Wellingborough [UK] – Wednesday 4th November 2015: The Twlight Saga…
Chevrolet RML Cruze right on the pace
Chilton finishes 4th and wins Yokohama Trophy in race 2
Another step forward in pace for John Filippi
Twilight race 2 stopped for bad light
The WTCC road show landed in Thailand for the first event at the shiny new Chang International Circuit in Buriram.
The first FIA Grade 1 circuit in Thailand seemed well suited to the RML Cruze, the fleet bolstered to seven cars at this penultimate round of the series as Thai touring car champion, Tin Sritrai made his WTCC debut with Campos Racing.
Free practice sessions were held on Saturday with qualifying and both races being held on Sunday. Race two was to be the first twilight race in WTCC history – more of that inspired plan later…
Practice threw up some interesting folks in interesting places as both Tom Chilton and John Filippi looked strong. For the young Frenchman it was another indication of real progress being made as he ended the day just 5/1000ths behind his teammate Hugo Valente in P7. At the other end of the spectrum, poor Tom Coronal never really got confident with his braking and ended up P17, just ahead of debutant, Sritrai.
Sunday qualifying got underway at 10:00, with the track expected to heat up dramatically as the day went on.
Campos’ lead Frenchman, Hugo Valente could have been the star of qualifying but it was yet another case of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Having breezed through Q1, Hugo unfortunately got held up by his own team mate, Filippi, who himself had been sent out too late by the team… In fact Valente’s predicted best lap would have been good enough to secure pole position, if only he had got through to Q3 to prove it – he ended up a frustrated P6 (albeit still only 3/10ths of pole). For his part Filippi had also been compromised as he met most cars on the out lap of their second runs losing 1.5 seconds… An excellent P3 in Q1 was good for the Corsican’s ego; P11 at the end of qualifying was not.
Chilton looked comfortable and quick all through and was a little disappointed with P8, ahead of a subdued Demoustier in P14 and an increasingly frustrated Dutch Tom in P15. At least he made it as poor Stefano D’Aste missed Q1 with a turbo wastegate problem and Sritrai fell foul of weighbridge procedures.
Race 1 was held at 1615 local time and it was hot. Unfortunately by 1616 we had 3 damaged Chevrolets, with Cornonel and Valente out and Chilton on borrowed time.
At the start, Valente got off the line poorly, to come under immediate pressure from Monteiro, Chilton and the aggressive Filippi. He held station well to keep in P6 as they headed out of turn 1.
Further back Tom Coronel’s frustrations boiled over as he attempted to out brake two Ladas and a Honda into turn 1 – it didn’t end up well…. In a blur of yellow paint the Ladas and Chevrolet exited stage left before being invited to race control.
This was all missed by Greg Demoustier who made a very slow getaway to fall behind Tin Sritrai.
Toward the front the inherent pace of the Cruze saw both Hugo and Tom easily fend off Michelisz and things started to look good for a (very) short time. Coming out of the first of the double left handers Monteiro on the outside and just behind Valente came over toward the Campos Cruze, squeezing Chilton who was in the middle – Hugo got spun around whilst the Honda and Tom incurred damage that was to end the Briton’s race a few laps later. Muller also retired on the spot and Michelisz limped around to retirement after also piling into the carnage.
Cue a five lap safety car to clean up the mess. On the restart, Chilton latched onto the lead quartet of Citroen’s and was looking strong for another 5 laps before his inevitable retirement.
Just behind, Filippi was also looking strong and at the end of the 1km long back straight, John made a very late dive inside Tarquini to go P6. It was a brave move but a little impulsive as the wily former Champion held his line. The lightest of touches at just the wrong angle snapped the front left steering arm and causing the 4th Cruze retirement…
Picking up the pieces were D’Aste who was giving Monteiro a hard time for P8 and Demoustier who had caught and passed Sritrai to latch onto the back of the Munnich Motorsport Cruze, finishing in P9. Tin’s top debut ended in P10 and an excellent first ever World Championship point for a Thai driver.
The very brief gap between races ensured the demise of the, for once, not too popular Coronel, two of the Ladas and the fast but luckless Valente for race 2.
Race 2 was due to start at 1720, leading us into the first twilight race in WTCC history.
Chilton got good start from P3 to hold into turn 1 behind Michelisz and Monteiro. In the absence of Valente, Demoustier made a good start only to be forced wide by spinning Citroens at turn 1 but held onto P9. Filippi and D’Aste snuck through on the inside as Chilton chased the two lead Hondas.
By lap 4 Loeb was looking to get past and pulled off a great move on the lead Cruze, leaving Tom to fight with Ma, Tarquini, Lopez, Huff and Benani in a fierce train, looking great with lights and brake discs glowing under the increasing darkness.
Not far back at all, Stefano resumed his race 1 battle with Demoustier all over the back of the black Cruze and Sritrai once again in impressively close attendance. By this stage Filippi was starting to drop back with handling issues as a result of his race 1 clash.
Back at the front all of Chilton’s hard work was lost as he out braked himself and gifted 3rd place to Ma. A lap later Tom was then unceremoniously (but not unsurprisingly) pushed wide by Tarquini which seemed to rattle the Cruze driver as he lost further places to Huff and Benanni in quick succession.
However all of this happened just before the red flag was brought out, apparently for poor light…. But there was a further twist to the Saga as the results were set on countback, elevating Tom once again to 5th position on track, and 4th off track as the winning Honda was excluded for a technical infringement. This also pulled D’Aste up to a combative P9, ahead of Tin Sritrai who became the second Thai to score a World Championship point behind himself in race 1, a disappointing Demoustier who never really got going all weekend and Filippi who definitely did get going this weekend before it turned pear shaped when he hit Tarquini in race 1.
More repair work now ahead of the last round of WTCC 2016 in Qatar on 19/20 November. Now this IS a night race so hopefully poor light won’t stop play this time…