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Terça, 10 Setembro 2019 10:44 | Actualizado em Quinta, 28 Novembro 2019 06:15

Event preview: It's go, go, go for Ningbo as WTCR heads to China


*Deciding Asian leg fires into life at the Ningbo International Speedpark *Title battle tightly poised entering part two of the World Touring Car season *Ma Qinghua and Lynk & Co quartet fly the Chinese flag

Event preview: FIA WTCR Race of China
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 19, 20 and 21of 30, Ningbo International Speedpark, 13-15 September

A little over two months since the chequered flag waved following Tiago Monteiro’s heroic victory on the streets of Vila Real, the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO is back with a bang at the Ningbo International Speedpark in China from 13-15 September.

The world’s largest car market with more than 12 million models sold, China marks the start of the season-deciding Asian leg of WTCR / OSCARO 2019 with events in Japan, Macau and Malaysia following in October, November and December respectively.

After part one of the season delivered 11 winners and has resulted in a wide-open title battle, the expectations for a thrilling climax to the current campaign are high with all seven car brands appearing on the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID winning races.

Esteban Guerrieri tops the title table for the Honda-powered ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport team but his margin over BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s Norbert Michelisz is just 24 points with 12 races remaining and a maximum of 340 still to be fought for. Thed Björk, whose Lynk & Co 03 TCR is developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China, is third in standings and firmly in contention for the giant WTCR / OSCARO trophy, as are a number of other rapid racers.

They include Guerrieri’s team-mate and fellow Argentine Néstor Girolami, PWR Racing’s CUPRA-equipped rising star Mikel Azcona, Yvan Muller – the world’s most successful touring car driver – and his 23-year-old nephew Yann Ehrlacher, plus Audi racers Frédéric Vervisch and Jean-Karl VernayGabriele Tarquini, the title holder from 2018, is 10th in the rankings and a winner in 2019.

Will home fans savour some Ma magic?
History maker Ma Qinghua will fly the Chinese flag at WTCR Race of China. After becoming the first Chinese driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in 2014, Ma became the first driver from his country to triumph in WTCR / OSCARO when he won at the Slovakia Ring in May. Partnering Kevin Ceccon at Team Mulsanne in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris, a full Q&A with Ma is available by clicking here.

Lynk & Co-powered racers fly the Chinese flag
Four examples of the Lynk & Co 03 TCR, developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China, will be in action at the Ningbo International Speedpark. Thed Björk and Yvan Muller compete under the Cyan Racing Lynk & Co banner, while Yann Ehrlacher and Andy Priaulx represent Cyan Performance Lynk & Co. Björk, Muller and Priaulx have eight FIA World Touring Car titles between them, while Ehrlacher, Muller’s nephew, is regarded as a future champion.

Nine Ningbo rookies on the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID
Nine members of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID will be Ningbo International Speedpark rookies when WTCR Race of China takes place. Opening for business in 2017, the track hosted WTCC Race of China in the October of that year before staging WTCR Race of China last September. The nine drivers yet to sample the 4.010-kilometre layout are: Mikel Azcona, Augusto Farfus, Daniel Haglöf, Johan Kristoffersson, Niels Langeveld, Benjamin Leuchter, Tiago Monteiro, Andy Priaulx and Attila Tassi.

Eighteen races, 11 winners and a tightly-poised title tussle
Eleven drivers have won races in 2019, while all seven customer racing brands have celebrated race victories to underline another hugely competitive WTCR / OSCARO season. Click here to view the provisional 2019 standings and here’s a reminder of the key statistics so far:

Races: 18
All-season drivers: 26
All-season teams: 13
Wildcards: 3
Customer racing brands represented: 7
Nationalities in action: 15
FIA world title winners competing: 7
Most wins: 3 (Thed Björk, Néstor Girolami)
Most podiums: 7 (Esteban Guerrieri)
Most DHL pole positions: 2 (Nicky Catsburg, Esteban Guerrieri, Norbert Michelisz)
Most fastest laps: 3 (Frédéric Vervisch)
Most laps led: 35 (Esteban Guerrieri)
Most points scored: 231 (Esteban Guerrieri)
Most TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy wins: 1 (Mikel Azcona, Mehdi Bennani, Rob Huff, Johan Kristoffersson, Benjamin Leuchter, Ma Qinghua)
Most retirements: 5 (Yann Ehrlacher, Augusto Farfus, Attila Tassi)
Least retirements: 0 (Mikel Azcona)

Welcome to the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID
The #WTCR2019SUPERGRID celebrates the fact that of the 26 all-season racers, seven have won 14 FIA world titles, while the others have shared 29 major championships between them.

Gabriele Tarquini, who began his world title defence with the Race 2 win at the season-opening WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco, carries the number 1 on his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. The hugely-experienced Tarquini took his second victory of 2019 when he beat team-mate and home hero Norbert Michelisz in the third race in Hungary.

After missing out on the inaugural WTCR / OSCARO crown by three points in a seven-way title decider in Macau last November, four-time world champion Yvan Muller is back in a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China. He broke his WTCR / OSCARO podium duck at the Hungaroring but is still chasing his first 2019 win.

Thed Björk partners Muller at Cyan and started his bid for a second FIA world crown by giving Lynk & Co an historic victory in Morocco. After the Hungary and Slovakia weekends proved frustrating in comparison, the Swede hit back in style with a win double in The Netherlands. Like team-mate Muller, Björk was a Ningbo winner last season.

Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport Golf GTI TCR), the 2012 WTCC champion, is one of 12 of the 15 winners from 2018 returning in 2019. After a challenging start to the season, the Briton came close to a Race 2 podium in Slovakia and showed more form in the three events that followed.

BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus, ex-FIA World Rallycross ace Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen) and Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are all world title winners and new to WTCR in 2019, with Kristoffersson now a winner following his Race 2 triumph at the Nürburgring Nordschleife where Farfus bagged a first podium.

Winner of Race 1 in Marrakech, Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR), topped the standings after Race 1 in Hungary only for his challenge to unravel when broken steering caused his Race 3 crash. He made amends with a fighting second place in Race 2 at the Slovakia Ring and retook top spot in the title table by winning Race 2 at Zandvoort. He starts WTCR Race of China at Ningbo, where he won in 2017, with a 24-point lead.

Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport) had high hopes of his first 2019 win in Hungary when he lined up on the reverse-grid Race 2 pole. But a clutch issue meant a sluggish start resulting in the Frenchman settling for second ahead of impressive newcomer Daniel Haglöf (PWR Racing). Vernay made his Ningbo debut in 2018, while Haglöfis a track rookie.

Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and Comtoyou Racing pair Niels Langeveld and Frédéric Vervisch complete the Audi-powered attack with Vervisch winning in Slovakia – the result of an impressive charge from ninth on the grid – and taking a podium double in Germany. In his first season in WTCR / OSCARO, Langeveld is making progress and upping his pace at every turn. Shedden won in China last season, albeit on the streets of Wuhan.

A number of exciting young guns are aiming to challenge the established order in 2019. They include Mikel Azcona, who has graduated to WTCR as the TCR Europe champion to race a PWR-run CUPRA, and his close rival in recent seasons, Attila Tassi, the 20-year-old Honda-powered KCMG driver. Although Vila Real was unchartered territory for both, Tassi took the DHL Pole Position for Race 3, while Azcona scored a breakthrough win in Race 2. Ningbo is new for both.

Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne) and Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are already winners in WTCR, but at 25 and 23 respectively, they remain among a list of talented youngsters that also includes Aurélien Panis, who has switched to CUPRA power for 2019 with Comtoyou Team DHL CUPRA Racing. Ex-single-seater racer Ceccon scored a podium brace in Slovakia, while Ehrlacher led and was the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver in Vila Real.

Tom Coronel partners Panis at Comtoyou and has been on form in TCR Europe events of late. Fellow Dutchman Nicky Catsburg (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team) is new to WTCR in 2019 having triumphed in the World Touring Car Championship in the past. Benjamin Leuchter made the most of his Nordschleife knowledge to score an emotional home victory in Germany. Ningbo is a trip into the unknown for the SLR Volkswagen driver.

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami, another series newcomer for this year, is also a WTCC race winner having taken the spoils in the Ningbo rain in 2017 and topped the title standings after claiming his third WTCR / OSCARO victory in Slovakia. Having become the first Chinese to score WTCR points last season, Shanghai-based Ma Qinghua made more history as the first Chinese driver to win a WTCR / OSCARO race when he triumphed in Race 3 at the Slovakia Ring in his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce by Romeo Ferraris.

Tiago Monteiro starts his first full season since serious head and neck injuries ended his hopes of winning the WTCC title in 2017. The Portuguese, a Formula One podium finisher in the past, joins Hong Kong-based KCMG to race a Honda Civic Type R TCR and arrives in Ningbo a winner following his momentous victory at the last round in Vila Real. Monteiro’s former team-mate, Norbert Michelisz, is another title contender for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse after winning in Germany and in Portugal. Mehdi Bennani is playing catch-up in the WTCR / OSCARO standings but was on form in Ningbo last season.

They said what? WTCR drivers on the Ningbo challenge
This is what some of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID members have had to say about the Ningbo International Speedpark ahead of WTCR Race of China.

Thed Björk (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co): “Ningbo is very technical but there are some good places for overtaking and I like it. I believe the races will be good and that’s also important for the people who will come to watch. We’ve had some changing weather in the past and that can mean even more action. With the title battle so tight, it’s going to be really interesting. It’s our home event and when it’s the home event it’s always very important and we hope as many people as possible from Lynk & Co in China will be watching us. The expectation is high.” Click here for full Q&A.

Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport): “It’s very challenging and technical in almost every part. There is a triple right-hander in sector one, which is going up after a left. It’s very difficult going uphill and then downhill and it’s difficult to get right. Then in the last sector there is a downhill where you have a blind corner. The front-right of the car stays in the air but the front-left of the splitter always brushes the surface. Because you have a lot of corners that are connected one after the other, if the car is washing away at the front it’s difficult to point it in the direction you want to go so you need a good front end.” Click here for full Q&A.

Ma Qinghua (Team Mulsanne): “It’s a difficult circuit with a lot of direction changes. It’s not high-speed but there are a lot of technical corners. The set-up is going to be a lot of lose and gain and you have to balance in between. This presents the biggest headache for everyone, but for me I am comfortable and looking forward to drive my Alfa Romeo on this track. But I am not trying to think of the pressure, the spectators, being in China for my home race. I am trying to enjoy, to fight, and just focusing on the pure racing, not thinking of too much.” Click here for full Q&A.

All you need to know about WTCR Race of China

THE ESSENTIALS

Rounds: 19-21 of 30
Venue: Ningbo International Speedpark
Date: 13-15 September 2019
Location: Yanhai Middle Road, Chuanxiao, Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Length: 4.010 kilometres
Time zone:GMT +8 hours

Race 1 distance: 13 laps (52.130 kilometres)
Race 2 distance: 13 laps (52.130 kilometres)
Race 3 distance: 16 laps (64.160 kilometres)

WTCR qualifying lap record:
Thed Björk (Hyundai i30 N TCR), 1m50.371s (130.70kph), 30/09/18
WTCR race lap record:
Thed Björk (Hyundai i30 N TCR), 1m51.640s (129.30kph), 30/09/18

THE CHALLENGE

Located in Chunxiao in the rapidly-expanding Beilun coastal development near Ningbo – a major port and industrial city with a population of more than seven million – in Zhejiang province, the track opened in time for WTCC Race of China in October 2017 following more than a year of construction work at a cost of 950-million CNY (122 million euros). Around 500 people were involved in turning what was a disused quarry into a state-of-the-art venue, which is built to FIA and FIM Grade 2 standards. It runs in an anti-clockwise direction, is between 12-18 metres in width and features 21 turns.

FIVE NINGBO FACTS

1: Ningbo is one of two tracks on the WTCR / OSCARO calendar to run in an anti-clockwise direction. Circuit Moulay El Hassan, venue of WTCR Race of Morocco, is the other.
2: Opening in 2017, it’s the work of Alan Wilson, a designer of more than 20 circuits worldwide.
3: Nine of the 26 drivers contesting WTCR Race of China have no experience of the Ningbo circuit.
4: Ningbo’s 4.010-kilometre layout, which is between 12-18 metres in width, features 21 corners.
5: Thed Björk holds Ningbo’s qualifying and race lap records, standards set driving a Hyundai i30 N TCR in September 2018.

Provisional key timings (all GMT +8 hours and subject to change):

Friday 13 September
Free Practice 1: 17h00-17h45
Pre-event press conference (Media Centre): 18h05

Saturday 14 September
Free Practice 2: 09h00-09h30
First Qualifying: 11h00-11h30
First Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 11h30-11h40 (estimated)
Autograph session: 12h30-13h20 (Fan Zone behind grandstand)
Race 1: 15h40 (13 laps)
Race 1 podium: 16h15 (estimated)
Race 1 press conference (Media Centre): 16h30 (estimated)

Sunday 15 September
Second Qualifying Q1: 09h00-09h20
Second Qualifying Q2: 09h25-09h35
Second Qualifying Q3: 09h40 (first car starts top five DHL Pole Position shootout)
Second Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 09h45-10h00 (estimated)
Autograph session: 10h00-10h15 (Fan Zone behind grandstand)
Race 2: 14h30 (13 laps)
Race 2 podium: 15h10 (estimated)
Race 3: 15h50 (16 laps)
Race 3 podium: 16h35 (estimated)
Race 2/3 press conference (Media Centre): 16h50 (estimated)


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