José María López overcame a major handling problem on his Citroën to win a thrilling Main Race at the Slovakia Ring, overtaking LADA’s Nicky Catsburg on the final lap to deny the Dutch driver a maiden FIA World Touring Car Championship race victory.
The start of the race saw López make a brilliant getaway from third on the grid to vault ahead of teammate and pole-sitter Yvan Muller and Catsburg to lead into Turn 1, while Muller survived a tap from the LADA driver as the pair fought for the same piece of track at the right-hander.
The contact was enough to unsettle Muller and allow Catsburg through into second place, with the pair running side-by-side through Turn 2 before the Dutchman prevailed. That demoted Muller to third, drop down to third, followed closely by the Honda trio of Tiago Monteiro, Rob Huff and Norbert Michelisz.
The FIA stewards briefly investigated the Catsburg-Muller contact before correctly ruling that no further action was warranted, while Catsburg started to close up to López.
On Lap 3, López slipped off-track – unseen by any of the trackside cameras – and Catsburg moved into the lead, with the frustrated Argentine repeatedly complaining about a handling imbalance at the left-rear of his car.
“On the third lap I felt a huge vibration and a noise of metal coming from the rear left,” he later recounted. “Every single time I turned to the right I thought my race was over, but then I tried to calm down and get my concentration back.”
Catsburg used the next few laps to eke out a small lead over López, who now found himself being pursued by Monteiro, who had moved up to third by passing Muller, who then lost further places after contact with Huff.
López was doing just enough to keep Monteiro at bay, and the two steadily hauled in Catsburg as the LADA’s tyres started to wear.
With two laps to go, he was all over Catsburg’s rear bumper. By now, Catsburg’s tyres were seriously worn and his car’s handling was rapidly deteriorating. Approaching the start of the last lap, the slightest of wobbles exiting the final corner was all the invitation López needed to draw alongside and reclaim the lead.
Monteiro capitalized as well and swept into second place, leaving the luckless Catsburg to finish third after a spirited race.
Michelisz had been promoted to fourth place thanks to the late retirement of teammate Huff, but the Hungarian lost the position on the final lap to the enterprising Thed Björk, who nipped by the Honda to give Volvo its best race finish to-date in its comeback season. The pair made contact at the penultimate corner, with Michelisz suffering a puncture as he crossed the finish line.
Björk would subsequently be disqualified from this race – and the preceding Opening Race – when his car failed post-race scrutineering.
Muller finished a frustrating sixth – which became fifth thanks to Björk’s disqualification – ahead of the privateer Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysées of Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton, who claimed a team 1-2 in the Independent class standings.
Fredrik Ekblom was next up, tempering Björk’s disqualification with an eighth-placed finish from the back of the grid thanks to another solid driving display in his Cyan Racing Volvo, with the Chevrolets of Tom Coronel and John Filippi rounding out the top-ten.
Monteiro’s win and second place have assured that the Portuguese driver exits this round in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings by just one point over López. Michelisz lies third, 27 points adrift of his Honda teammate.
Honda also leaves Slovakia still leading the Manufacturers’ Championship standings, with a three-point margin over Citroën.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of Slovakia – Race 2 Final Classification (12 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||12||25:44.212|
|2.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||12||+ 0.700|
|3.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||12||+ 3.260|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||12||+ 4.620|
|5.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||12||+ 4.737|
|6.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||12||+ 5.262|
|7.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||12||+ 5.950|
|8.||Fredrik Ekblom||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||12||+ 7.551|
|9.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||12||+ 18.969|
|10.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||12||+ 19.345|
|11.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||12||+ 20.045|
|12.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||12||+ 21.675|
|13.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||12||+ 1:38.571|
|14.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||10||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||4||+ 18.505|
|DNS.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||Oil Leak|
|DSQ.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||Disqualified|
Images via FIA WTCC
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