The Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championship titles might be wrapped up in this year’s FIA World Touring Car Championship season, but the year’s unique season finale in Qatar will see a number of other critical battles being fought.
Let’s preview the series’ first ever night-time event…
|2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship DHL Race of Qatar|
|Date||26-27 Nov 2015||Lap Length||5.380km|
|Open Test Session||Thu 12:30-13:00||Free Practice Session 1||Thu 19:00-19:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Thu 21:30-22:00||Qualifying Session 1||Fri 15:00-15:20|
|Qualifying Session 2||Fri 15:25-15:35||Qualifying Session 3||Fri 15:40-15:50|
|Race 1 (12 laps)||Fri 21:30-22:00||Race 2 (12 laps)||Fri 22:40-23:10|
Session times quoted in Arabia Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)
Located just outside the town of Lusail, north of the capital city of Doha, the Losail International Circuit is a state-of-the-art 5.3-kilometre facility which cost some $58 million to build before it was opened in 2004.
The circuit has been a fixture on the MotoGP circuit since then, and its status was raised further when Musco Lighting installed a complex network of floodlights around the layout to make it the largest permanent sports lighting project in the world – a distinction that now belongs to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
This floodlighting will be in action when the World Touring Car Championship stages its first ever night-time races on Friday, making for a memorable season finale.
Similar in some respects to the Bahrain International Circuit given its desert location and high ambient temperatures, the Losail circuit features a 1-kilometre long start/finish straight that feeds onto a complex network of 16 corners that following in seemingly quick succession. Turn 1 aside, the rest of the lap is rather ‘follow my leader’ stuff, although other series’ have rather tended to defy that with Turns 4, 12 and 15 proving to be suitable overtaking spots for the braver drivers.
The Form Guide
José María López and Citroën Racing may have emphatically wrapped up their own championship titles, but both of the Yokohama Independents’ titles are still to be sorted.
Added to that, there’s still the battle for runner-up position in the overall Drivers’ Championship standings, which will go down to the wire between López’s teammates, Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller.
For Loeb – who is likely to mark his last WTCC event as a driver following Citroën’s decision to scale back its team to two cars at the rally champion’s expense – this will be a battle of pride to beat his French compatriot and four-time series champion Yvan Muller.
The preceding round in Thailand saw contrasting fortunes for Loeb and Muller. The latter was eliminated in first-lap accidents in both races, while Loeb was able to canter to victory in Race 2 to move five points clear of Muller in the standings.
“I haven’t often found myself fighting to be World Championship runner-up, but if I were to achieve it, it would give me something to show for all the work I have put in over the past two seasons,” Loeb said ahead of the season finale.
“This year, I won my first pole position, I have won four races and I’m now second in the overall standings. I’ll be looking to hold on to that position, which would also be a fitting reward for my team of engineers and mechanics. It would be a nice way to round off my 15th season with Citroën.”
Meanwhile, there will also be a tense scrap among the field’s Honda drivers for bragging rights. Despite not winning a race this season, Gabriele Tarquini sits 19 points clear of fellow Civic runners Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, who are just one point apart. Monteiro should be much further up the road were it not for his disqualification from victory in Race 2 at Thailand.
Michelisz will be investing all of his efforts into securing the Yokohama Independents’ Trophy, the standings of which he currently leads from Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën driver Mehdi Bennani by just seven points. With a maximum of 23 points to play for, it will be a battle down to the wire.
Tarquini, meanwhile, will be attempting to continue his record of being a race-winner in every season of the WTCC since it was re-formed in 2005. The Italian is one of just three drivers to have contested every season of the championship, but he is the only driver to be victorious every year.
Fellow veteran Rob Huff will also be chasing his first win of the season to maintain his achievement of having won in every WTCC season since 2006. The Englishman heads into this round fresh from celebrating a record eighth Guia Race of Macau touring car victory after his one-off appearance in the TCR Series at the street circuit last weekend. While Huff’s LADA Granta is a significant step up from its predecessor, its pace and reliability has been inconsistent in its maiden year of racing.
The grid will see the same 18 cars on the grid, although there will be one change among the drivers. Campos Racing will field its occasionally-used third RML Chevrolet Cruze, this time giving the seat to local rally ace Nasser Al-Attiyah, who will make his touring car debut this weekend.
Images via FIA WTCC