Citroën Total will be aiming to secure its second consecutive World Touring Car Championship title at the tenth meeting of the season in Shanghai.
Just two weeks after the Japanese round, the FIA WTCC is heading to Shanghai for what looks like being one of the highlights of the season.
Accounting for more than a quarter of Citroën’s global sales, China is the brand’s premier market, ahead of France. In 2014, Citroën’s growth in China (14%) outstripped that of the market as a whole (10%) and vehicles sales hit a record 320,000.
This dynamism was driven in no small measure by an assault on the C-segment. From its first full year on the market, the Citroën C-Elysée was a bestseller, with more than 100,000 units sold. Its appeal has been confirmed in 2015, when figures have continued to rise.
This is the race I want to win more than any other!
Ma Qing Hua
The arrival of the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs is therefore a major event for Dongfeng Citroën, which reaps the image benefits of the car’s involvement in motorsport all year round.
Just like last year, Citroën arrives in Shanghai in an ideal position to win the Manufacturers’ World Championship. Having emerged victorious in 15 races out of 18, the C-Elysée WTCC drivers have amassed 787 points, as against 560 for the second-placed team. However its rivals perform, Citroën requires only 58 more points to seal the title. Given that it has averaged 87 points per meeting thus far, the task is well within the reach of the team and its drivers!
“Winning our second consecutive world title in Shanghai would be the ideal scenario,” admitted Citroën Racing Team Principal Yves Matton. “But we never take anything for granted and we won’t relax until after the finish. We want to show a bit of panache like we did last year, when we claimed the top four places in an FIA WTCC race for the first time.”
Ma Qing Hua on home turf
Of all the Citroën drivers, one is feeling even more motivated than the others. He is, of course, local boy Ma Qing Hua! The 28-year-old has established himself as one of the rising stars of the competition. In the last three meetings (Paul Ricard, Vila Real and Motegi), he has been the second-highest-scoring driver, behind López but ahead of Michelisz, Loeb and Muller.
Second in qualifying and in Race 1 in 2014, Ma Qing Hua makes no secret of his ambition to make it onto the highest step of the podium this time around: ”Last year, I had a lot less experience. It was only my fourth race, but I managed to compete with Pechito. Since then, we have had the time to analyse the data with my engineers, and we know exactly where I lost time against him… This year, I’m coming into the meeting feeling confident after my recent results. We know exactly what we’re aiming for and I’m hoping to have a really good weekend. This is the race I want to win more than any other!”
Built in 2004 for Formula 1, the immense Shanghai circuit is very popular with drivers. Ma Qing Hua is no exception, although he insists he is no great expert on the 5.451 km track: “There are a lot of tracks in Europe I know better. But I have driven a lot of different cars in Shanghai: FR 2.0, GP2, F1, CTCC… Most of the time, they were just one-off experiences, so I’m happy to be back here at the wheel of the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. It’s not an easy track, particularly with a front-wheel drive like ours. In terms of setup, you have to find a compromise between peak speed – because we’ve got one of the longest two or three straights of the season – and stability on the fast turns. Like a lot of drivers, I like the ‘snail’ combination on turns 1 to 3. It’s a unique venue where each driver can take a different line.”
This year’s world champion drives a Citroën
Before Motegi, seven drivers could still aspire to win the Drivers’ World Championship. Now, there are but three, and they have one thing in common: they all drive a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC! Realistically, things look very good for José María López. The Argentine now leads Yvan Muller by 74 points. “There’s not much suspense anymore! Even if Pechito were to come away from Shanghai without a point to his name, he wouldn’t be in danger, as he would still have a healthy lead with four races to go,” admitted the four-time World Champion. “You never know what might happen, but as far as I’m concerned it’s done and dusted. Nevertheless, I still want to enjoy the end of the season and push for victory.”
Yvan Muller, meanwhile, is just 17 points clear of Sébastien Loeb, meaning the battle for the runner-up slot could add some spice to the last few races. ”When you’re not first, it doesn’t really matter if you finish second or third. But second is still better than third,” philosophised the most successful rally driver of all time. “I’m not going to focus on that. Above all I just want to put in some good performances.”
“I’m sticking to my policy of trying to get the best possible result on every occasion,” said José María López. ”We saw at Motegi that you can find yourself out of contention after one turn. I can’t control everything. You also need a bit of luck to win races and titles. I’m happy to be returning to Shanghai, a circuit where I did well last year and which holds excellent memories for us, as it is where we won the Manufacturers’ title. I hope we do just as well this year. We’ve certainly got the potential to do so.”
The weekend’s racing schedule looks set to offer plenty of excitement for the crowd, with a total of 11 races spanning seven touring-car and GT competitions. The FIA WTCC TC1s will make their first appearance on track at 12.20 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the two free practice sessions are scheduled for 8.30 and 11.10 a.m., while qualifying will start at 2.20 p.m. The two races will take place at 2.45 and 3.55 p.m. on Sunday, each lasting 14 laps. China is in the GMT+8 time zone, 6 hours ahead of France.