Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua combined to make it a day to remember for local fans at the FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China, with Muller winning in a Chinese-built Lynk & Co 03 TCR and Shanghai-based Ma pushing him all the way as he battled to claim a home win in the opening race.

Muller, starting from pole position, held off a race-long challenge from home hero Ma who couldn’t quite find a way past the French veteran over thirteen tense laps of racing.

Muller made a strong getaway from pole, leaving Ma to briefly fend off PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona, but it was the Chinese driver who later had the performance to push the leader. Ma kept Muller under pressure all the way to the flag at the Ningbo International Speedpark, with the pair crossing the line separated by barely a quarter of a second.

“That was far from easy,” said Muller, whose victory was his first of 2019. “Ma gave me a hard time. At one point I asked my engineer how many laps to go and he said six. I said, ‘Woah, that’s a way to go!’ So, I had to get my head down.”

Muller was particularly pleased to end his season win drought at Ningbo. “Lynk & Co are based 10 minutes from here, so this was the one to win,” he said.

The ever-impressive Azcona completed the podium for PWR on his first outing at the tricky Ningbo circuit, but the youngster only just held off a late charge from fello championship frontrunner Norbert Michelisz. Fourth place for the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse lifts him to just nine points behind series leader Esteban Guerrieri, with Azcona’s podium finish vaulting him to third in the standings.

Guerrieri endured a disastrous race after accidentally triggering his fire extinguisher on the grid. That forced the Honda Civic Type R TCR, which was supposed to line up in P12, to start from the pit lane. Although the Argentinian rose to P19 in the race, that meant he failed to add to his season points tally for the third time in four races.

Nicky Catsburg followed Michelisz home in fifth in his Hyundai, ahead of Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing’s Aurélien Panis who got the better of Augusto Farfus for sixth.

A poor first lap dropped SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson from fifth on the grid to eighth and that is where the Swedish driver finished. Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Niels Langeveld and SLR VW Motorsport’s Rob Huff completed the top 10, the Briton using his previous racing experience at the circuit to rise from P16.

Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch got the better of Andy Priaulx for P11, then held off a trio of Lynk & Cos to the flag. Priaulx was ordered to drop behind teammates Thed Björk and Yann Ehrlacher. Néstor Girolami was the final points finisher in P15.

Defending WTCR champion Gabriele Tarquini and PWR’s Daniel Haglöf, who had started P10, were the only non-finishers. Both pitted at the end of the first lap, with Haglöf sporting visible damage to the front of his car.

WTCR Race of China continues on Sunday with Second Qualifying from 09:00 local time followed by Race 2 at 14:30 and Race 3 at 15:50 (GMT +8).

2019 FIA WTCR Race of China – Race 1 Final Classification (13 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 13 24:41.861 25
2. Ma Qing Hua Team Mulsanne 13 + 0.263 20
3. Mikel Azcona PWR Racing 13 + 2.444 16
4. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 13 + 2.843 13
5. Nicky Catsburg BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 13 + 3.092 11
6. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 13 + 3.603 10
7. Augusto Farfus BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 13 + 9.028 9
8. Johan Kristoffersson SLR Volkswagen 13 + 11.440 8
9. Niels Langeveld Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 13 + 12.526 7
10. Rob Huff SLR VW Motorsport 13 + 13.903 6
11. Frédéric Vervisch be Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 13 + 15.440 5
12. Thed Björk Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 13 + 18.021 4
13. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 13 + 18.602 3
14. Andy Priaulx Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 13 + 19.602 2
15. Néstor Girolami Münnich Motorsport 13 + 20.069 1
16. Jean-Karl Vernay Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 13 + 20.631
17. Kevin Ceccon Team Mulsanne 13 + 21.118
18. Benjamin Leuchter be SLR Volkswagen 13 + 21.515
19. Esteban Guerrieri Münnich Motorsport 13 + 23.224
20. Mehdi Bennani SLR VW Motorsport 13 + 26.212
21. Tiago Monteiro KCMG 13 + 26.576
22. Gordon Shedden Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 13 + 28.614
23. Attila Tassi KCMG 13 + 29.585
24. Tom Coronel Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 13 + 39.538
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Reason
DNF. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 9 Collision
DNF. Daniel Haglöf PWR Racing 8 Collision

Championship Points:

  • The top fifteen classified finishers (excluding wildcard entries) and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.

Post-Race Penalties:

  • None

Text and images via FIA WTCR Media

The following two tabs change content below.

Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.