Citroën has won the FIA World Touring Car Championship manufacturers’ crown with a dominant 1-2-3-4 in the opening race at the Shanghai International Circuit.
It was an incredible feat from the French manufacturer in its opening season, but the achievement was trumped by Morocco’s Mehdi Bennani, who claimed an emotional breakthrough win in Race 2.
Race 1: Citroën wins the title with historic 1-2-3-4
Championship leader José María López claimed a lights-to-flag victory in the opener, fending off a hard-charging Ma Qing Hua in the opening laps before eking out a two-second margin by the end of the 14-lap race. Teammates Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb completed the French carmaker’s whitewash of the race, crossing the line a few tenths of a second apart after their own spirited battle for the final spot on the podium.
The start of the race saw polesitter López convert his grid advantage into the lead of the race, with Ma and Muller slotting in behind. Norbert Michelisz managed to retain his fourth place off the line, while Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini got their Hondas ahead of the slow-starting Loeb.
Their joy was short-lived, with Loeb quickly re-addressing the situation to move back into fifth. The multiple rally champion then set about chasing down Michelisz, and had to contend with the Hungarian’s spirited defence of the position until the superiority of the Citroën shone through and he got ahead with a late lunge at the hairpin.
From that point, an historic Citroën 1-2-3-4 and steamrolling of the WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship was never in doubt. Ma’s challenge against López was ultimately broken in the final laps as the backmarkers came into play, while Loeb was able to reel in Muller over the same period to finish right in the veteran’s wheel tracks.
Michelisz led home the works Hondas of Tarquini and Monteiro, while Tom Coronel was the lead RML Chevrolet in eighth from Race 2 front-row starters Hugo Valente and Mehdi Bennani.
Tom Chilton probably should have finished in fifth or thereabouts, but the Englishman suffered a rather freak retirement when his car’s right-rear wheel fell off the car on the third lap of the race. Compatriot James Thompson was forced to retire his LADA on the opening lap with a terminal mechanical failure; the fellow LADA of the luckless Mikhail Kozlovskiy was also a DNF.
TC2T class debutant Michael Lok caused some concern when he beached his Campos SEAT León in the final corner gravel trap with a deranged front left suspension. The Hong Kong driver managed to knock his driver’s side mirror off on Lap 5 against the left-hander’s apex tyre bundle, and then finished the job off a lap later when he hit the stack even harder.
The only other major drama came late in the race when Rob Huff and Dušan Borković tangled at Turn 1 while disputing eleventh place. Both suffered punctured tyres in the contact, promoting Gianni Morbidelli into the spot.
In the TC2T class, the imperious Franz Engstler won the Yokohama Trophy with another class win in his BMW, marking the German’s first title in the WTCC.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Shanghai – Race 1 (14 laps):
|1.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||26:15.097||TC1|
|2.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 2.089||TC1|
|3.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 5.793||TC1|
|4.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 6.175||TC1|
|5.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 16.050||TC1|
|6.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 16.483||TC1|
|7.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 18.295||TC1|
|8.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 22.058||TC1|
|9.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 25.896||TC1|
|10.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 26.278||TC1|
|11.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 47.194||TC1|
|12.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 53.710||TC1|
|13.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||+ 1:29.282||TC2|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1:43.122||TC2|
|15.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||– 1 lap||TC1|
|16.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||– 1 lap||TC2|
|17.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||– 4 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||6 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Michael Lok||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||5 laps||TC2|
|DNF.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||0 laps||TC1|
Race 2: Bennani finally breaks through
Moroccan racer Mehdi Bennani has claimed an emotional maiden WTCC win – and the first for the current Honda Civic WTCC racer – in Sunday’s second race.
An emotional Bennani sobbed on his cool-down lap and on the podium after finishing 2.5 seconds clear of fellow Honda runner Tiago Monteiro; were it not for the retirement of Gabriele Tarquini, the Japanese carmaker would have claimed an emphatic 1-2-3. Championship leader José María López claimed the final podium spot, extending his championship lead over teammate and sole title rival Yvan Muller when the Frenchman was forced to retire after being hit by Sébastien Loeb at the hairpin.
“This is a fantastic feeling – I think I may be dreaming,” a tearful Bennani said after the race.
“Winning is something so special that I have been thinking about for years now. I want to thank His Majesty the King of Morocco for having made this possible, in putting me here amongst the best drivers in the World Championship. I want also to thank my family for the total support, Honda, J.A.S. Motorsport and of course my Proteam Racing of Valmiro Presenzini . I gave it my 100% from the start to the very end. It’s something wonderful.”
Despite Citroën’s dominance of the season, the result marked the four races where a different manufacturer has claimed victory, following the previous successes for Chevrolet and LADA in Beijing, and José María López’s victory in Sunday’s opening race.
Starting from pole position for Race 2, Bennani swept into the lead ahead of a slow-starting Hugo Valente, who was overtaken by the works Hondas of Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro.
The Citroën duo of Muller and Loeb were hot on Valente’s wheeltracks, and in their attempts to get by the Frenchman, the two C-Elysées tangled at the hairpin in a major ‘own goal’ for the outfit less than an hour after celebrating its Manufacturer Championship win. Loeb made a late lunge on Muller at the right-hander but was unable to back out of the move in time, clobbering Muller’s right-rear suspension. A furious Muller pulled into the pits, while Loeb managed to cross the finish line in fourth, only to be hit with a 30-second post-race time penalty for causing the collision.
Up at the front, Bennani began to open up a gap while Tarquini and Monteiro played rear gunner ahead of López, who sneaked up into fourth after the Loeb-Muller contact. Tarquini’s run ended after five laps when the Italian retired with a technical problem.
Loeb and Michelisz staged a spirited battle for fourth – ultimately resolved in the Frenchman’s favour – and that left the Hungarian to fend off the advances of Ma Qing Hua in the fourth Citroën.
There was also a terrific scrap among the RML Chevrolets, with Hugo Valente, Tom Coronel, Tom Chilton (who charged through the field after starting in the pit lane) and Dušan Borković. A mistake at the hairpin by Valente allowed Chilton through, leaving the Frenchman to defend hard against his Serbian teammate. James Thompson finished right behind the pair, and was subsequently promoted to tenth after Loeb’s penalty.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Shanghai – Race 2 (14 laps):
|1.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||26:21.882||TC1|
|2.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 2.590||TC1|
|3.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 4.041||TC1|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 13.976||TC1|
|5.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 14.416||TC1|
|6.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 21.725||TC1|
|7.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 22.933||TC1|
|8.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 27.276||TC1|
|9.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 27.855||TC1|
|10.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 28.028||TC1|
|11.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 39.940||TC1|
|12.||Sébastien Loeb*||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 41.238||TC1|
|13.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1:06.558||TC1|
|14.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||+ 1:11.237||TC2|
|15.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1:35.752||TC2|
|16.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||– 1 lap||TC2|
|DNF.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||6 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||5 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||4 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||2 laps||TC1|
|DNS.||Michael Lok||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||TC2|
* Sebastien Loeb was awarded a 30-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Yvan Muller.
Images via FIA WTCC Media