Mehdi Bennani has secured his second victory of the 2016 World Touring Car Championship season, which was brought to a close with another action-packed race at the Losail circuit in Qatar.
The Moroccan had to work hard for the win after claiming a surprise pole position for Friday night’s main race. He first had to fight off the factory Citroën of José María López before contending with the Volvo of Thed Björk in the closing laps of the race.
Such was the pace at which he closed on Bennani, Björk was seemingly on course to claim a second win of his season, only to make a crucial mistake on the penultimate lap of the race that dropped him too far behind to mount a passing attempt.
While Bennani managed to convert his pole position into the lead at the start, it was López who made a better getaway than Björk to slot into second ahead of the Swedish driver at Turn 1.
The Safety Car was once again on track before the opening lap had run its course, this time thanks to the retirement of Björk’s teammate Robert Dahlgren, who found himself sidelined with broken suspension after an assault from Bennani’s teammate Tom Chilton.
Just a few corners later, two of the LADAs came together in the Russian carmaker’s final race, with Nicky Catsburg and Hugo Valente making contact at Turn 5. Catsburg suffered a puncture and would rejoin at the rear of the field after a visit to the pits, but Valente was once again a first-lap retiree.
The race was restarted on the fourth lap, and this time it was López who found himself in the rather unusual position of having to defend rather than attack. Björk was looking particularly racy, and it didn’t take long for him to slot into second place with a neat divebomb on the three-time series champion at Turn 1.
Honda driver Norbert Michelisz similarly muscled his way past the sister works Citroën of Yvan Muller’s for fourth place, and when Tiago Monteiro tried to capitalise, he almost came to grief and had to swerve around the Turn 5 tyre stack to avoid an accident. That allowed the LADA of Gabriele Tarquini into sixth.
With Björk now free of López, he quickly set about closing down the gap to Bennani, taking full advantage of running free of any performance ballast to hoover up the Moroccan along the start/finish straight. While never able to mount a passing attack, he closed to within 0.3 seconds by Lap 14 before running wide, which cost him crucial ground and ensured that Bennani would claim victory.
Keen to recover ground and secure third overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings over Honda teammate Michelisz, Monteiro repassed Tarquini on Lap 8 and closed back up to Muller. Fifth place would be enough to get him ahead of the Hungarian by just one point, and Muller duly obliged with a mistake to allow his former teammate into the position on the final lap of the race.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of Qatar – Race 2 Final Classification (15 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||15||32:38.479|
|2.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||15||+ 1.176|
|3.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||15||+ 4.815|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||15||+ 10.575|
|5.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||15||+ 11.827|
|6.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||15||+ 12.390|
|7.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||15||+ 14.994|
|8.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||15||+ 17.037|
|9.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||15||+ 18.379|
|10.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||15||+ 20.819|
|11.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||15||+ 21.758|
|12.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||15||+ 31.109|
|13.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||15||+ 38.393|
|14.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||15||+ 1:16.469|
|15.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||14||+ 1 lap|
|NC.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||8||+ 7 laps|
|DNF.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||0||Collision|
Images via FIA WTCC
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