Citroën Racing’s José María López has claimed back-to-back FIA World Touring Car Championship titles with victory in Sunday’s opening race at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
Over the course of two crash-filled races – the second of which was red-flagged after just 10 laps – the Argentinean romped to his second championship title thanks to the double-retirement of his sole challenger and teammate Yvan Muller, who failed to get beyond the first lap in either race.
Race 1: López clinches the title as Muller crashes out
The opening race saw plenty of panel-bending in the midfield, but up at the front it was another lights-to-flag victory for José María López, who simply needed to outscore Muller by two points in the race to put the title beyond doubt.
His quest was cemented when Muller was taken out in a senseless first-lap accident, leaving López to fend off a series of stern attacks from Citroën teammate Sébastien Loeb on the run to the chequered flag.
López led home a Citroën 1-2-3-4 with a 1.3-second winning margin to Loeb at the end of the 16-lap race. Chinese teammate Ma Qing Hua took the final podium spot, keeping Mehdi Bennani at bay.
There was drama just seconds into the race when two of the three LADA Vestas were eliminated at Turn 1. That was triggered by the ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet of Tom Coronel, when the Dutchman appeared to miss his braking point into the right-hander, slithering up the inside of Nicolas Lapierre, who was then punted into the sister LADA of Nick Catsburg. All three would retire on the spot, with the damage proving too great to have any of those cars repaired in time for Race 2.
Before the Safety Car could be summoned to clean up the Turn 1 accident, there was more carnage in the opening lap that saw another four cars suffer damage.
This incident was triggered by Hugo Valente – no stranger to a first-lap accident – who carried far too much speed and slid into the side Tiago Monteiro, who in turn hit the hapless Muller. Norbert Michelisz was also caught out in the mess, with all but Monteiro retiring thanks to the damage they sustained.
With the field now reduced to just twelve cars in less than a lap, it was held under Safety Car conditions while marshals scrambled to clear up the wrecked cars. Upon the restart, López was left to hold off an aggressive Loeb, while third-placed Ma found himself doing likewise with Bennani.
John Filippi added himself to the ever-lengthening list of retirees with an overambitious pass on Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda at the hairpin that left the Corsican’s Campos Chevrolet with damaged suspension and a slow return to the pits. Tom Chilton also retired a few laps later with a loss of power in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet.
Rob Huff was on a charge in the sole remaining LADA, quickly disposing of Stefano D’Aste’s Chevrolet before going on to chase down Monteiro’s battle-scarred Honda for sixth place. Monteiro tried to hold firm in a car shedding bits of its loose bodywork, but Huff managed to sneak up the inside of the Portuguese driver with a clinical move at the hairpin.
Huff closed up to fifth-placed Tarquini – who had picked his way through the first-lap carnage from fifteenth on the grid – but was unable to find a way by. Monteiro finished seventh ahead of the three remaining independent Chevrolets of Stefano D’Aste, Grégoire Demoustier and local driver Tin Sritrai, who picked up the final championship point in his maiden race.
The real celebrations were in López’s corner of the Citroën garage, with the Argentine bursting into tears over the magnitude of his second title win.
“The first thought I have in my head is to thank the people who have been around me, my family, my girlfriend,” he beamed after the race.
“My team of course has been absolutely outstanding, I would not be here without them. They gave me the opportunity to compete with my team-mates at the same level, so I want to thank all the group, my teammates, the mechanics, engineers, everyone at Citroën.
“This was a fantastic championship for me in a great series, with a fantastic atmosphere. I knew it was going to be hard, so this is an amazing result. Looking at the competition the level is very high, so it adds even more taste to a very sweet victory.”
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Thailand – Race 1 Final Classification (16 laps*)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||29:10.403|
|2.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 1.380|
|3.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 6.376|
|4.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 7.202|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 14.500|
|6.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 15.177|
|7.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 18.493|
|8.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 21.004|
|9.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 22.830|
|10.||Tin Sritrai||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 27.419|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||11||Mechanical|
|DNF.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||6||Collision|
|NC.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||4||+ 12 laps|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Nicolas Lapierre||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||0||Collision|
*Race distance extended from 14 laps to 16 laps due to Safety Car interruption.
Race 2: Monteiro disqualification hands victory to Loeb
Tiago Monteiro’s victory celebrations proved to be short-lived after the Honda driver was disqualified when his Civic WTCC failed post-scrutineering checks governing its minimum ride height. It was probably an oversight that stemmed from his incident in Race 1, but rules are rules and the Portuguese driver was thrown out of the final standings.
That gave victory to Sébastien Loeb, who led another all-Citroën podium ahead of Ma Qing Hua and newly-crowned World Champion José María López. The race was red-flagged with two laps to go, with the final results determined by the running order at the end of the tenth lap.
It was an all-Honda front row featuring Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, with the former making the better start to lead the field into Turn 1.
Yvan Muller barely made it that far thanks to another first-lap incident, with the Frenchman retiring once again to end his miserable weekend. The sister Citroën of Mehdi Bennani was also caught out in the scramble through Turn 1, but was able to rejoin the race at the back of the field.
Michelisz led early on from Monteiro, Tom Chilton, Loeb and Ma, but sound found himself overtaken by Monteiro before he was handed a drive-through penalty for violating parc fermé regulations between the two races. It was a major blow for the Yokohama Trophy championship leader, who would find his points’ lead cut to just seven over Bennani by the end of the race.
The race saw several battles unfold, with Loeb getting by Chilton and setting upon the task of hunting down Monteiro. Chilton then found himself under assault from Ma, Gabriele Tarquini and López, with Rob Huff and the recovering Bennani also involved in the scrap.
Ma was able to get by the Briton, followed shortly thereafter by López and Tarquini – the Italian touched Chilton in his move, which allowed Chilton to reclaim the position.
Chilton’s ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet simply didn’t have the pace of the cars chasing him, and he was once again passed by Tarquini, and then Huff and Bennani, only for the race to be red-flagged after twelve laps thanks to the fast-fading light.
While Race 2 had been declared a twilight race, its start time had been pushed back thanks to Race 1 running overlong – there simply wasn’t adequate floodlighting at the circuit to make the conditions safe to race any further.
The red flag was a blessing for Chilton, who was returned to fourth position when the race result was wound back to the end of the tenth lap.
The result was that Monteiro claimed the chequered flag ahead of Loeb, Ma and López, although the final result would be shaken up thanks to Monteiro’s disqualification. López’s finishing position was also under a cloud thanks to separate touches with Ma and Tarquini during the race, while Bennani was also summoned the stewards’ offices for his role in the opening lap contact with Muller at Turn 1.
Both López and Bennani were not penalised in the end, while Honda declared it would appeal Monteiro’s disqualification.
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Thailand – Race 2 Final Classification (10 laps*)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||10||16:41.918|
|2.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||10||+ 5.722|
|3.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||10||+ 10.534|
|4.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||10||+ 11.753|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||10||+ 12.014|
|6.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||10||+ 12.609|
|7.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||10||+ 13.056|
|8.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||10||+ 16.239|
|9.||Tin Sritrai||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||10||+ 17.643|
|10.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||10||+ 18.163|
|11.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||10||+ 21.684|
|12.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||10||+ 33.000|
|EX.||Tiago Monteiro*||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||Excluded|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||0||Collision|
|DNS.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC|
|DNS.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze|
|DNS.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze|
|DNS.||Nicolas Lapierre||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC|
*Race was red-flagged and final classification determined on 10 laps’ distance
^ Tiago Monteiro – who was originally classified as the winner of the race – was subsequently excluded from the standings due to his car failing post-race scrutineering (ride height).
Images via FIA WTCC Media