Mehdi Bennani narrowly held on to claim his first FIA World Touring Car Cup victory in the second race of the round at Wuhan in China, losing and then reclaiming the lead on the final lap in an epic battle with Aurélien Comte.
Starting from the reversed-grid pole, Bennani led the field away at the start in his Sébastien Loeb Racing VW while a rapid Comte slotted his DG Sport Peugeot 308TCR into second place.
There was major drama for Gordon Shedden, whose WRT Audi was forced into the barriers at Turn 3 as the field funneled through the opening complex of corners. The Scot was able to bring his damaged car back to the pits and will face a tense wait to see if his car can be repaired in time for the weekend’s final race which he starts from pole position.
The opening lap also saw drama for local driver Ma Qing Hua, who threw away his front row start alongside Bennani with a poor getaway off the line. That put the Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda driver out of position through the opening sequence of corners, with the Chinese driver forced off-track and losing several places as a result.
Bennani built a comfortable lead at the end of the opening lap and left Comte to fend from the Campos Racing Cupra of Pepe Oriola. The Spanish driver looked quick early on and dived up the inside of the Frenchman to briefly claim second place before Comte retook the position later on in the lap.
The recovering Ma moved back into the top ten with a neat move on championship frontrunner Thed Björk on Lap 2. Two laps later, however, the Swede was unceremoniously removed from any further proceedings when a divebomb move by Oriola’s teammate John Filippi on Yvan Muller at Turn 8 saw the Corsican cannon into the rear of Björk’s Hyundai.
Ma continued to work his way forward but found his progress blocked by Bennani’s teammate Rob Huff, who was staunchly defending ninth place. Huff’s hopes of a points’ finish came to an end when Ma tipped him into a half-spin at the hairpin; Ma would later be hit with a post-race time penalty that denied him his first points’ finish.
Up front, Oriola found himself under attack by the leading Comtoyou Racing Audi of Nathanaël Berthon, who brilliantly passed the Spanish driver by slingshotting around the outside of the long Turn 8 left-hander.
That gave the French rookie his first shot at a podium finish and he quickly closed in on to the back of Comte, who was rapidly reeling in Bennani as the VW driver’s tyres started to fade.
What Comte lacked in outright horsepower was made up for in his cornering speed. The youngster’s nimble Peugeot was able to turn tighter and quicker through the twistier sections than Bennani’s Golf and by the penultimate lap he was placing the leader under serious pressure.
On the final lap Comte made his move, diving up the inside of Bennani at Turn 10 and claiming the lead with a cheeky ‘bump and run’ move. He got too greedy on the brakes approaching the hairpin, however, running wide and handing the place back to Bennani who crossed the line to win. The podium finishers were covered by less than 0.7 seconds.
Oriola’s pace faded in the final laps and he only just hung onto fourth place ahead of Saturday race-winner Jean-Karl Vernay (WRT Audi), while Berthon’s Comtoyou Racing stablemates Frédéric Vervisch, Aurélien Panis and Denis Dupont finished sixth, seventh and ninth respectively – Dupont was later promoted to eighth thanks to Ma’s time penalty.
Yvan Muller was the sole Hyundai driver in the points after being promoted to ninth ahead of Huff – the extra point earned by Muller puts the Frenchman into equal-second alongside Björk in the Drivers’ Championship standings, seven points behind overall leader Gabriele Tarquini who was one of eight drivers who failed to finish.
The final race of the weekend follows at 17:05 local time (GMT +8).
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China Wuhan – Race 2 Final Classification (18 laps)|
|1.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||18||25:35.996||25|
|2.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||18||+ 0.478||18|
|3.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||18||+ 0.618||15|
|4.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||18||+ 5.115||12|
|5.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||18||+ 5.516||10|
|6.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||18||+ 5.988||8|
|7.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||18||+ 6.489||6|
|8.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||18||+ 11.585||4|
|9.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||18||+ 12.176||2|
|10.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||18||+ 12.482||1|
|11.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||18||+ 13.814|
|12.||Ma Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||18||+ 15.229|
|13.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||18||+ 15.373|
|14.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||18||+ 16.025|
|15.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||18||+ 16.664|
|16.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||18||+ 26.507|
|17.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||18||+ 41.252|
|DNF.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||13||Retired|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||11||Engine|
|DNF.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||7||Engine|
|DNF.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||7||Collision|
|DNF.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||3||Collision|
|DNF.||Timo Scheider||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||3||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||1||Driveshaft|
|DNF.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1||Steering|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- Ma Qing Hua – who was provisionally classified 8th – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Rob Huff.
Images via FIA WTCR Media