Wellingborough [UK] – Monday 30th November 2015: Bright lights of the Desert
Cruze finishes 2015 as 2nd fastest car across the season
Valente pushes Citroens hard again
Filippi fast but loses opportunity to shine
For the second event in succession the World Touring Car Championship entered new territory. From the excellent facilities of the Burriram circuit in Thailand to the impressive Losail international circuit in Qatar.
The desert state of Qatar was not only hosting a WTCC event for the first time but the season’s finale and the first ever WTCC night race.
With cars prepped before they left Thailand, Campos took advantage of a special FIA dispensation to give new driver Nasser Al Attiyah some seat time ahead of his WTCC debut.
Free practice sessions gave the paddock a first indication that the RML Cruze would be a very competitive proposition around the flowing medium speed circuit. Stefano D’Aste, Greg Demoustier, John Filippi and Hugo Valente all sat at or near the top of the lap times ahead of qualifying.
There was a lot to consider for mechanics, engineers and drivers alike with two night races, FP3 and qualifying all taking place on Friday. The temperature drop from the mid afternoon sun of qualifying to a 9pm race 1 start just added to the final stresses of a long and hard season not to mention Wednesday’s floods (yes floods in the desert….).
With overtaking difficult, qualifying was as important as ever, which was a pity for ROAL Motorsports’ English Tom not even able to get out of Q1 and complaining of understeer. Just ahead D’Aste and Demoustier also didn’t find the speed of earlier sessions, Stefano missing Q2 by under 2/10th. At the back but impressively only 5/10ths behind Chilton was Nasser in his first ever qualifying session.
In Q2, Hugo was the only driver really pushing Lopez at the front, staying within 2/10ths, looking strong and showing the true pace of the Cruze. Coronel was having a less troubled time than of late and used his pace to aim for reverse grid front row, which he did successfully, but missing out to John Filippi by 2/1000ths who secured the race 2 pole.
Q3 was tense but ultimately a little disappointing as Valente made a couple of small errors to end up 4th, allowing the Citroens of Bennani and Loeb to get ahead.
As the sun gave way to an oil black sky, the circuit’s lights created a slightly surreal atmosphere as the class of 2015 lined up. A good sized crowd were making their allegiances known as both Nasser and Bennani were cheered onto the grid.
Hugo got a good start and held position into the first corner. With the car’s pace good and what is usually the most difficult part of his race successfully executed, the Campos garage looked on with some anticipation. It wasn’t long before the #7 Cruze was past Loeb into 3rd and thinking about Benanni in 2nd.
Behind the leading group final Q3 runner Catsburg was leading a gaggle in 9th, the order was Lada, D’Aste, Lada, Coronel, Lada, Chilton with Filippi a few lengths behind. Dutch Tom was struggling however, a leaking oil cooler spraying oil onto his left tyre and was dropping back from his promising start.
English Tom was much quicker than Huff ahead, dropping back and closing up at will. It was becoming apparent however that the Losail circuit was proving to be a hard one to overtake on as lap after lap ticked off with the train circulating in stalemate.
As the race drew to a conclusion, Hugo had dropped back a little from Bennani in 2nd during the mid part of the race but had comfortably repelled the efforts of Loeb to get an excellent podium spot and 2nd fastest race lap confirmed the Cruze’s pace.
D’Aste was flying all through, setting 6th fastest race lap in 10th only to be hit with a drive through for a jumped start. Oily Tom was 11th which was a great drive in trying circumstances, with fast but not so furious Tom finishing 13th ahead of Filippi.
Nasser hung onto the coat tails and lapped within 3/10th of Chilton to finish 16th whilst Demoustier retired 1 lap before the end.
After research, the short break between races is designed to avoid the TV viewers wandering off to the shops and missing race 2. It might work in the living rooms of the world, but it didn’t work for Coronel as the ROAL mechanics toiled to effect repairs. The yellow Cruze ended up starting from the pit lane, unfortunately missing another front row start.
On the grid, John Filippi’s Oscaro sponsored Cruze was all alone on the front row. The young Corscian looking confident but undoubtedly anxious. As the lights were about to go green the Cruze crept forward, stopped then went again. A good start but it was destined to grab the attention of the stewards a few laps later.
Into turn 1 Filippi rebuffed the attentions of Muller and led out of turn 1. He has been getting faster every race over the past 2 months, was this his chance to show it?
Sadly not as Catsburg went wide coming back across the bows of D’Aste exchanging left front with right rear, both retired on the spot and also caused Chilton to take avoiding action. With the Cruze stranded the safety car was deployed.
After 4 laps Filippi headed the restarting pack down the long main straight into turn 1. Behind Muller had got a tow but not enough to get alongside. John thought about defending then stuck to his normal line under braking. The hint of an invitation was too much for Yvan to ignore and by the time John had cancelled the party, the Citroen was into the side of the Cruze, pushing Filippi into a half spin and out of the lead. Worse was to come as the stewards announced a drive through for the jump start.
In the pack Valente was threatening in P6, Greg was lacklustre in P12 and Nasser was again impressive in P13, Coronel had taken advantage of the safety car to catch up from his pit lane start to go P14. The recovering Chilton was lapping quicker and catching, whilst Filippi had rejoined and was flying, going purple on every sector to be fastest man on track by lap 9.
By lap 10, both ROAL cars had got past the 3rd Campos car to join in behind Demoustier who was running a little better in P11 but dropping away from the Monteiro, Lapierre battle. Nasser tagged on and was lapping as quickly as the Toms, who in reality were lapping at Demoustier pace due to the lack of overtaking opportunities. The ROAL pair were content however, as the positions were enough to secure the Yokohama Teams Trophy for the 2nd year running.
A way back Filippi was still flying, 3rd fastest car on track, showing what might have been…
Statistics show the Cruze to be clearly the 2nd fastest car over one lap in a year showing some great performances but also a season of many missed opportunities.
The end of a long season and the second year of the Chevrolet RML Cruze customer car programme. A development programme had gained up to a second of performance through the year and the teams had learned more about how to get the best out of the Cruze, goodbye 2015, bring on 2016……