WTCC set for night season finale in Qatar

Citroen and its drivers’ farewell

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By Emmanuel Touzot

20 November 2016 - 12:19
WTCC set for night season finale in (...)

There will be a duel in the desert when the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship reaches its climax at WTCC DHL Race of Qatar on Friday 25 November, as second and third in the final standings are decided at the Losail International Circuit.

But while the thrilling on-track battle for positions will take centre stage during the pair of night races, two motorsport greats will sign off from WTCC duty. Although José María López hopes to return to World Touring Car action in the future having made it three consecutive WTCC titles this season, Yvan Muller will retire from the championship following unprecedented success.

No driver has won more titles (four) and races (48), claimed more pole positions (29), set more fastest laps (38) or led more races (571) than the 48-year-old French legend. And Muller intends to go out with a bang rather than a whimper by beating Tiago Monteiro to the coveted runner-up spot in the final standings behind his Citroën team-mate López. With a 31-point advantage over the Portuguese Honda driver, Muller has high hopes: “I realise it’s a special race and there might be some emotions. It’s also more than a race because I want to be second for my team. It’s always good to race at night so I hope it will be another special moment.”

For López, the WTCC’s desert duel also marks the end of an era. After claiming a hat-trick of drivers’ titles and breaking the record of most wins in one season (10), the Argentine ace has chosen the FIA Formula E Championship for his next motorsport challenge although he admits a WTCC comeback is part of a long-term plan. “It’s not a goodbye but a ‘see you later’,” he said. “I am still young and I can be back if I have still the doors open, which I think I will have. I think one day if I have the opportunity I will be back.”

While second in the final table remains Monteiro’s target, he will also be keeping an eye on fellow factory Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff, who are 14 and 24 points behind respectively. “I lost quite a lot of points in China, but I’m not going to give up,” said Monteiro.

Qatar set for WTCC MAC3 magic

There will be more on-track drama in store from 16h00 local time on Friday 25 November when the Manufacturers Against the Clock team trial takes place. New for 2016 and timed by TAG Heuer, the WTCC’s Official Timing Partner, the Tour de France-inspired competition puts squads from Citroën, Honda and LADA against the clock over two timed laps of the Losail International Circuit. The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third Volvo from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new Yokohama tyres.

Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps. Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia earlier in the season when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory.

And the competition in WTCC MAC3 has been close – even too close to call. After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals. And Citroën will be out for revenge in Qatar after Honda took the WTCC MAC3 honours in China, its fifth outright triumph and sixth in total.

THEY SAID WHAT?

Robert Dahlgren (Polestar Cyan Racing): “I’ve done some evening races but I’ve never raced at night although I will approach it like I do any other race because it looks fantastic. It feels great to be back in the car and to get the chance to race again having been given the opportunity to test as well. I want to have a drive next year full time and Qatar can be important for that because it’s what people will remember over the winter. I hope I can deliver the results.”

Rob Huff (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “You never quite know what to expect when you go to Qatar to race a car. You obviously have the sand aspect and because there’s not a huge amount of motorsport happening you never gain a huge amount of grip. It’s a challenging track, fast and exciting. Qatar fits very well with the World Touring Car Championship and introducing things like night races is partly why, after 11 years, the World Touring Car Championship is alive and why races like Qatar work.”

Yvan Muller (Citroën Total WTCC): “I realise it’s a special race and there might be some emotions. It’s also more than a race because I want to be second for my team. It’s always good to race at night, it’s always a special moment and it was a cool thing to do last year. It’s not easy to overtake at this track but most of the circuits are not designed for overtaking. And it’s a fact if you follow another touring car you lose downforce and once you lose downforce you lose time.”

Gabriele Tarquini (LADA Sport Rosneft): “I raced in the night in the past in England and Italy but never with proper lights on like in Qatar, which makes it a lot like a normal race because the light is very powerful. But it’s different for people watching and that’s good. I want to give LADA the best possible result because it’s their last race but I hope it won’t be my last race. I want to drive a World Touring Car again, I love the category and I love the WTCC.”

Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing, WTCC Trophy): “There are a lot of partnerships between Morocco and Qatar and when I race in Qatar it’s really like Marrakech so I hope to have a fantastic race. It could be a bit more special now I am already world champion and I think I will be even stronger because I will have nothing to lose and nothing to win. I will do my best to do two strong races and get some good points overall because I need to think about this overall championship. I hope to score more points to be close to the top five.”

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