Rounds 9 & 10 of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship took place at the Moscow Raceway in Russia and the big talking point was the improvement shown by the LADA team. Jaap Van Lagen was retained for the Moscow event but Mikhail Kozlovskiy has been dropped and replaced by Dutch Endurance driver Nick Catsburg.
What has become evident though is the step forward the LADA team have made since their test after the Hungarian WTCC event. Citroen may rule the roost in WTCC with Honda in a clear second place, but LADA is closing the gap…
Rickard Rydell and the Nika International Team returned to WTCC action in Moscow after Rydell was diagnosed with Thyrioditis, whilst Munnich Motorsport returned to running one car for Stefano D’Aste after running Sabine Schmitz in Germany.
Citroen’s Yvan Muller scored his second pole position of the season in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship at the Moscow Raceway, ahead of team-mate Jose Maria Lopez and Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini.
Muller was just 0.046 seconds faster than points leader Lopez in the all-important Q3 session, despite having been slower than the Argentine in the preceding Q2 segment.
Honda’s Tarquini was third quickest, marking the Italian’s best qualifying result of the season to-date.
LADA’s Rob Huff was fourth, 0.716 seconds off pole position, ahead of ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton in fifth, meaning that all four manufacturer’s on the WTCC grid had representation in Q3.
Sixth quickest, and just missing out on entry into Q3, was Citroen’s Ma Qing Hua, despite the Chinese driver opting to only do one run in Q2 in order to save his tyres. The 2014 race winner was baulked by the Zengo Motorsport Honda of Norbert Michelisz only his only flying lap, limiting his progress.
Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente was seventh quickest, ending the Frenchman’s run of getting into Q3, where he had featured for the past three events. Michelisz put his Honda in eighth on the grid, 0.829 seconds off the Q2 pace. Ninth and tenth, and thus on the front row of the grid for race two, were LADA’s Nicky Catsburg and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, who took pole position for Race Two.
Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb just missed out on the cut in Q2 and will thus start both of Sunday’s races from 11th place on the grid. This is the first time that the former rally driver has qualified outside the top ten. LADA’s Jaap van Lagen also missed out on the pole for race two, with the Dutchman posting the 12th fastest time in Q2, just over a second off the pace.
Sebastien Loeb Racing driver Mehdi Bennani was in 13th position, ahead of ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel in 14th place, with the Dutchman struggling for pace throughout the weekend so far. The returning Rickard Rydell could only manage 17th fastest, as the Swedish driver returns to racing after his recent bout of illness.
Yvan Muller headed a Citroen 1-2 in the first race at the Moscow Raceway in Russia, beating team-mate Jose Maria Lopez and Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini.
Muller, who started from pole position, lead the entire race from start to finish and was never challenged by title rival Lopez, who eventually finished almost three seconds behind his team-mate. Tarquini took third and his first podium of the season, despite late race pressure from the LADA of Rub Huff behind, with the Brit having to settle for fourth.
Ma Qing Hua was fifth for Citroen, having got the jump on ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton at the start of the race, leaving the Brit to settle for sixth and finish as the top Chevrolet driver. Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz finished in seventh, having spent most of the race not quite close enough to challenge Chilton for position.
The second works’ Honda of Tiago Monteiro finished in eighth, with the Portuguese driver having passed Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb for the position on lap three, leaving Loeb to finish in ninth.
LADA’s Jaap van Lagen completed the top ten, despite the Dutchman having made contact with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel on the opening lap. The contact left Coronel in last, having been tagged into a high-speed slide by his compatriot, whilst Van Lagen was forced to battle back through the field, dropping to 13th place as a result.
WTCC newcomer Nicky Catsburg finished just outside the points in 11th position in his first race in the series, having to cede to fellow Dutchman Van Lagen on lap eight as his LADA team-mate recovered. Hugo Valente was the biggest loser in the race, finishing in 12th place having started the race in seventh, mostly losing out due to a poor start.
Rickard Rydell finished in 14th place for Nika International, ahead of Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani, who lost a handful of positions when Stefano D’Aste spun him out on the opening lap. D’Aste would finish in 15th place ahead of Craft-Bamboo’s Gregoire Demoustier in 16th, who himself had contact from Campos Racing’s John Filippi, which ultimately forced the Corsican out as the only retirement of the race.
Tom Coronel was classified in 17th position and last after returning to the pits with a lap still to go as the Dutchman was unable to recover following his earlier contact with Van Lagen. Coronel later professed to have “no feeling with the car” as he struggled to recover.
Honda’s Tiago Monteiro scored his first World Touring Car Championship win since China in November 2013, beating off Rob Huff & Norbert Michelisz in the second race at Moscow Raceway.
Monteiro started the race from pole position and was never headed, getting a strong start to lead into the first corner. The win is Honda’s first of the season as a works outfit, and Monteiro’s first since back in late 2013.
Huff came second after a fighting drive from seventh on the grid. The Brit got a strong start to be sixth by the end of lap one and then onto fifth on the following tour. The former champion made up almost a position a lap until lap six, when he passed team-mate Nicky Catsburg for third.
Slight contact with Michelisz came on lap 12 for second, although the move was forceful but fair. The LADA driver was unable to make further progress into Monteiro’s lead thereafter though, and Huff had to settle for taking the first podium for the Vesta WTCC car.
Catsburg was an impressive fourth in only his second race in the championship, despite contact with Gabriele Tarquini on lap seven when the Italian tried to throw his car up the inside for fourth. The duo made contact, and damage to Tarquini’s left-rear wheel pitched him into the barriers and out of the race.
Ma Qing Hua finished in fifth, heading up a Citroen trio ahead of team-mates Yvan Muller and Sebastien Loeb. Muller made a further dent into Jose Maria Lopez’s points lead after the Argentine was adjudged to have made a jump-start and was hit with a drive-through penalty, leaving him to finish in 12th position. Hugo Valente was the top Chevrolet driver in eighth, despite defending heavily against the Citroen trio late in the race as they had an inter-team squabble for position.
Tom Chilton was ninth, having also had close battles with Muller and Lopez early in the race. Tom Coronel completed the top ten behind his team-mate to take a point away from Russia. Having recovered from his illness, Rickard Rydell finished 11th ahead of points leader Lopez, with the Chevrolet trio of Gregoire Demoustier, Stefano D’Aste and John Filippi completing the classified finishers.
There were two other retirements, along with Tarquini. Jaap van Lagen pulled off the track of lap six with damaged left-rear suspension, whilst Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani retired in the pits after four laps with exhaust damage.
Lopez retains the lead of the Drivers Championship on 199 points from Muller in second place with 164 points. Sebastien Loeb is in third place with 135 points followed by Tiago Montiero who is the first non-Citroen driver on 102 points. Fourth Citroen driver Qing Hua Ma is in fifth place on 84 points.
One fact is now clear. LADA are getting the Vesta sorted after their test in Hungary and they are looking a serious threat for more podium finishes after Huff’s race two finish in Moscow. I will state here and now there will be more podiums coming with the powerful Oreca engine well up to the challenge of the Honda, Citroen and the mighty Chevrolet.
Keep an eye out… With progress like this and a decent driver lineup next year (Say Huff, Menu & Van Lagen?) That Vesta could be challenging for wins and a Title…
The WTCC moves onto Slovakia and the excellent Slovakiaring which always provides excellent racing in the wet or dry. Honda should be good here after its recent upgrades whilst LADA and Chevrolet will be well within the mix. Campos expand to three Cruze’s this weekend as Mato Homola joins the squad for a go at WTCC whilst Proteam Racing have confirmed they will not return to the WTCC this year after splitting with Dusan Borkovic.
All the best!!