Ma Qing Hua will make his return to touring car racing at the two upcoming Chinese rounds of the FIA World Touring Car Championship when the 2018 season resumes later this month.
The 30-year-old Shanghai born driver will replace Boutsen Ginion Racing stand-in Benjamin Lessennes in one of the Belgian outfit’s two Honda Civic Type R TCR at the events at Ningbo Speedpark and the all-new Wuhan street circuit.
Lessennes has contested the opening six rounds of the 2018 season after being called up to replace Tiago Monteiro who continues his lengthy recuperation from injuries he sustained in a heavy testing accident over a year ago.
Ma previously raced in the WTCR’s forebear, the FIA World Touring Car Championship as an occasional third driver for the factory Citroën Total WTCC team, and made history on his debut in 2014 at Moscow Raceway when he became the first Chinese driver to win a world championship level race.
He raced full-time in the series in 2015 with Citroën, claiming a further race win in Portugal and five more podiums to finish fourth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Since then, Ma has dovetailed occasional touring car outings with part-time appearances in the FIA Formula E Championship with the Team Aguri, Techeetah and NIO operations but has failed to net a points’ finish.
His upcoming outings will be the first time Ma has competed in a front-wheel-drive touring car and he was keen to downplay any expectations ahead of his WTCR debut later this month.
“I am really happy to be racing in my home country with this new regulation car,” he said. “It’s really good to be in this series, even though I don’t know the car and have not had one lap at either of the circuits.
“I’m also jumping in at the middle of the season when everybody else will have a lot more experience than me. It will be tough with only two practice sessions before qualifying but I really enjoy fighting with drivers like Rob Huff, Gabriele Tarquini and Yvan Muller and really enjoy the competition.
“I would like to thank everybody for this opportunity, I really appreciate it. I will take it step-by-step and do my best to finish the races to get the maximum track time possible.”
“It’s been a challenging first season in WTCR for us, but through three top-five finishes, we’ve shown that we can fight for good results at many circuits – a lot of which have been new to us,” added Olivia Boutsen, Boutsen Ginion Racing’s Team Manager.
“Ningbo and Wuhan are two more new tracks for the team, but we are excited about having a driver with Ma Qing Hua’s experience on board and look forward to welcoming him to our team.”
Ma will partner regular driver Tom Coronel in the Belgian team’s two-car line-up, while Lessennes reverts to his role as the outfit’s test and reserve driver.
Images via FIA WTCR Media