The European portion of the FIA WTCC season ended in triumph for the Citroën Total team, which scored two one-two finishes in the streets of Vila Real.
Race one got underway just before lunch time, while the temperature began to rise in the streets of Vila Real. For José María López and Sébastien Loeb, the big unknown was the grip level of the starting grid, which isn’t part of the circuit’s racing line.
When the lights went out, Pechito managed to get the best launch ahead of Seb, and the two Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs pulled away from the rest of the field. Third on the grid, Valente blew his start and squeezed Yvan Muller, who was trying to get by on the inside. Ma Qing Hua took advantage to overtake Van Lagen and Castburg and close up to Valente… who then made contact with the Chinese driver! Valente dropped out a few minutes later and Ma Qing Hua was up to sixth place behind López, Loeb, Michelisz, Tarquini and Monteiro. Yvan Muller followed in seventh place.
As the laps ticked down, the gap between the leading drivers rose steadily. While Ma Qing Hua narrowed his deficit to Tiago Montiero late in the race, the positions stood pat all the way to the chequers. In triumphing for the sixth time of the season, José María López also scored maximum points, while Sébastien Loeb secured yet another one-two finish for the Citroën Total team.
Following a long break, the cars were back on the starting grid late in the afternoon. This time, Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller shared row one. Thanks to two perfect starts, the team mates led the way, while contact eliminated Van Lagen and Monteiro. The safety car was called into action to allow marshals to clear away the damaged cars.
When the race resumed, Ma held on to the lead in front of Muller, Catsburg, Tarquini, Michelisz, Loeb and López. While the two leading Citroëns pulled away, the chase group was tightly bunched due to the absence of overtaking opportunities on the Vila Real circuit.
On lap 10, Catsburg made a mistake, allowing Michelisz then Loeb to close the distance. But the three cars made contact under braking and Seb’s race ended prematurely in the tyre barrier! The race continued without the nine-time World Rally Champion, who also lost valuable points along the way.
Two laps later, Catsburg had a big shunt. His car was stopped on the racing line and the marshals made the wise decision to bring out the red flag. This didn’t alter the joy of Ma Qing Hua, who scored his first win in the FIA WTCC since Moscow 2014. Second, Yvan Muller helped Citroën to score maximum points over the weekend. Championship leader José María López picked up valuable points with his fifth place result in race 2!
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Yves Matton Team Principal Citroën Racing: “We end this first long portion of the season with everything looking strong; 14 victories in 16 races, our four drivers leading the World Championship and a nice lead for Citroën in the manufacturers standings… We are delighted with the performance of Ma Qing Hua, who solidified this increase in performance with a win. Our four drivers have all won this season, and we can head to the Asian swing with confidence.”
José María López: “While it may have looked easy from the outside, stringing together 13 laps on this circuit is a proper challenge. It was a real mystery for the start; we didn’t know how the car would react on this piece of the circuit. In the end, everything went well and I was able to keep my advantage over Seb. I had good pace and managed to pull away rather quickly. Then, I had to cope with the heat and look after my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I could feel the car suffering on the bumps and curbs. I had to stay focused all the way to the end! I am very happy to have won on such a demanding circuit. Race 2 was chaotic, but I managed to avoid the incidents to move from 10th to 5th place. With a 55-point lead with four meetings remaining, I am in an ideal situation!”
Sébastien Loeb: “Pechito and I both got a good start in race 1. It was a bit intense at the first chicane, because we made the same the mistake in exiting a little wide. Then, I tried to stay close, but it was hard due to the slipstream that created a little more under-steer for me. The gaps grew because Pechito was a little quicker. For my part, I tried to maintain a sufficient gap to Michelisz. I got a good start in race 2, by avoiding the accident in front of me. Then, a pack of cars formed and I couldn’t try very much. In a corner, I saw that Catsburg was nearly completely stopped. He got going, but Michelisz was in the midst of passing him on the inside. I came up on them way to fast and I couldn’t brake to stay behind them. I was trail braking and then I was hit on the right-rear; the car began to slide and came to rest in the tyres… The result isn’t very good for the championship. I was faster than Yvan, but the pure performance wasn’t rewarded.”
Ma Qing Hua: “I want to especially thank my team of engineers and mechanics. In betting on the reverse grid in qualifying, the objective was clearly to win race 2. Everything strung together nicely, with a perfect start and very good race pace. I was focused on not creating a possibility for Yvan to catch up to me. Even though the race ended with the red flag, it was a huge moment when I realized I had won. And it was an even bigger moment when I heard the Chinese national anthem on the podium. I am proud for my country and for Citroën, and I think that this new victory will be beneficial in the development of motor racing in China. “
Yvan Muller: “After a difficult time in qualifying, I couldn’t have hoped for much better this weekend. I am all the same satisfied to be on the podium. Ma Qing Hua was very fast in the race and he totally deserves his win. I tried to attack to threaten him, but it was to no avail. Even though the World Championship situation isn’t going my way, I haven’t given up and I will attack the second half of the season with the firm intention to catch up to Pechito!”
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