Wellingborough [UK] – Tuesday 15th September 2015: Home of the rising Valente
Valente finishes second in Race Two
Podium number four for Chevolet RML Cruze in 2015
Demoustier finds pace as Chilton and Valente close in on Yokohama Trophy
After a two month break the teams unloaded the sea freight, as the WTCC paddock reunited north of Tokyo at the Honda built Motegi circuit for the first of the four flyaway rounds that conclude the 2015 World Championship with a night race at Losail, Qatar in October.
RML’s calculations indicated that Motegi was to be hard on brakes, with good traction being a pre-requisite to a fast lap time.
Unsurprisingly it was Honda territory, plus with all of the factory teams having utilised the break to conduct some intensive test programmes, it was expected that the Cruze’s status as the second fastest car could be under threat.
The opening salvos of Qualifying 1 were promising with Valente P3, Tom Coronel-san in P6, English Tom in P7 and Greg Demoustier showing good early pace in P8. Unfortunately the rising sun rose too quickly for Tom-san as he missed his final run, dropping out of Q1 and consigning himself to 15th place on the grid for both races. He was not happy.
Chilton and Valente (just) got into Q2, with Demoustier just missing out followed by Filippi and D’Aste.
Q2 was looking good for a while with Tom and Hugo initially fighting over P6 only for Tom to lose his best time due to a track limits infringement and inadvertently handing race 2 pole to his closest rival and fellow Chevy runner.
Race day was again warm (25C) with the threat of a little rain later.
Both leading Chevys of Tom and Hugo got good starts and were pushing the Citroens of Loeb, Ma and Bennani hard with the rest of the field in close attendance. Tom then squeezed inside Hugo at the double apex right hander, just as Hugo was thinking of making a move of his own. After half a lap of side by side entertainment, Tom then left the door open at the end of the lap, letting Hugo back past.
Not far behind Demoustier was in P13 fighting Monteiro, with Tom-san just in front in his own battle with the Ladas before disaster struck as the DHL yellow Cruze went straight on, spinning around to back into the tyres. A lap later, the exact same thing happened again as his ROAL team mate also went straight on. ROAL set about investigating the cause of the problem between races, which appears to be unique to the Italian run cars.
This left Hugo in his own fight in P8 ahead of Huff and Monteiro, with Greg Demoustier hounding Lapierre’s Lada, the former Toyota LMP1 works driver and 2015 LMP2 Le Mans 24 hour winner, realising how competitive WTCC is.
As the race panned out, Hugo started to struggle and a mistake allowed Huff past, with Monteiro following a lap later. Behind Valente in P10, Demoustier finished P12 with John Filippi getting the better of Stefano D’Aste in P13 and P14.
It is often the case that when it rains just ahead of a race, drivers rub their hands at the opportunity that is about to be taken. However when you are on pole in a 380bhp front wheel drive oversteer biased touring car, you don’t need the hassle.
Actually the rain stopped and the circuit was dry again when Valente set off from pole for race 2. And he made a pretty good start too, only for Monteiro to squeeze past on the run into turn 1. Hugo tucked into P2 as the pack loaded up under braking, all 5 leading cars touching, with the Campos Cruze’s rear wheels being lifted off the ground.
By lap 8 the ROAL twins were P8 and P9 with D’Aste in touch in a fighting 11th from the back, ahead of Demoustier, Filippi and Benenni.
At the front, Valente had been comfortably holding off Muller’s Citroen, only for the title challenger’s challenge to disappear with a loose bonnet. This left Hugo to cruise home to score his second podium of the season.
All Chevys looked stronger in race 2, with Chilton and Coronel (Tom-san) finally coming through into P6 and P7, with their braking issues being managed, if not totally resolved. In fact Chilton was flying toward the end, closing in on battle for 3rd between Huff, Ma and Loeb.
Charismatic Italian, Stefano D’Aste, got up into an excellent P9 to score well earned World Championship points, with the racy Demoustier losing time through a mistake and falling behind John Filippi, who himself just missed out on the final point in 11th.
The WTCC circus now heads to Shanghai in two weeks time.