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WTCC - Epic night time desert duel to decide WTCC titles

Night racing spectacular concludes wide-open 2017 WTCC season


26 November 2017 - 13h57, by Olivier Ferret 

The most wide-open FIA World Touring Car Championship season in a decade will go down to the wire in the Middle East next week (30 November-1 December) when three coveted titles are decided at Qatar’s spectacular floodlit showdown.

After 18 races over nine weekends in four continents, it all comes down to the duel in the desert when the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers, plus the WTCC Trophy for independent racers are settled.

The third WTCC Race of Qatar will conclude a thrilling year of high-speed action and intense competition with 10 drivers having taken race wins and seven still in mathematical contention for the overall crown prior to some classic Friday night fever touring car style.

However, with 6.5 points separating the title top two, Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk and Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team’s Norbert Michelisz, Volvo Polestar 12.5 points in front of Honda and Tom Chilton a mere half a point ahead of Mehdi Bennani in the WTCC Trophy and Rob Huff only seven points behind Chilton, the 2017 season closer at the Losail International Circuit will be the ultimate winner-takes-all battle.

FIA WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP FOR DRIVERS UPDATE

Who’s in contention?

With 60 points up for grabs, Thed Björk (255.5 points), Norbert Michelisz (249), Mehdi Bennani (216), Nicky Catsburg (211.5), Tom Chilton (210.5) and Esteban Guerrieri (205) can all take world title glory for the first time. Tiago Monteiro’s total of 200 would also have been enough to keep him in the fight but the Portuguese will be in Qatar in a supporting role only while he continues his recovery from injuries sustained in a testing crash in September.

How did it come to this?

Guerrieri, Monteiro, Catsburg and, latterly, Björk have all topped the standings at one stage or another during the season. After leading by 12 points following the trip to Argentina in July, Monteiro appeared to be in the ascendency on the back of a stellar start to his campaign. But having not raced since (see above), Björk – who was second in the table prior to the summer break – was quick to take advantage, moving in front in China and starting WTCC Race of Japan 32.5 points ahead of Michelisz on the back of the disqualification of all Hondas from the results of the China races due to a technical infringement. By out-scoring Björk to the tune of 16 points in Japan, Michelisz arrived in Macau 16.5 points behind his rival where he took another 10 points away from the Swede to narrow the gap to 6.5 points with two races left.

What could happen?

With the Losail International Circuit not awash with overtaking opportunities, the results of qualifying could be key. Having taken more pole positions than his rivals, Michelisz might have the edge. The Hungarian will also take heart from the fact he won the WTCC Trophy title in Qatar two years ago. But Björk was second on his Qatar debut last season and knows what it takes to win championships: he’s claimed the Scandinavian touring car crown four times. Having run 10 kilograms lighter than the Volvo S60s in Macau, the Honda Civics will be at the same 80-kilogram maximum compensation weight in Qatar, meaning no driver will have a weight advantage. The role of Björk and Michelisz’s team-mates could be a factor, however, after Esteban Guerrieri provided the perfect support to Michelisz in Macau by holding the pursuing Tom Chilton at bay for much of the Main Race as Michelisz kept hold of a vital second place. Polestar Cyan Racing pair Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami are more than capable of taking points away from Michelisz, which will add another intriguing dimension to the championship shootout.

Thed Björk: “When I was young I wanted to be Formula One world champion but now this is just as good. I feel relaxed. Obviously I’m excited because in a little bite more than one week we’ll know. But everything we’ve done this year I will just try to put it together for the last days, focus on myself and just go as fast as I can and see if this is enough to win. I already feel after Macau I’m one of them that can win it, one of the top guys and I would rather be in the front door than in the back.”

Norbert Michelisz: “It’s all up for grabs in Qatar and I’m confident. We were strong in Qatar last year and I will really try to do my best not to do any mistakes, to get the most out of myself and the car. And in the end if it works out for sure I’ll be really happy. But the most important thing is to have the feeling that I’ve done everything I can to be champion and this is my goal. Of course it’s getting more and more difficult the closer we get to the last race but I really try not to think about the championship, just try to do my best.”

FIA WTCC FOR MANUFACTURERS UPDATE

Volvo Polestar is 12.5 points in front of Honda with 117 points on offer in Qatar between qualifying, Manufacturers Against the Clock, the Opening Race and the Main Race. Honda won the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers in 2013, while Volvo Polestar is chasing its maiden title success at world level.

WTCC TROPHY UPDATE

Tom Chilton is half a point in front of Mehdi Bennani, the defending champion and Chilton’s Sébasien Loeb Racing team-mate with ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff seven points behind Chilton. All three drive Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs, while Bennani – the first Arabic driver to win a world championship motor race – considers WTCC Race of Qatar his second home event behind WTCC Race of Morocco. Sébasien Loeb Racing secured the WTCC Teams’ Trophy for the second successive season earlier in the year.

WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS

*The WTCC’s third night race will also close the 2017 season when the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers, plus the WTCC Trophy for independent racers will be settled.

*Running at night requires a significant move away from a more traditional WTCC timetable. For example, Qualifying, Manufacturers Against the Clock (WTCC MAC3) and both races take place on the same day with the first track action set for 14h30 and the Main Race due to begin at 22h35.

*The DHL Pole Position Award for the most poles in a season will be presented in Qatar. Norbert Michelisz tops the list with three pole efforts followed by Rob Huff, who could draw level with the Hungarian title contender if he qualifies fastest.

LATEST DRIVER NEWS

*Esteban Guerrieri has been called up to partner Norbert Michelisz and Ryo Michigami in the factory Honda line-up for the third event running while Tiago Monteiro continues to recover from injuries sustained in a high-speed testing crash in Spain back in September.

*There’s no rest for Rob Huff with the 2012 WTCC champion and Macau Main Race winner taking the start in Qatar on the back of three consecutive weekends of racing. His latest destination is the Shanghai International Circuit where he’ll turn team consultant for the China Touring Car Championship-chasing SAIC V3 333Racing squad.

*Losail International Circuit rookies include Yann Ehrlacher – whose uncle Yvan won at the track in 2015 and retired from full-time race at the venue 12 months later – his RC Motorsport team-mate Kevin Gleason, factory drivers Néstor Girolami and Ryo Michigami, and Zsolt Dávid Szabó, who scored his first world championship point in Macau when he headed home fellow Zengő Motorsport driver Dániel Nagy in the Main Race in P10.

*In contrast, John Filippi, who partners Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton at Sébastien Loeb Racing, has raced at Losail for the last two seasons and actually led his first racing laps in the WTCC when Qatar joined the championship for the first time in 2015.

FULL POWER, FULL WEIGHT FOR WTCC TITLE CONTENDERS

While 12.5 points separate Volvo Polestar and Honda in the battle to win the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers, they’ll be equal in terms of compensation weight at WTCC Race of Qatar. The three Volvo S60 Polestars and the five Honda Civic WTCCs chasing success at the Losail International Circuit from 30 November-1 December will do so with the maximum 80 kilograms of success ballast fitted. Having run at the 1100-kilogram base weight in Macau, Citroën’s C-Elysée WTCC will carry 60 kilograms of compensation weight in Qatar to reflect the car’s upturn in pace at the street racing showpiece. Elsewhere, the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s will continue to carry 10 kilograms, while the LADA Vesta WTCCs will get a weight increase, going from zero to 10 kilograms. Designed to equalise car performance in the WTCC, the FIA’s compensation weight system uses a lap time-based calculation made following the previous two events, in this case Japan and Macau.

The full compensation weight listing follows: Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 10kg (no change from previous event); Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 40kg (+40kg); Honda Civic WTCC: 80kg (+10kg); LADA Vesta WTCC: 10kg (+10kg); Volvo S60 Polestar: 80kg (no change).



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