The battle for the FIA WTCC Drivers’ Championship and WTCC Trophy crowns will go down to the wire after Tom Chilton fended off Mehdi Bennani for victory in Friday night’s Opening Race at Qatar’s Losail circuit.
The Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën teammates came into the weekend separated by just half a point in their scrap for the WTCC Trophy standings for non-manufacturer entries, with Chilton’s victory putting him 1.5 points ahead of the Moroccan.
Meanwhile, many eyes were glued to the overall championship battle between Volvo’s Thed Björk and Honda’s Norbert Michelisz, who finished fifth and ninth respectively. Björk’s better race result helped him extend his points lead to Michelisz to 16.5 points, with tonight’s final Main Race to determine the title outcome.
RC Motorsport’s Kevin Gleason started from pole position in his LADA Vesta and held the lead for all of a lap before Bennani – who’d jumped teammate John Filippi and Campos Racing’s Kris Richard off the line – managed to muscle his way past the American driver.
A lap later and Gleason dropped to third behind Chilton – who’d also overtaken Filippi on Lap 2 – while Richard rapidly fell down the order and out of the points.
Further down the order, the team tactics were already in full swing at Volvo and Honda as the two teams’ drivers worked to engineer the best possible outcomes for Björk and Michelisz respectively.
Björk was allowed past stand-in teammate Yvan Muller to move into fifth place, while Michelisz attempted to recover from his poor showing in the afternoon’s qualifying session. The Hungarian found assistance from Honda teammate Esteban Guerrieri to move into tenth place, which quickly became ninth when the aforementioned Richard was overtaken.
Muller spent the rest of his race fending off former teammate Rob Huff in an intense battle for sixth place. Just behind that pair, the third Volvo of Nicky Catsburg played a flawless ‘rear gunner’ role by keeping Michelisz at bay and confining the Honda driver to just two championship points. Michelisz and Guerrieri briefly swapped places to the Argentine to have a crack at Catsburg, but the pair reversed their positions before the chequered flag.
The seventh lap of the race saw the battle for the lead intensify as Chilton closed up to Bennani and ran side-by-side with his teammate. Bennani held on in that exchange, but on the next lap Chilton was able to get ahead and pull out a two-second lead.
Gleason claimed his first career podium by finishing in a fine third place, while Filippi equalled his career best performance with fourth ahead of Björk, Muller. Huff, Catsburg, Michelisz and Guerrieri.
The final race of the season – which is also likely to be the last in the TC1 era of the World Touring Car Championship – gets underway at 22:35 local time.
|2017 FIA WTCC Race of Qatar – Opening Race Final Classification (10 laps)|
|1.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||20:44.557||IND|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 2.175||IND|
|3.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 6.178||IND|
|4.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 7.054||IND|
|5.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 7.571||MF|
|6.||Yvan Muller||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 7.945||MF|
|7.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||+ 8.577||IND|
|8.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 9.248||MF|
|9.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 9.537||MF|
|10.||Esteban Guerrieri||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 10.304||MF|
|11.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 12.587||IND|
|12.||Kris Richard||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 12.995||IND|
|13.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||+ 13.857||IND|
|14.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 14.924||MF|
|15.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 22.050||IND|
|16.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 27.132||IND|
Image via FIA WTCC Media