The 2015 WTCC season so far

From Argentina to Thailand

By Franck Drui

22 November 2015 - 16:19
The 2015 WTCC season so far

Argentina: Sébastien Loeb and José María Lopéz claimed a victory apiece as the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship got off to a spectacular start with two action-packed races in Argentina. López, the national hero and reigning WTCC champion, triumphed in race one to the delight of the home crowd at a sun-drenched Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo. However, the 31-year-old was unable to prevent his Citroën team-mate Loeb from claiming top spot in the second event, which was punctuated by a safety car period to allow trackside marshals to clear debris from the track following a handful of early clashes. Yvan Muller finished second in race one following a first-corner bump with Lopéz as Loeb made it a Citroën podium lockout. Honda driver Tiago Monteiro completed the podium in race two, with second place for Lopéz – plus the five points he scored for claiming pole position for race one – helping the Argentine to a five-point championship lead over Loeb. Norbert Michelisz charged through from the back of the grid to win the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy in race one with Mehdi Bennani taking the class laurels in the second counter, despite contact with Muller sending him into a spin. It was an incident-filled start to 2015 for LADA drivers Rob Huff and James Thompson, who both showed promise but were ultimately out of luck.

Morocco: José María López and four-time title winner Yvan Muller were the street heroes of Marrakech, with the Citroën Racing aces coming out on top of two thrilling contests that formed Eurodatacar WTCC Race of Morocco. López bagged race one glory from pole with Muller repeating the feat in the second 14-lap chase for WTCC success. China’s Ma Qing Hua scored his first podium of 2015 with the runner-up spot in the opening race as Sébastien Loeb held off home hero Mehdi Bennani for third. Muller converted pole to victory in race two despite intense pressure from Loeb. López battled back from 10th to third to remain in control of the title race with a 17-point advantage after four rounds. Bennani’s fourth in race one gave him the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy laurels while Tom Chilton secured the category honours in the second event at the wheel of his privateer Chevrolet. Both rounds at the sun-baked Circuit Moulay El Hassan street course produced plenty of drama with Tom Coronel forced out of the first race following contact with Chilton. Coronel was also out of luck in race two when he clashed with Honda’s Tiago Monteiro at turn one following a bump from the pursuing Norbert Michelisz. Former champion Rob Huff was eliminated in the second race after a hefty hit from LADA team-mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy nearing the completion of the opening lap.

Hungary: Norbert Michelisz underlined his status as a national hero by winning the second MOL Group WTCC Race of Hungary to claim Honda’s maiden victory in 2015 and end Citroën’s dominant start to the season. Driving the revamped Civic WTCC for the first time, Michelisz capitalised on his pole position in the reverse-grid race two for an emotional win in front of 35,000 fans. The Zengő Motorsport driver’s success followed world champion José María López’s third triumph of the year for Citroën in the opening contest, which ensures the Argentine remained the driver to catch in the title chase. Yvan Muller and Hugo Valente completed the race one podium with Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton second and third respectively in race two in their Chevrolet Cruze TC1s. Valente and Michelisz were the two Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy winners. However, it was a case of mixed fortunes for LADA Sport Rosneft with Rob Huff’s ninth in the opening race the highlight.

Germany: José María López became the first driver since Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass in 1983 to win a world championship race on the Nürburgring Nordschleife after claiming victory in the opening WTCC Race of Germany – and then very nearly made it two wins from two in the second event. Starting 10th for race two, the defending WTCC champion charged through the pack in a dramatic contest to close to within 0.173 seconds of Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller crossing the finishing line following a thrilling slipstream battle for glory. The WTCC was making its first appearance on the 25-kilometre layout, which combines the modern Grand Prix Circuit and the legendary Nordschleife loop. López blasted into the lead at the start of race one and remained out in front on the back of an impressive display as fellow front-row starter Hugo Valente hit trouble, eventually crashing out on lap two. Sébastien Loeb kept up his chase of López in the battle for WTCC title success with second place at the iconic Eifel mountain venue, while four-time champion Muller made it an all-Citroën podium, as Norbert Michelisz took fourth for Honda and the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy spoils. Tiago Monteiro led away from pole in the reverse grid second race but was unable to fend off Muller on the two-kilometre-long Döttinger Hohe straight on lap one. Monteiro remained latched to Muller only for López to drag ahead on the final lap, having slipstreamed Gabriele Tarquini for third seconds earlier. The dramatic action was broadcast live on television around the world and thrilled the thousands of fans watching trackside. Elsewhere, local ace Sabine Schmitz became the first female to score a WTCC point when she finished 10th in race one on her maiden appearance in the series.

Russia: Yvan Muller (Citroën) and Tiago Monteiro (Honda) came out on top of two thrilling races at a sun-baked Moscow Raceway as ROSNEFT WTCC Race of Russia delivered drama and action from start to finish. And there were celebrations too for LADA Sport ROSNEFT after Rob Huff delivered a breakthrough podium in the second race, much to the delight of the home fans. With defending world champion José María López serving a drive-through penalty for a jumped-start in race two, Muller’s opening race triumph and sixth place in the second counter meant the four-time WTCC champion narrowed López’s title advantage to 35 points heading to the halfway point of the season. Elsewhere, Tom Chilton and Norbert Michelisz shared the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy honours, while there was further joy for Honda when Gabriele Tarquini took third behind López in race one, which began with four WTCC champions filling the top four starting positions and four manufacturers in the top five. FIA President Jean Todt was also in attendance and joined the WTCC drivers for a photo call to promote the FIA Action for Road Safety #SIGNTHEPLEDGE campaign.

Slovakia: Yvan Muller narrowed José María López’s advantage at the top of the standings to 30 points with his fourth win of the campaign in the first WTCC Race of Slovakia. However, both WTCC champions had no answer to Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb, who bagged his first win since March with a fine drive in the second race at the sun-baked Slovakia Ring where 40,000 fans watched the bumper-to-bumper action over the course of the weekend. Starting from pole, Muller produced a faultless display in his C-Elysée WTCC to win the opening 11-lap contest from López with Loeb third after the latter pair had initially battled for position. Rob Huff finished fourth for LADA with Hugo Valente topping the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy in his Campos Racing Chevrolet Cruze, one place ahead of Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini. Jaap van Lagen started the reverse grid second race in first place but was unable to keep the chasing pack at bay, first dropping behind Tarquini before losing out to the flying Citroën trio. He finished sixth with Tarquini slipping to fourth and Valente again the top independent racer in fifth.

France: Sébastien Loeb took full advantage of his first WTCC pole position to claim his maiden race one victory during a World Touring Car Championship weekend with a dominant performance in the opening JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of France at Circuit Paul Ricard. The flying Frenchman beat his more experienced Citroën team-mates Yvan Muller and José María López by more than six seconds for his third victory of 2015. However, the nine-time world rally champion was unable to make it two wins from two when he damaged his C-Elysée WTCC colliding with a tyre barrier on lap three of race two and was forced to retire for the first time this season. Nevertheless, Citroën was still able to celebrate victory after López charged through from eighth to win the reverse grid second race to extend what had been a dwindling title advantage following race one. While Loeb claimed a lights-to-flag victory despite a slightly hesitant start, Ma Qing Hua completed a Citroën top-four behind Muller and López as Tom Chilton grabbed the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy prize in fifth in his privateer Chevrolet. Norbert Michelisz edged fellow Honda driver Tiago Monteiro for sixth with Gabriele Tarquini eighth and Mehdi Bennani passing LADA pilot Jaap van Lagen for ninth in the closing stages. Bennani started the 16-lap reverse grid second race from pole only for a jumped-start to earn the Moroccan a drive-through penalty and allow Michelisz to move in front. But the Hungarian had no answer to the flying López, who charged through from eighth on the grid to overtake with two laps remaining for his fifth win of the year. However, his progress up the order wasn’t without incident: a collision with Monteiro in their battle for second behind Michelisz led to Monteiro’s retirement and briefly dropped López behind Ma before the Argentine began his successful recovery drive. Ma completed the podium with Muller fourth, Tarquini fifth and Hugo Valente sixth. Rickard Rydell celebrated WTCC start number 100 in P10 with Bennani ninth.

Portugal: José María López and Ma Qing Hua helped Citroën extend its winning tally in the FIA World Touring Car Championship to 31 by taking it in turns to triumph on the challenging Vila Real streets as WTCC Race of Portugal delivered action and drama aplenty. In ambient temperatures approaching 30 degrees centigrade and in front of an estimated 180,000 fans over the three-day event, López bossed the opening counter to head fellow C-Elysée driver Sébastien Loeb with Norbert Michelisz third for Honda. Ma held firm in race two for his first win of 2015 and his second triumph in the WTCC following his historic victory in Russia last season when he became the first driver from China to win an FIA world championship motor race. Behind second-placed Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini completed the race-two podium for Honda but it proved an afternoon to forget for team-mate Tiago Monteiro when the Portuguese was eliminated in a hefty start-line clash with LADA driver Jaap van Lagen. Michelisz made it two Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy top scores as fifth for López means it’s ‘catch him if you can time’ with the Argentine leading the title chase by 55 points heading into the summer break.

Japan: The WTCC returned from its summer break with two 13-lap thrillers as Twin Ring Motegi hosted JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of Japan for the first time. Both races delivered action and overtaking aplenty and vindicated the switch of venues from Suzuka to encourage more on-track battles. Yokohama-shod Citroën driver José María López claimed win number seven of 2015 in the opening event before Tiago Monteiro scored a hugely popular home win for Honda in race two. While his victory in the opener enabled López to extend his championship advantage, he couldn’t add to his tally in race two when contact left the Argentine’s C-Elysée with a punctured front-left tyre, forcing the reigning world champion to retire for the first time this season. But with team-mate Yvan Muller also dropping out, López will take a 74-point title lead to China later this month and can now be beaten to the crown by Muller and fellow Citroën star Sébastien Loeb. Despite starting race one from pole, Norbert Michelisz was forced to settle for second with Gabriele Tarquini third in another Honda. Like Michelisz, Hugo Valante was also unable to hold pole in race two but the Frenchman leaves Japan with a second-place finish and Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy success. Meanwhile, Rob Huff proved just how good Twin Ring Motegi is for overtaking by charging from P13 to P3 for his and LADA Sport Rosneft’s second podium of the campaign after the Russian team worked through the night to rebuild his Vesta TC1 after mechanical problems intervened on Saturday.

China: José María López and Yvan Muller combined to help Citroën secure a second FIA World Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship by claiming a win apiece in ROSNEFT WTCC Race of China at the Shanghai International Circuit. López, from Argentina, took the opening honours from the DHL-presented pole position before Frenchman Muller pulled off a stunning overtaking manoeuvre to snatch victory from Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini in race two. Sébastien Loeb followed Muller home in the opening counter with López unable to oust Italian Tarquini for the runner-up spot in the second event. Nevertheless his performances hand him a 75-point championship lead. Morocco’s Mehdi Bennani scored a Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy double but there was frustration for local hero Ma Qing Hua. After a slow getaway from the front row of the grid in race one, the Chinese driver was forced to retire with a driveshaft glitch. Meanwhile, Hugo Valente started the reverse-grid second race from pole but contact with Tarquini damaged his Chevrolet and caused him to spin, much to the frustration of the young Frenchman who remonstrated with Tarquini afterwards.

Thailand: José María López capped a hugely impressive second season in the FIA World Touring Car Championship by making it back-to-back titles in style with victory in the opening WTCC Race of Thailand* for Citroën at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram. Honda’s Tiago Monteiro claimed the win in race two, which was halted with three laps left for safety reasons due to fading light, only to be excluded from the results following post-event technical checks. Honda Racing Team JAS has announced its intention to appeal the decision to the FIA International Court of Appeal. The race had been due to run for 14 laps and finish in twilight but its late start following the safety car period in the opening counter meant officials were left with no alternative other than to bring proceedings to a premature conclusion as darkness descended with Sébastien Loeb closing on Monteiro for top spot. With Loeb taking a win and a second place and Yvan Muller twice failing to score due to contact, the nine-time world rally champion is five points ahead of his Citroën team-mate heading to the WTCC’s inaugural night race in Qatar later this month, where the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy title for independent racers will be decided between Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz.



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