Muller is magic for Lynk & Co in China as WTCR / OSCARO title battle intensifies
*Cyan Racing Lynk & Co driver takes win double at Chinese brand’s home track *Michelisz leads on the #RoadToMalaysia following Race 2 triumph *Home hero Ma second on Saturday but denied in Sunday qualifying clash *Azcona, Ehrlacher and Tarquini also visit podium during action-packed weekend
FIA WTCR Race of China: Race report
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 19, 20 and 21 of 30, Ningbo International Speedpark, 13-15 September
Yvan Muller scored a win double for Lynk & Co on home soil to move firmly into the fight for the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO.
After winning Race 1 on Saturday, Cyan Racing-run Muller beat nephew and fellow Lynk & Co-powered driver Yann Ehrlacher to the victory in Race 3. And by finishing third in Race 2, Muller set a record for the most points scored in a single WTCR / OSCARO weekend with an impressive haul of 76 to make him the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver. He’s one point down on Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport) on the #RoadToMalaysia and 17 behind new leader Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse).
Team Mulsanne’s Ma Qinghua finished second to Muller in Race 1 but was denied a shot at more success on Sunday. After going fastest in Second Qualifying Q1, Ma was on a flying lap nearing the end of Q2 when he encountered a visibly slower Néstor Girolami.
Anxious not to lose time, Ma attempted to pass at the chicane only for Girolami to hold his line. There was contact, Ma spun out and the session was red flagged with the Alfa Romeo stranded. With no time left to improve his position, Ma was eliminated as Girolami progressed to Q3, although the Argentine was later penalised. After contact put him out of Race 2, Ma started Race 3 from the pitlane and had fought his way up to ninth position only to stop with more damage.
Norbert Michelisz beat his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team-mate Gabriele Tarquini to the Race 2 victory with Tarquini adding a second podium with third in Race 3. Michelisz thought he’d secured the reverse-grid DHL Pole Position for Race 2 only for Girolami’s demotion to promote Andy Priaulx into the all-important P10 instead.
Priaulx led relatively comfortably for several laps before he became embroiled in a titanic scrap with his Hungarian rival, which ended with hefty contact between the pair, one of several incidents in a hectic second race, after Priaulx’s Lynk & Co picked up a puncture and slowed suddenly.
Michelisz had earlier taken fourth in Race 1 ahead of Nicky Catsburg and Aurélien Panis. After retiring from Race 2, Panis took up his career-best second-row start in Race 3 to finish sixth behind Augusto Farfus and Thed Björk – who was fourth in Race 2 – after several hits dropped him back.
PWR Racing CUPRA driver Mikel Azcona was the best of nine Ningbo rookies with third in Race 1, while team-mate and joint team owner Daniel Haglöf was fifth in Race 2 and the winner of the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy. Attila Tassi took sixth for the Honda-powered KCMG in Race 2, while team-mate Tiago Monteiro crashed heavily in Race 3 following contact with Mehdi Bennani’s Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, albeit without injury.
RACE 3 REPORT: MULLER BEATS NEPHEW EHRLACHER IN LYNK & CO ONE-TWO
Yvan Muller catapulted himself into the heart of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO title battle with his second victory at WTCR Race of China in a dramatic Race 3.
The World Touring Car legend led from the DHL Pole Position to the chequered flag ahead of fellow Lynk & Co driver and nephew Yann Ehrlacher, while title rivals Norbert Michelisz and Esteban Guerrieri were among the many drivers not to make the finish. The trio are now separated by just 17 points after Muller set a new record for WTCR / OSCARO points scored in one weekend.
As Muller and Ehrlacher made a clean start at the Ningbo International Speedpark, there was immediate action behind them after 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, and the Hyundai spun into the barriers. Michelisz pitted, but was forced to retire.
The safety car was called upon to clear the damaged cars, with racing resuming on lap five. The next lap 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 pitwall by Mehdi Bennani’s Volkswagen Golf. Monteiro escaped injury, while Bennani would receive a drive-through penalty for the incident.
The safety car returned to the track as the cars of Langeveld and Monteiro were recovered, with the action resuming on lap 10. But not before Guerrieri had sensationally pulled off into retirement with a broken trackrod, the legacy of earlier contact. Following Michelisz's demise, this could have been a golden chance to regain the points lead he lost in Race 2.
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. Augusto Farfus emerged in third, but soon gave 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 made it three Lynk & Cos 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 team-mate Ma Qinghua had looked on track for an even more remarkable result after starting from the pitlane, 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 – 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.
RACE 2 REPORT: MICHELISZ CLAIMS VICTORY AND POINTS LEAD
Norbert Michelisz clinched a dramatic victory in the reverse-grid Race 2 to jump to the top of the WTCR / OSCARO standings after an incident-packed encounter.
A series of incidents on the first lap left long-time points leader Esteban Guerrieri in the barriers, while Michelisz came out on top in a battle with DHL Pole Position starter Andy Priaulx to win. The Hungarian now leads Guerrieri by 16 points in the WTCR / OSCARO title battle.
As Priaulx and Michelisz led the field away, a hectic first lap left six drivers out of the running. SLR Volkswagen’s Benjamin Leuchter, BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus and Tiago Monteiro were among them. But crucially so was Guerrieri, who was spun into the barriers, and Ma Qinghua’s Alfa Romeo ended up with broken suspension and heavy contact. Frédéric Vervisch was also out with gearbox problems.
A long safety car period was required to clear the track, during which light rain added more uncertainty. Once racing resumed on lap six, there was action down the field all the way to the chequered flag.
It was soon obvious that Priaulx was struggling to hold on to his first place as Michelisz piled on pressure, with Hyundai team-mate Gabriele Tarquini protecting his rear. Priaulx’s Lynk & Co clung on to the lead as Michelisz tried everything to get past until lap 12, when the three-time World Touring Car champion picked up a front-right puncture. That forced him to brake early and Michelisz hit him hard up the back, sustaining heavy damage to the Hyundai.
Tarquini now led, but in the interests of Michelisz’s title hopes soon allowed his team-mate to pass. The Hungarian nursed his damaged car to the flag, with Tarquini joining him on the podium.
Contact between Nicky Catsburg and PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf decided the final podium spot on the penultimate lap. It allowed Race 1 winner Yvan Muller through to finish third from P10 on the grid ahead of Lynk & Co team-mate Thed Björk. Haglöf recovered to finish fifth ahead of Attila Tassi, Rob Huff and Catsburg.
Door-to-door battles continued down the field, with Tom Coronel scoring good points in ninth ahead of Kevin Ceccon. Jean-Karl Vernay, Mehdi Bennani, Johan Kristoffersson, Gordon Shedden and Yann Ehrlacher were the other points finishers. Niels Langeveld was a non-starter with a gearbox issue.
RACE 1 REPORT: CHINA CHEERS AS MULLER GIVES LYNK & CO HOME WIN, MA SECOND
Yvan Muller and Ma Qinghua combined to make it a Saturday to remember for local fans at WTCR Race of China with Muller winning in a Chinese-built Lynk & Co 03 TCR and Shanghai-based Ma pushing him all the way as he battled to claim a home win.
Muller, starting from the DHL Pole Position, held off a race-long challenge from home hero Ma who couldn’t quite find a way past the Lynk & Co 03 TCR in his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR.
Frenchman Muller made a strong getaway from pole as PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona challenged Ma, but it was the Chinese driver who had the performance to push the leader. Ma kept Muller under pressure all the way to the flag in the 13-lap race at the Ningbo International Speedpark. Meanwhile, accepting the winning trophy for Muller’s team, Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, was Victor Yang, Vice President of Communications at Zhjiang Geely Holding Group.
Azcona completed the podium for PWR on his Ningbo debut, but the CUPRA TCR only just held off a late charge from WTCR / OSCARO title challenger Norbert Michelisz. Fourth place for the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse lifts him to just nine points behind series leader Esteban Guerrieri.
The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver endured a disastrous race after he accidentally triggered his fire extinguisher on the grid. That forced the Honda Civic Type R TCR, which was supposed to line up in P12, to start from the pitlane. Although the Argentinian rose to P19 in the race, that meant he failed to add to his season points tally.
Nicky Catsburg followed Michelisz home in fifth in his Hyundai, ahead of Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing’s Aurélien Panis who got the better of Augusto Farfus for sixth.
A poor first lap dropped SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson from fifth on the grid to eighth and that is where he finished. Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Niels Langeveld and SLR VW Motorsport’s Rob Huff completed the top 10, the Briton rising from P16.
Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch got the better of Andy Priaulx for P11, then held off a trio of Lynk & Cos to the flag. Priaulx was ordered to drop behind team-mates Thed Björk and Yann Ehrlacher. Néstor Girolami was the final points finisher in P15.
Inaugural WTCR / OSCARO title winner Gabriele Tarquini and PWR’s Daniel Haglöf, who had started P10, were the only non-finishers. Both pitted at the end of the first lap, Haglöf with visible damage to the front of his car.
RACE WINNER QUOTES
Race 1: Yvan Muller (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co), Lynk & Co 03 TCR
“It was very intense because I knew at the end of the race it would be complicated with our car because our car is heavy, so we are harder on the tyres. I was looking after the tyres all the way through. But at one point during the race I asked my engineer how many laps were left, and he told me six. I though oh shit, that will be long! And it was long, very long, even until the end and the last sector, but I was defending. Anything could happen. If there was one race to win this year it would have been this one because we are in China, driving a Chinese car and Geely Group are 10 minutes away from here. So, this was the race to win.”
Race 2: Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse), Hyundai i30 N TCR
“I was really in a position to overtake Andy at least two times. I was kind to him and then he puts a move like that. I don’t know what he was up to but to brake 150-200 metres before the corner with the energy he did that could not result in anything but a big crash and for me the fact they took this into account is a bit bad, it’s difficult to say. In the end I’m happy with the win and that the car survived the race because it had big damage. It was very difficult, I was very lucky to survive. You can see the left-front is totally destroyed, my right [tyre] is totally destroyed because I had to jump on the brakes. But I hope the guys will fix it for Race 3. After the last race can we talk about the standings.”
Race 3: Yvan Muller (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co), Lynk & Co 03 TCR
“I was already very satisfied yesterday with the pole and the victory. That was already enough to give me enough pleasure. This morning we were able to confirm the pole position, that was another satisfaction. Then Race 2, I was pleased to be P7 and my friends helped me to reach the podium, so that was another satisfaction! And then best was Race 3 with victory and with Yann and Gebriele. It’s probably the oldest podium of the year. A fantastic weekend, of course.”
Provisional results and standings:
What’s next? WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan, Suzuka Circuit, 25-27 October: