Preview: Dramatic twist in China as the championship leader’s out of play
After the longest mid-season break in the WTCC’s history, the championship resumes this weekend to christen a brand-new Chinese circuit, but the main focus will be the nasty twist in the tale, as championship leader Tiago Monteiro is forced to sit out after a freak accident in testing last month.
In one of the closest battles in the WTCC’s 13-year history, it’s likely that just missing this one race could well mean the end of the Portuguese driver’s title hopes, but that won’t be evident until the end of the weekend and the results are counted up.
Monteiro started the year strongly, and then moved to a more consistent pattern in later races, while it was his team-mate Norbert Michelisz who has been carrying the most momentum in the last three rounds since his home race, where he’d perhaps prematurely called his own championship challenge at an end.
Now, realistically, Michelisz is now Honda’s main contender. The 31-year-old Hungarian is just 29 points behind Monteiro in the standings, and a good weekend could see him ahead of his team-mate by the end.
Monteiro’s absence is also a massive opportunity for Polestar Cyan Racing, with the Volvo squad chasing the championship title in their second season. Thed Björk is their leading man in the standings, just 12 points behind Monteiro, so it’d be a surprise if the Swede isn’t the championship leader when they leave China on Sunday.
Also not out of contention is his team-mate Nicky Catsburg, despite a disastrous in July when the Dutchman scored a double-DNF, despite taking pole position in Argentina. Catsburg had already consigned himself to a supporting role in the post-race press talk, much like Michelisz had earlier in the season.
Championship predictions at this point however themselves are very premature. Even though the end of the season is just over seven weeks’ away, there’s still 40% of the season left to complete due to the abnormal schedule.
Monteiro leads the standings on 200 points, but there are still 240 points left on the table, so mathematically, but not realistically, this means even Monteiro’s stand-in, the 2009 champion Gabriele Tarquini, has a theoretical shot at the title, assuming he completes the remainder of the season.
The privateer Citroëns are also a threat to the two manufacturer squads, with Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani having a sensational run in his C-Elysée and is just 36 points behind, while his team-mate Tom Chilton and Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff are outside bets, both just over 50 points down on Monteiro.
Outside of the championship, the other story of the weekend will be the new circuit, which has never before hosted any kind of race.
The WTCC, and its support event this weekend, the China Touring Car Championship (CTCC), will be the first series to race on the brand-new facility in the Ningbo industrial region of China, just south of Shanghai. The track has been built by Geely Auto, the owners of Volvo, which is why the Swedish squad has termed this as a home race.
“After what seems like the longest summer break ever, we are eager to get back on track and the world title fight is wide open,” said Polestar’s motorsport head, Alexander Murdzevski Schedvin.
“The Chinese race is special for us; with our parent company based in China, we view this as our second home, and we have a great fan base that grows stronger every year we race here.”
The Honda Civics go to China with an additional penalty on top of missing their championship leader, with the Civic WTCCs forced to carry the maximum 80kg of compensation weight due to their results in the last three rounds at the Nürburgring, Vila Real and Termas de Río Hondo.
The Volvo S60 TC1s of Polestar Cyan Racing will be just 10kg lighter, while the Citroën C-Elysées will be at their season’s lowest of 1,150kg, with the Lada Vestas and Chevrolet Cruzes ballast-free.
No – Driver – Nat – Team – Car
2 – Gabriele Tarquini – ITA – Honda Racing Team JAS – Honda Civic WTCC
3 – Tom Chilton – GBR – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
5 – Norbert Michelisz – HUN – Honda Racing Team JAS – Honda Civic WTCC
9 – Tom Coronel – NED – ROAL Motorsport – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
12 – Rob Huff – GBR – Münnich Motorsport – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
24 – Kevin Gleason – USA – RC Motorsport – Lada Vesta WTCC
25 – Mehdi Bennani – MOR – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
27 – John Filippi – FRA – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
34 – Ryo Michigami – JPN – Honda Racing Team JAS – Honda Civic WTCC
61 – Néstor Girolami – ARG – Polestar Cyan Racing – Volvo S60 TC1
62 – Thed Björk – SWE – Polestar Cyan Racing – Volvo S60 TC1
63 – Nicky Catsburg – NED – Polestar Cyan Racing – Volvo S60 TC1
66 – Zsolt Szabo – HUN – Zengő Motorsport – Honda Civic WTCC
68 – Yann Ehrlacher – FRA – RC Motorsport – Lada Vesta WTCC
86 – Esteban Guerrieri – ARG – Campos Racing – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
99 – Daniel Nagy – HUN – Zengő Motorsport – Honda Civic WTCC
TBC – Filipe de Souza – MAC – RC Motorsport – Lada Vesta WTCC
Saturday 14th October
09:00 – Free Practice 1
12:45 – Free Practice 2
15:15 – Qualifying
16:30 – MAC3
Sunday 15th October
14:30 – Opening Race (13 laps)
16:30 – Main Race (16 laps)
Car – Final weight – Ballast
Honda Civic WTCC – 1,180kg – +80kg
Volvo S60 TC1 – 1,170kg – +70kg
Citroën C-Elysée WTCC – 1,150kg – +50kg
Lada Vesta WTCC – 1,100kg – +0kg
Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 – 1,100kg – +0kg