Japan in his Campos Racing Chevrolet.