JOSÉ MARÍA LÓPEZ RETAINS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE!
– By claiming pole position and victory in Race 1, José María López secured his second successive FIA World Touring Car Championship title* with the Citroën Total team.
– The Argentine driver was joined on the podium by his teammates Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua, who also took second and third positions in Race 2.
– The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs had started the day in style by achieving the unprecedented feat of occupying the top five places in qualifying.
– The Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles may be sewn up, but Citroën is keeping up the suspense: Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb are now separated by just two points and will battle it out for the runner-up spot in Qatar.
With no real hierarchy having emerged after Saturday’s free practice sessions, the drivers turned up for qualifying needing to lay their cards on the table. Drawing on what they had learned the previous day, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC drivers took all five positions in Q3 for the first time! For the sixth time this season, José María López was the quickest man on show, followed by Sébastien Loeb, Yvan Muller, Ma Qing Hua and Mehdi Bennani in that order.
In late afternoon, the main stand of the Chang International Circuit was packed as the cars lined up on the starting grid. The weather conditions were extreme, with temperatures of 33°C, 60% humidity, and a track temperature of 45°C.
When the lights went out, José María López got off to a perfect start. He reached the first turn in the lead, followed by Sébastien Loeb, with Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller neck-and-neck behind them. Muller, as it turned out, would not make it much farther. After being run into by two other drivers, he was forced to return to the pits with a broken rear-end assembly. Mehdi Bennani took advantage to move up into third.
Once the safety car had been and gone, Ma Qing Hua got the better of the Moroccan driver, and there would be no further changes to the top four before the finish. Despite coming under constant pressure from Sébastien Loeb, José María López clinched his ninth race win of the season. In doing so, he scored the points he needed to secure a second consecutive FIA World Touring Car Championship title.
The celebrations would have to wait, however, as the drivers were immediately back out on track for Race 2. Once again, the start was a chaotic affair. Yvan Muller was forced to pull out at the very first turn after a collision with Ma Qing Hua. Michelisz led at the end of lap 1, with Monteiro, Chilton, Loeb, Ma and López in pursuit.
The race was full of incident, with plenty of overtaking. Sébastien Loeb gradually worked his way up the field into second spot. Picking up the pace, he was right on Monteiro’s tail when the red flag was brought out due to fading light.
Loeb, then, had to settle for second position, with Ma Qing Hua and José María López, who had both pulled off some impressive overtaking manoeuvres of their own, in third and fourth respectively.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Yves Matton, Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “After winning the Manufacturers’ World Championship in Shanghai, it is a great joy to see José María López claim another Drivers’ title. It is just reward for a season of consistently excellent performances. It might not be the most significant event of the day, but I will take away especially fond memories of our exploits in qualifying, where we took the top five places. With only five of our cars competing, that is pretty hard to beat! It shows the team spirit we have, which enables us to keep progressing and improving together. Race 2 ended in frustrating fashion, however: had the red flag not come out, Sébastien Loeb might have been able to push for victory.”
José María López: “I am so happy to have won this second World Championship title. Last year, people focused on the fact that mine was the first title for an Argentine driver since Juan Manuel Fangio. But this year, I’m thinking first and foremost about my family, who have sacrificed a lot for me to be able to come and race in Europe. I started my career at the age of 23. After all these seasons, my passion remains undiminished and retaining this World Championship title is a massive achievement. I would also like to thank the Citroën Racing team, who gave me a chance and have given me carte blanche to compete hard against my prestigious teammates. I think the standard has gone up a level this year. That is probably why I’m feeling even more emotional than I did in 2014. I want to savour this moment.”
Sébastien Loeb: “Congratulations to Pechito on another title! Working with him is a pleasure. We have had a great working relationship for nearly two years now. But beating him is just as hard as ever! I ended up with two podium finishes, so I’m happy with my day, but I’m a little frustrated too. Without the red flag, I could probably have gone after Tiago and challenged him for victory. I’m now right up there with Yvan in the championship standings. Anything is possible and I’ll be going to Qatar aiming for the World Championship runner-up spot!”
Yvan Muller: “It’s a good thing qualifying was scheduled for Sunday morning. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done much driving today! What can I say? Obviously, I’m disappointed to have ended up with two DNFs after two early-race collisions. But that is the nature of our sport. In any case, I was already out of the running for the championship. Congratulations to José on his title. He’s had the perfect season.”
Ma Qing Hua: “I’m happy for Pechito; he really deserves his title. He has been terrific this year, but I’m happy to be his teammate because I’m learning a lot from him. It was a tough day, with very small gaps between drivers. We put in a lot of work after qualifying and I was lucky enough to pick up two podium places in the races. That means I’m still sitting in fourth place in the overall standings, but I’ll have to keep pushing hard till the very end!”