The World Touring Car Championship’s inaugural visit to Beijing brought plenty of surprise and excitement, with two first-time winners of the 2014 season crowned in the form of Tom Chilton and Rob Huff.
Race 1: Chilton dominates from pole
Tom Chilton claimed his maiden WTCC race win with a lights-to-flag demonstration in Sunday’s opening race at the tight and twisty Goldenport Circuit. After surprising even himself by qualifying on pole position, the ROAL Motorsports driver became just the second non-Citroën winner of the season, finishing comfortably clear of the French carmaker’s championship contenders, Yvan Muller and José María López.
Key to Chilton’s success was a great getaway from the front row. Muller and López had to contend with a slow-starting Gabriele Tarquini who, for the first time in what felt like an eternity, bogged his Honda down off the line. Muller slotted into second place ahead of the Italian, while López had to settle for fourth ahead of teammate Sébastien Loeb.
The Safety Car made its sole appearance of the race courtesy of a heavy collision between the Chevrolets of René Münnich and Dušan Borković. The accident was not picked up by the local broadcasting crew and the wrecks took a while to clear.
The race was eventually restarted on Lap 11, and Loeb promptly ran wide on cold tyres to allow an enterprising Gianni Morbidelli and Norbert Michelisz to slip ahead.
Further behind, the fourth Citroën of local driver Ma Qing Hua was making steady progress from his lowly grid position. The Chinese driver pulled off a number of bold passing moves into Turn 1 to get ahead of the LADAs of Rob Huff and James Thompson.
Such was the nature of the circuit that heavier fuel loads and close wheel-to-wheel racing started to pay a toll on a number of runners. Both works Hondas of Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro retired, as did the Chevrolets of a lacklustre Tom Coronel and Hugo Valente. Ma also retired his Citroën, much to the disappointment of the local fans.
Up at the front, Chilton had the luxury of being able to ease off the closing laps to win by almost 2.5 seconds from Muller and López. Morbidelli and Loeb managed to get ahead of Michelisz in the final reckoning, while the LADAs of Thompson and Huff rounded out the top eight ahead of Mehdi Bennani’s Proteam Honda.
The high rate of attrition allowed TC2T-class race-winner Franz Engstler to finish tenth and claim an outright championship point.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Beijing – Race 1 (28 laps):
|1.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||35:44.890||TC1|
|2.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 2.493||TC1|
|3.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 5.132||TC1|
|4.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 10.473||TC1|
|5.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 14.455||TC1|
|6.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 17.238||TC1|
|7.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 18.338||TC1|
|8.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 19.104||TC1|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 37.966||TC1|
|10.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||+ 54.871||TC2|
|11.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||– 1 lap||TC1|
|12.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||– 1 lap||TC1|
|13.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||– 2 laps||TC2|
|14.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||– 3 laps||TC2|
|15.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||– 4 laps||TC1|
|16.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||– 4 laps||TC1|
|17.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||– 6 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||15 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1 lap||TC1|
|DNF.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1 lap||TC1|
|WD.||Michael Soong||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||TC2|
Race 2: Huff gives LADA its breakthrough win
Former World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff finally broke through to claim LADA’s first ever race win in the series, mirror his compatriot Chilton’s achievements with a lights-to-flag win.
After being denied victory in Race 2 at the previous round in Argentina, the Englishman exacted perfect revenge and was never threatened around Goldenport’s twists and turns, which were perfectly suited to the short wheelbase Granta WTCC.
The start saw Huff successfully defend his pole position from fellow front-row starter Tom Coronel, while Huff’s teammate James Thompson slipped from third to fifth by Turn 1 after a poor start, promoting Sébastien Loeb and Norbert Michelisz.
Huff immediately began to sprint away and open up a gap, leaving Coronel to defend himself from repeated attacks from Loeb. Further back, Race 1 winner Tom Chilton started to make up ground from tenth on the grid, overtaking Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda and Yvan Muller’s Citroën C-Elysée.
Championship leader José María López deposed Thompson from fifth on the eleventh lap of the race, and the Argentine driver then got ahead of Michelisz before he set about closing down Loeb. With Muller languishing in a lowly ninth, the extra points were there for the taking. Ultimately he fell just inches short of finishing on the podium, crossing the line just three-hundredths of a second behind Loeb.
Michelisz crossed the line in fifth, ahead of Thompson, who fended off the Chevrolets of Gianni Morbidelli and the charging Chilton in the closing laps. Muller finished a frustrated ninth ahead of Tarquini.
But all eyes were on Huff, who was almost in tears after a frustrating season finally came good for LADA, whose WTCC tenure has delivered little reward. The result was all the more ironic for LADA’s former sponsor Lukoil, who announced an immediate termination of their title sponsorship of the team ahead of this weekend’s event.
“I am on top of the world and so thrilled to give LADA Sport its first ever race win,” he beamed afterwards. “This is a result of all the hard work and determination that has gone in to the project and it shows that, when you keep pushing anything can be achieved. Who would have thought this was doable before Argentina!”
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Beijing – Race 2 (26 laps):
|1.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||28:52.502||TC1|
|2.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 0.766||TC1|
|3.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 3.072||TC1|
|4.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 3.102||TC1|
|5.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 8.673||TC1|
|6.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 9.938||TC1|
|7.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 11.111||TC1|
|8.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 11.553||TC1|
|9.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 12.463||TC1|
|10.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 12.805||TC1|
|11.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 19.571||TC1|
|12.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 21.714||TC1|
|13.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 24.261||TC1|
|14.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||– 1 lap||TC2|
|15.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||– 1 lap||TC2|
|DNF.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||6 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||2 laps||TC2|
|DNS.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||TC1|
|DNS.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||TC1|
|DNS.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||TC1|
|WD.||Michael Soong||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||TC2|
Images via FIA WTCC Media