Yvan Muller has reclaimed the lead of the FIA World Touring Car Cup drivers’ championship standings after claiming a comfortable victory in Race 2 at Ningbo International Speedpark.
The Frenchman got the jump on reversed-grid pole-sitter Mehdi Bennani at the start and eased away to an unchallenged lead. He won by 2.6 seconds from Bennani’s Sébastien Loeb Racing VW Golf and Esteban Guerrieri’s Münnich Motorsport Honda; the latter inherited the final podium spot after his teammate Yann Ehrlacher tangled with Frédéric Vervisch’s Comtoyou Racing Audi on the penultimate lap.
The race was a disaster for Ehrlacher – who was later punted out of the race by local driver Ma Qing Hua on the final lap – and Muller’s fellow title rivals BRC Racing Team’s Gabriele Tarquini and WRT’s Jean-Karl Vernay, who all retired.
Tarquini’s retirement stemmed from front-to-rear contact with Guerrieri on a frenetic opening lap, leading to the Italian being forced into the pits with damage to his Hyundai i30. As was the case in Saturday’s race, Vernay was a Lap 1 casualty after being forced off-track in an incident with the DG Sport Peugeot 308TCR of Aurélien Comte.
Despite damage to the rear of his Honda, Guerrieri was on a charge and passed Rob Huff’s Volkswagen Golf GTI on Lap 2 before also overtaking Denis Dupont’s Comtoyou Racing Audi six laps later.
He then zeroed up to an increasingly aggressive fight over third place between Ehrlacher and Vervisch. The Belgian driver briefly moved ahead of Ehrlacher on Lap 10 before being retaken by the French youngster, who was by now struggling with terminal understeer on worn tyres.
With two laps to go Vervisch forced his way alongside Ehrlacher on the run to Turn 2 before Ehrlacher tried to crowd out the Audi rookie by aggressively squeezing him to the inside at Turn 3. The pair predictably made contact, sending both off-track and allowing an opportunistic Guerrieri to slip through into the final podium position. Vervisch rejoined the circuit in seventh place, while Ehrlacher dropped further down to tenth. On the final lap, he was then speared by Ma who made an impossibly late dive at the hairpin on Pepe Oriola’s Campos Racing Cupra.
Behind the top-three, Denis Dupont claimed fourth place in the lead Comtoyou Audi ahead or Huff, who won out in a final lap sprint to the finish line from Vervisch and Race 1 winner Thed Björk in the second YMR Hyundai.
Nathanaël Berthon finished eighth in his Comtoyou Audi ahead of Norbert Michelisz’s BRC Racing Team Hyundai, which was dragging its damaged exhaust for much of the race after he copped a hit on the opening lap. The Hungarian driver was later hit with a 5-second post-race time penalty for blatantly cutting a chicane early in the race and gaining an advantage.
His penalty promoted Oriola to ninth place, while Aurélien Panis moved up to tenth to ensure all four Comtoyou Audis finished in the points.
Muller’s victory and Tarquini’s DNF means the four-time WTCC champion holds a 14-point lead over his fellow veteran heading into the weekend’s final race, which teammate Björk starts from pole position.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China Ningbo – Race 2 Final Classification (13 laps)|
|1.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||13||24:32.355||25|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||13||+ 2.620||18|
|3.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||13||+ 8.569||15|
|4.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||13||+ 9.965||12|
|5.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||13||+ 12.526||10|
|6.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||13||+ 12.629||8|
|7.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||13||+ 12.796||6|
|8.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||13||+ 12.961||4|
|9.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||13||+ 15.337||2|
|10.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||13||+ 18.019||1|
|11.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||13||+ 18.257|
|12.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||13||+ 22.473|
|13.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||13||+ 27.413|
|14.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||13||+ 31.601|
|15.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||13||+ 32.475|
|16.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||13||+ 33.618|
|17.||Ma Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||13||+ 1:01.012|
|18.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||12||Collision|
|19.||Timo Scheider||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||12||+ 1 lap|
|20.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||10||Retired|
|DNF.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||9||Retired|
|DNF.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||8||Retired|
|DNF.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||3||Damage|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||3||Collision|
|DNF.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||3||Collision|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- Norbert Michelisz – who was provisionally classified 9th – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for exceeding track limits and gaining an advantage.
- Ma Qing Hua – who was provisionally classified 14th – was issued a 30-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Yann Ehrlacher.
Images via FIA WTCR Media