Multiple touring car champion Yvan Muller catapulted himself into the heart of the FIA World Touring Car Cup fight with his second victory at the Race of China round.
The tightly-matched field delivered a repeat dose of the crash-marred second race earlier in the day, with Sunday’s final instalment proving high on attrition and panel damage.
Muller’s run to victory was a lights-to-flag affair ahead of fellow Lynk & Co driver and nephew Yann Ehrlacher, while title frontrunners Norbert Michelisz and Esteban Guerrieri were among ten drivers not to make the finish.
Despite failing to finish, Race 2 winner Michelisz retains his newly inherited lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings, with a 15-point margin to Guerrieri. With his two pole positions, Race 1 win, Race 2 podium and a further victory in Race 3 – a WTCR record haul of 76 points – Muller is now placed third overall and is well and truly in the mix for title honours.
With he and Ehrlacher having locked out the front row of the grid, the pair made a clean getaway as the starting lights went out to slot into first and second place.
Behind them there was more opening lap chaos. Jean-Karl Vernay and Daniel Haglöf made contact in a battle that also involved Frédéric Vervisch and Guerrieri. Both Vernay and Haglöf were out.
Then Michelisz hit the back of Andy Priaulx’s Lynk & Co for the second race in succession, this time seeing the Hyundai driver spinning into the barriers. Michelisz pitted, but was forced to retire.
The Safety Car was called into action so the damaged cars could be cleared before racing resumed on Lap 5. On the next tour Tiago Monteiro made contact with Niels Langeveld, which forced the Comtoyou Team Audi Sport off the track and out of the race. Then as he accelerated out of the last corner, Monteiro’s Honda was nudged into a heavy impact with the pit wall by Mehdi Bennani’s Volkswagen Golf. Monteiro thankfully escaped injury despite major damage to his KCMG Honda, while Bennani would receive a drive-through penalty as punishment.
The Safety Car returned to the track so the cars of Langeveld and Monteiro could be recovered, with the action resuming on Lap 10. Before that could happen, however, Guerrieri’s nightmare weekend drew to a close – the Argentine driver retired with a broken trackrod courtesy of his opening-lap tangle. It was his third DNF in four races and a major blow to his title aspirations.
Once again the Lynk & Co duo at the front made a clean getaway, but there was a fierce battle for the final podium spot as Nicky Catsburg picked up a puncture and was hit up the back by Aurélien Panis. That promoted Catsburg’s teammate Augusto Farfus into third, but the Brazilian soon relinquished the position up to fellow Hyundai driver Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian shadowed Muller and Ehrlacher to the flag, with Farfus safe in fourth.
Thed Björk ensured three Lynk & Co entries would finish in the top five at the Chinese brand’s home circuit, ahead of Panis, Vervisch, Néstor Girolami and Kevin Ceccon, who had started from the back of the grid. His Team Mulsanne teammate Ma Qing Hua had looked on track for an even more remarkable result after starting from the pit lane, following a mammoth team effort to prepare his car which had been badly damaged in Race 2.
Ma rose as high as ninth, only for contact with Girolami – with whom he’d also collided in qualifying earlier in the day – to finally scupper his day. The damage forced the local hero out of the race.
Johan Kristoffersson completed the top 10, with Priaulx, Tom Coronel, Attila Tassi, Bennani and Gordon Shedden the other points scorers and only other race finishers.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of China – Race 3 Final Classification (18 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||18||38:40.228||25|
|2.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||18||+ 0.431||20|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||18||+ 1.234||16|
|4.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||18||+ 3.830||13|
|5.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||18||+ 4.248||11|
|6.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||18||+ 5.064||10|
|7.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||18||+ 6.891||9|
|8.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||18||+ 11.729||8|
|9.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||18||+ 12.396||7|
|10.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||18||+ 13.903||6|
|11.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||18||+ 16.238||5|
|12.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||18||+ 16.884||4|
|13.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||18||+ 19.654||3|
|14.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||18||+ 28.521||2|
|15.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||18||+ 37.661||1|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||16||Collision|
|DNF.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||10||Puncture|
|DNF.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||5||Track Rod|
|DNF.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||5||Damage|
|DNF.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||5||Retired|
|DNF.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||4||Collision|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||1||Accident|
|DNF.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||0||Collision|
|DNS.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||0||Damage|
- 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.
Text and images via FIA WTCR Media