WTCC 2015: Lopez & Muller Tame The Nordschleife…

For the first time in its history since being re-started in 2005, the FIA World Touring Car Championship made its first visit to the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany and the championship did not disappoint on its debut there.

Lets see how it panned out…

QUALIFYING…

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Citroen’s Jose Maria Lopez scored pole position in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, with Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente an impressive second quickest.

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Lopez was imperious throughout the session, going straight to the top of the times and remaining unchallenged thereafter. The Argentine completed three flying laps, going progressively faster on each occasion to ensure his rivals were always one step behind. In the end his best time was a lap of 8 minutes 37.327 seconds, putting him comfortably on pole for the third time in 2015.

Valente was also quick in the session, continuing the strong from which took him to second fastest in second free practice. The Frenchman ended up just 1.252 seconds slower than Lopez, and he was able to deny third-placed Sebastien Loeb from creating an all-Citroen front row.

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Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was fourth, with the Hungarian driver being one of the quickest drivers throughout the session, ending up six tenths slower than Loeb.

Ma Qing Hua was fifth, despite the Chinese driver being the only driver who crashed out in the hour-long session, putting his Citroen in the barriers in the second sector. He was still ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller, who ended the session in sixth, 4.029 seconds off the pace.

Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani was seventh fastest, but will have a five-place grid penalty for race one due to an engine change. Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini qualified in eighth, 6.168 seconds off the pace.

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Completing the top ten and thus taking front-row grid positions for race two were ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro. Coronel will receive a five-place grid penalty for race one, dropping him to 14th place but the penalty is only applied to race one.

Just missing out on pole position for race two was Tom Chilton in 11th position with the ROAL Motorsport driver missing out by less than a tenth.

Campos Racing’s John Filippi was 12th making it the Frenchman’s best qualifying result to-date.

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Nordschleife expert Sabine Schmitz failed to shine in qualifying, struggling to 15th fastest and ending up 11.847 seconds off the pace, despite posting her best lap of the weekend so far.

LADA suffered a disastrous qualifying session, with experienced Nordschleife racers Rob Huff and Jaap Van Lagen both suffering mechanical problems in the sessions, curtailing their running. Huff was 13th fastest after completing one lap before stopping on track, whilst Van Lagen was slowest of all in 17th after crawling back to the pits with problems.

RACE ONE…

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Citroen’s Jose Maria Lopez scored a historic first win on the Nurburgring Nordschleife in race one of the World Touring Car Championship in Germany, as Citroen locked out the podium positions.

Lopez led the entire race from start to finish and was unchallenged by his next best team-mate, with Sebastien Loeb forced to settle for second, 4.930 seconds adrift. Yvan Muller completed the podium in third, having benefitted from a strong start.

The most action in the race occurred at the start, with Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente getting off to the poor start which he had feared. The Frenchman plummeted from second on the grid to ninth by the end of the opening lap, having also been tapped at turn two as he tried to defend.

Valente’s race ultimately came to an end on lap two, when he lost control of his Chevrolet whilst battling with Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and slid into the barriers on the GP loop.

With Valente’s demise, Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was able to enjoy a relatively trouble-free run to fourth to finish as the top Honda driver.

The fourth works’ Citroen of Ma Qing Hua was fifth, ahead of the top works’ Honda of Gabriele Tarquini in sixth.

The independent Citroen entry of Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani was seventh, with the Moroccan having made up a handful of positions at the start of the race.

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Completing the top ten were a trio of Chevrolets headed by Muennich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste in eighth, ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton in ninth and Sabine Schmitz in tenth, with the German taking home a point and a record as the first female points-scorer in WTCC history.

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Whilst LADA’s dramas continued with Rob Huff retiring from the race before even one lap was complete, there was some positivity for the manufacturer in Jaap Van Lagen’s performances. The Dutchman, forced to start from the very back of the grid due to an engine change, overtook more drivers than anyone else in the race and finished in 11th place, being unable to find a way past the Chevrolet of Schmitz despite trying for more than a lap.

French racers John Filippi and Gregoire Demoustier were the only other classified finishers, with both drivers having been dispatched with ease by Van Lagen in the race.

Honda’s Monteiro retired after two laps, with the Portuguese driver having picked up a front-left puncture as a result of contact with Valente earlier in the race.

Tom Coronel failed to finish the race, making contact with Demoustier in turn one and damaging the front-left of his car. The Dutchman immediately pitted, avoiding the Nordschleife, and had his car checked out ahead of race two where he starts on the front row of the grid.

RACE TWO…

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Citroen Racing scored a 1-2 finish in the second World Touring Car Championship race on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, with Yvan Muller beating team-mate Jose Maria Lopez, who blasted past both works’ Hondas on the back straight on the final lap.

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Honda’s Tiago Monteiro got the best getaway to take the lead at the start, with the Portuguese driver having started from pole position. However Monteiro was helpless to defend from the superior straightline speed of Muller’s Citroen, who blasted past on the long main straight towards the end of the lap.

Muller was unchallenged thereafter, although the time to Lopez at the finish was a mere 0.173 seconds. The reigning champion had just moment earlier blasted past both works’ Hondas on the long straight, making the passes look easy in his C-Elysee.

Monteiro took a consolatory podium in third, whilst team-mate Gabriele Tarquini was left to settle for fourth. Both works’ Hondas had been competitive on the twisty Nordschleife circuit, but were helpless to defend their positions on the long straights.

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Sebastien Loeb finished in fifth, ahead of independent entry Mehdi Bennani in sixth. The works Citroens could have enjoyed an even stronger result, but in sector three on lap two Ma Qing Hua crashed out after losing the back end of his car. The Chinese driver, who was in fourth, was lucky not to take Lopez with him, who was following closely behind at the time.

LADA’s Rob Huff finished in seventh, having passed eighth-placed Tom Coronel on the second lap after applying significant pressure to the ROAL Motorsport driver.

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The second LADA of Jaap Van Lagen finished ninth, giving the Dutchman his first points in the WTCC, with Campos Racing’s John Filippi completing the top ten.

Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz retired before the end of the first lap, returning the pits with mechanical problems on his Honda Civic.

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Neither Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente nor ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton started the race. Valente was side-lined as a result of damage sustained in his race one crash, whilst Chilton had a punctured radiator and his team had insufficient time to change it ahead of race two.

The WTCC heads to Moscow in two weeks time, where we already know that Jaap Van Lagen will stay at Lada for the Russian event whilst Muennich Motorsport are rumoured to be revealling their 2nd driver for the rest of the season with rumours putting former Proteam Racing driver Dusan Borkovic in the Chevrolet. We will wait to see…

What has been confirmed is that the WTCC will return to the Nurburgring Nordschleife again in 2016 and 2017, meaning with no Macau on the calendar, this is the new Blue Riband event and the one that all the drivers will want to win.

I can’t wait to see it again next year!

All the best,

Phil!!

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