The penultimate round of the 2011 World Touring Car Championship season is upon us, with the series making its first ever visit to mainland China.
After originally being slated for Zhaoping’s Guagdong International Circuit, organisers arranged for a late venue change to Shanghai’s Tianma Circuit so it would coincide with the season finale of the Chinese Touring Car Championship.
The RichardsF1.com team previews this weekend’s action and takes a close look at many of the talking points that will lay ahead…
|2011 FIA WTCC RACE OF CHINA
|Date:||4-6 November 2011||Lap Length:||2.063km|
|Race Lap Record:||Not yet established|
|Event Schedule:||Free Test Session||Fri 14:00-14:30|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:10-09:40|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 12:00-12:30|
|Qualifying Q1||Sat 15:15-15:35|
|Qualifying Q2||Sat 15:40-15:50|
|Race 1 (25 laps, 52km)||Sun 14:55-15:20|
|Race 2 (25 laps, 52km)||Sun 16:10-16:35|
Located on the western outskirts of Shanghai, the Tianma Circuit is a permanent facility that has already played host to several rounds of the Chinese Touring Car Championship and the Chinese Superbike Championship.
At just over two kilometres in length, it is the shortest circuit on the calendar, meaning that drivers will compete in two 25-lap races over the weekend. These being the longest races on the calendar, car set-up (to get a good chassis balance in the slow corners so as to minimise tyre wear) will be crucial.
Drivers expected to reach top speeds of up to 180km/h, and an average lap speed of 90-100km/h is expected, giving a lap-time of roughly 1m18s. The 14-corner circuit’s short length will make overtaking difficult, meaning that a good qualifying result will be very important here.
Fans will be seeing a 22-car field for this weekend’s two races, with the week’s build-up seeing a bit of shuffling among the ranks of the Independent Trophy drivers.
At the front of the field, the RML Chevrolet squad will be dropping back to its three-car operation after running a fourth car at the previous round in Japan for local rally star Toshihiro Arai. SUNRED Engineering will be doing likewise, when it ran a seventh SR León 1.6T for local driver Hiroki Yoshimoto.
As we reported earlier this week, perennial backmarker Fabio Fabiani will be back in action, although this time in a normally-aspirated BMW 320si run by the Engstler outfit, after the Italian spent his previous races achieving very little for Scuderia Proteam.
Fabiani takes over the car driven by Charles Ng at Suzuka, with Ng moving into the DeTeam KK turbocharged BMW 320TC driven by Masaki Kano at the last round.
Fabiani’s place at Proteam has been taken by Hong Kong driver Philip Ma Chingh Yeung.
Given the shortness of the Tianma circuit and the venue’s tight confines, stewards may need to keep a close eye out on the competitiveness of the field’s slower drivers, and we could see a smaller starting grid if they don’t allow some of the less-competitive runners to start if they fail to qualify.
2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship Entry List (Race of China):
|1.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yvan Muller|
|2.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Robert Huff|
|3.||Lukoil-SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Gabriele Tarquini|
|4.||Lukoil-SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Aleksei Dudukalo|
|5.||Zengõ-Dension Team||BMW 320 TC||Norbert Michelisz|
|7.||SEAT Swiss Racing by SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Fredy Barth|
|8.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alain Menu|
|9.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Darryl O’Young|
|10.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yukinori Taniguchi|
|11.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Kristian Poulsen|
|12.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Franz Engstler|
|15.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Tom Coronel|
|17.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Michel Nykjær|
|18.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Tiago Monteiro|
|20.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Javier Villa García|
|21.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320si||Fabio Fabiani|
|23.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320si||Philip Ma Chingh Yeung|
|25.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Mehdi Bennani|
|29.||Wiechers-Sport||BMW 320 TC||Colin Turkington|
|30.||Polestar Volvo||Volvo C30 1.6T||Robert Dahlgren|
|51.||DeTeam KK Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Charles Ka-Ki Ng|
|74.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Pepe Oriola|
* Subject to final FIA confirmation
The Form Guide
A pair of podium finishes for Robert Huff was enough to ensure the British driver was able to claim a couple of championship points in the lead enjoyed by his Chevrolet team-mate Yvan Muller.
While Huff went on to achieve third- and second-placed finishes at Suzuka, Muller’s fourth- and third-placed results in the same races saw his lead trimmed to 13 points.
So it’ll be all eyes to the front of the field as the pair get set to do battle once again, and a slip-up for either could completely change the game, with only four races left in the season.
The slower nature of the circuit could favour the front-wheel-drive cars, and this could be a weekend where the shorter-wheelbase SUNREDs might be more competitive. The León hatchbacks have not enjoyed the most competitive of seasons, but this could be a venue that helps them bridge the gap.
At some stage, Robert Dahlgren’s luck has got to come good. The Volvo driver was again mightily impressive at Suzuka, and managed to split the Chevrolets in qualifying. After being taken out in the first few hundred metes of the opening race, he finished a rapid fifth in Race 2, setting fastest lap along the way. Could this be the weekend where we finally see him on the podium?
Make sure you stay tuned to the Richard’s F1 website this weekend for the latest news and results in this championship series!
[Original images via FIA WTCC Media and Omnicorse]