Qatar: Bennani and Tarquini are the stars as emotional Muller signs off from WTCC

Qatar: Bennani and Tarquini are the stars as emotional Muller signs off from WTCC
PODIUM during  2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail  from November 23 to 25 Qatar - Antonin Grenier / DPPI

PODIUM during 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail from November 23 to 25 Qatar – Antonin Grenier / DPPI

Losail International Circuit, 24-25 November -FIA World Touring Car Championship 2016: Rounds 21 and 22 of 22

Mehdi Bennani beat Thed Björk to his first Main Race victory on a highly emotional night at WTCC DHL Race of Qatar as Yvan Muller signed off from his record-breaking FIA World Touring Car Championship career with two top-six finishes to secure the runner-up spot behind champion José María López in the final points. Elsewhere, Gabriele Tarquini won the Opening Race for LADA, while Bennani’s triumph for Sébastien Loeb Racing gave Citroën WTCC win number 50. Tarquini scooped the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy but it was a frustrating night for Tiago Monteiro whose bid for second place in the end-of-term rankings faltered following Opening Race contact, although he still managed to hang on to third in the overall standings.

MULLER Yvan (fra) Citroen C Elysee team Citroen TOTAL WTCC  during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail  from November 23 to 25 Qatar - Photo Clement Marin / DPPI

MULLER Yvan (fra) Citroen C Elysee team Citroen TOTAL WTCC during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail from November 23 to 25 Qatar – Photo Clement Marin / DPPI

OPENING RACE REPORT: TARQUINI STILL WINNING IN THE WTCC

LADA’s Gabriele Tarquini scored a convincing WTCC win number 22 in the Opening Race. The Italian, who is searching for an alternative drive beyond this evening as his current employer focuses its motorsport activities on domestic competition next year, used his experience to pass Tom Chilton at the first corner on a restart and then pulled away to win by five seconds. The race had to be red-flagged following a first-lap off for Tiago Monteiro, whose Honda sustained broken rear suspension when Hugo Valente was unable to avoid clipping the wayward Civic. Valente pitted for repairs while José María López was momentarily delayed. At the restart, polesitter Chilton defended the inside line from Tarquini but ran deep, enabling the LADA driver to get ahead. Taking the WTCC Trophy win, Chilton spent the rest of the race defending from Honda driver Rob Huff, who went from fifth to third with an attacking start. Yvan Muller was fourth ahead of Norbert Michelisz and the Polestar Volvos of Thed Björk and Robert Dahlgren. Nicky Catsburg and López recovered to finish eighth and ninth, the Dutchman having lost ground on the first lap after contact from behind from Mehdi Bennani, who was handed a drive-through penalty and finished P16. James Thompson took P10 and second in the WTCC Trophy, just ahead of Hungarian youngster Dániel Nagy, who claimed his best WTCC finish to date.

START during  2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail  from November 23 to 25 Qatar - Antonin Grenier / DPPI

START during 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Championship race at Losail from November 23 to 25 Qatar – Antonin Grenier / DPPI

MAIN RACE REPORT: BENNANI KEEPS BJÖRK AT BAY FOR WTCC GLORY

Mehdi Bennani soaked up big pressure from Thed Björk to win the Main Race in Qatar, the final round of the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship. Starting from his maiden outright pole position, Bennani kept the lead at the start in front of José María López, who passed the Volvo of Björk. Behind that there was some fraught racing, with separate incidents between Tom Chilton and Robert Dahlgren and the LADA pair of Nicky Catsburg and Hugo Valente triggering a safety car. After the restart, Björk pulled off an impressing passing move on López and caught Bennani, looking to take a second win in as many events for Polestar Cyan Racing. The Moroccan kept the Swede at bay however with an error-free run to the chequered flag for his second win of the year in his Sébastien Loeb Racing-entered Citroën. López signed off from his multiple title-winning stint in the WTCC with Citroën with a podium finish in third. Norbert Michelisz passed Yvan Muller for fourth, which meant he was on course to beat Honda team-mate Tiago Monteiro to third in the championship. That was until Monteiro also found a way by Muller on the last lap to grab fifth, rewarding his Honda mechanics who did a great job to repair the Portuguese racer’s Civic after Opening Race damage. Muller finished his final race in the WTCC before his retirement in sixth ahead of Opening Race winner Gabriele Tarquini and Rob Huff. Tom Coronel and James Thompson took WTCC Trophy podiums behind winner Bennani.

SÉBASTIEN LOEB RACING HANDS TEAM CITRÖEN WTCC MAC3 JOY

Sébastien Loeb Racing completed a perfect afternoon in the Middle East as its three drivers secured victory for Team Citroën in the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s Manufacturers Against the Clock (WTCC MAC3) at WTCC DHL Race of Qatar. For the season finale, Citroën nominated the three SLR privateer drivers Mehdi Bennani, Tom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier to take part in the Tour de France-inspired team time trial. Fresh from claiming his maiden WTCC pole position in qualifying, Bennani led his team-mates Chilton – who earlier clinched Opening Race pole – and WTCC MAC3 debutant Demoustier to a time of 4m13.756s around two laps of the Losail International Circuit. “The Sébastien Loeb Racing drivers have helped us a lot during the year and give us a lot of points also for the manufacturers’ championship title so nominating their drivers was a way to thank them for the job they did this year,” said Citroën Racing director Yves Matton. With both Norbert Michelisz and Hugo Valente sustaining damage in qualifying, neither Honda or LADA was able to take part in WTCC MAC3. Citroën’s win, meanwhile, ties them for outright WTCC MAC3 victories this year with Honda, with both on five.

 

 

Gabriele Tarquini (Opening Race winner): “My car was very good especially on the first few laps and I discovered this just after the start. Unfortunately, I was on the dirty part on the inside and was not able to do a very good start. But on the first few corners I felt my car was working very good and probably better than Tom’s [Chilton]. On the restart I got the chance. I was completely on the outside, he went a little too long and I used my chance and this was key for the victory because on this track, especially with the sand around the kerbs, it’s very, very difficult to follow another car. After it was quite an easy race. My pace was very good and on a certain point I got an eight-second advantage. Then I thought it was probably better to slow down a little bit.”

 

Mehdi Bennani (Main Race winner): “For sure it was not an easy race for me today because I made it a hard life to try to keep Thed [Björk] in my back. I had one question today: you deserve it in qualifying because some people did a mistake but I deserved it in qualifying because I didn’t do a mistake. After I have to finalise this pole position because to get this result in Qatar in my second home race was like a dream. So I push to the maximum. I knew it would be very tough because it’s the Main Race and we have all very quick drivers. I know [José María] López is just behind, [Yvan] Muller, Thed, so it’s going to be very tough. And when I see at the start that José is already ahead of the Volvo I knew a big fight would start. After I tried to do 12 or 13 laps like qualifying and the only thing in my mind was I would win or I would put my car in the wall because I absolutely wanted to win this race.”

 

Yvan Muller (retiring WTCC legend): “Many things are in my mind right now, especially the big applause from the crowd and all the comment of the people. It was time for me to stop. Of course it’s a very emotional moment but everything has to end and I’m so pleased it’s happening now with all these guys who I have so much respect for. Okay we had some fights and trouble but at the end we were all friends with a lot of respect. That is also part of the sport I like. I have no regrets about my decision. This is my last press conference and I am pleased of it. For sure there are many things to do now. I will of course look after my team and my young drivers. I will keep going to coach them but the time I was spending as a driver I will be spending with my family and to see my children grow up. The last third of the time I will spend on something else and I will come back with a different hat but I won’t say what.”

RACE RESULTS: http://media.fiawtcc.com/ races-2016-overview/race-of- qatar-2016/

 

CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS: Provisional standings at http://media.fiawtcc.com/statistics

Race wins 2016: López 8; Bennani 3; Coronel, Monteiro and Tarquini 2; Björk, Catsburg, Chilton, Huff, Michelisz and Muller 1. Pole positions 2016: López 7; Bennani, Catsburg, Monteiro and Muller 1. Fastest laps 2016: López 8; Huff 3; Björk, Catsburg and Tarquini 2; Bennani, Chilton, Ficza, Muller and Valente 1. Laps led 2016: López 78; Huff 38; Bennani 37; Michelisz 34; Coronel 28; Catsburg 24; Tarquini 21; Monteiro 19; Chilton 17; Muller and Valente 6; Björk 1. All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 48; López 29; Huff 28; Menu 23; Tarquini 22. All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29; López 21; Tarquini 17; Menu 15; Farfus and Huff 11. All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38; López 29; Huff 27; Tarquini 24; Menu 20. All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 569; Huff 344; López 301; Menu 297; Tarquini 295

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