Ma Qing Hua won his second World Touring Car race with Citroen, and his first of 2015, at the Circuito Vila Real in a race that featured three major crashes taking out a number of frontrunners.
The third crash, for Lada’s Nicky Catsburg on lap 12, brought out a red flag that ended the race prematurely.
There was action from the start, with Ma getting away well from pole position to keep the lead ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller.
There was drama behind as Honda’s Tiago Monteiro tried to thread the needle between the two Lada Vestas of Jaap van Lagen and Nicky Catsburg and made contact with van Lagen’s car, ripping the front-left wheel off of the car and crashing into the barriers. Both drivers were instantly out of the race.
The safety car was called and held the field in place for five laps before the race was resumed.
Ma started to pull away from Muller, while Catsburg was now in third and defending against Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini during the middle phase of the race.
The Lada driver was able to keep the chasing pack of Tarquini, Norbert Michelisz, Sebastien Loeb and Jose Maria Lopez behind for four laps before a mistake allowed the Italian past.
Catsburg lost pace up to Turn 25, with Zengo’s Norbert Michelisz diving down the inside while Loeb tried to get around the outside in a pincer movement. Both Michelisz and Loeb were turned into each other across the nose of Catsburg’s Lada and Loeb was spun out, hitting the barriers sideways on and he was out of the race.
Catsburg fell behind Lopez, who was now battling Michelisz for fifth, before Catsburg slid and hit the wall hard two laps later, severely damaging the rear of his Lada and leaving a trail of debris across the track.
That forced the officials to red flag the race.
Ma therefore picked up his second career victory, his first since Moscow last season, from Muller in second and Tarquini third, with Norbert Michelisz taking the independents’ class victory in fourth.
Lopez minimised the damage to Muller in the standings with fifth, and the gap is now 55 points heading to the next round of the championship at Motegi, Japan on September 13.
Neil Hudson, TouringCarTimes