Wellingborough [UK] – Wednesday 30th September 2015: Valente and Filippi Top the Chevy’s
Filippi shines in the smog of Shanghai
Cruze’s magnetic attraction causes carnage in the ranks
Just over a week after getting back to Europe from Japan, the Chevrolet RML Cruze teams, drivers and RML support personnel were once again on a plane heading back out East, this time to smoggy Shanghai and the impressive Shanghai International Circuit.
With its very long back straight SIC was going to pay a premium on straight line speed, helped in part by a good exit from the preceding long and banked right hand corner. Unfortunately only 50% of the Cruze drivers actually got to fully experience the circuit in race trim – more of that later.
A big crash in the local GT event on Saturday caused major damage to the barriers, postponing WTCC’s scheduled qualifying until Sunday morning.
Every new circumstance offers opportunity and this was well taken by John Filippi who got through to Q2 for the first time and secured an impressive 7th place on the grid for race 1.
Unfortunately every new circumstance can also trip people up and this was well demonstrated by Tom Chilton who stayed in bed too long (alarm clock failure..) and arrived at the circuit just minutes before Q1 was about to commence. To immediately go out and set a P2 lap was impressive, although that was as good as it got, as Tom couldn’t get any more bite into the tyres as the session heated up.
So getting out of Q1 was the aforementioned Filippi in a racy P8 and the more expected Valente in P9. Disappointingly neither of the ROAL Cruze’s made it, with “Dutch” Tom in P11 and “Tired” Tom in P13. Greg Demoustier was again showing improved speed just 4/100s, but 4 places behind Hugo and D’Aste was a little cast adrift in P17.
Before we continue here, no one got into Q3 (which was a surprise as the Cruze looked to have real pace on occasions all weekend), so we had to be content with celebrating John Filippi’s excellent run into P7, missing out on Q3 by less than 2/10ths. Hugo was P10, which was very handy as this put him on pole for race 2 – more of that later too!
Race 1 looked good for the first 300m and then it turned nasty. Catsburg’s Lada made a poor start but much better than Ma’s Citroen who almost stalled and Hugo, who did stall… a blessing one might say as all hell broke loose in turns 2 and 3.
Filippi made a fair start and was moving around the outside of turn 1 in P6 with the faster starting Coronel on the inside. The Corsican was keen to tuck in for the left hander and optimistically came across the bows of the DHL Cruze, only to be tipped into a spin in the middle of turn 2. Tom and Tom both pilled in, helped by punts from behind.
As the safety car came out, ROAL’s yellow Cruze was sat on top of its sheered right rear wheel whilst the battered red and black ROAL Cruze limped back to the pits with water and oil tanks fluttering in the breeze. Both cars would be out for the rest of the meeting… Having also been collected by Chilton, Filippi’s Oscaro car joined the unplanned parade of wounded Cruze’s..
Just ahead, “bad boy Tarquini” was beating Huff’s Lada up, causing another retirement and allowing Greg and Stefano up into P8 and P10 respectively as the cars slowed behind the safety car. Meanwhile, after his stall Valente had ambled onto the back of the train as the cars waited for the recovery tractor to inflict more damage to Coronel’s car and for the track to clear.
Lap 6 and they were away with Greg aggressively battling with local boy Ma over P7 as Hugo sliced past Monteiro and then D’Aste. Demoustier got out-manouvered under braking at the end of the long straight, ultimately falling into the clutches of Hugo. The magnetic effect of Cruze on Cruze meant a subsequent and almost enevitable clash of wheels, forcing Greg’s retirement on lap 10 with suspension damage!
The depleted field came in with Valente failing to hold off a quickening Monteiro in P8 with Stefano also scoring World Championship points in a distant P9.
From the gloom of race 1, and despite a depleted turnout of Cruze’s, race 2 offered high hopes of a win or podiums with Hugo on pole and John sitting proudly in P3.
Valente made a good start and fought the drag race down to turn 1 with Tarquini, losing the initial launch but then expertly slicing inside the veteran Italian as they turned in, getting ahead on the brakes as the corner tightens into turn 2.
However that was as good as it got as Tarquini (nickname from race 1 applies here also..!) aggressively nudged Hugo firstly into a left lock slide round turn 2 and then a right lock slide as the leader headed into turn 3. Before sprinting off, the Honda gave a side swipe for good measure leaving the battered Cruze behind Muller and Lopez in 4th as the field headed to the chicane.
Clearly annoyed, Hugo flew around the outside of both Citroens in a flash and back into 2nd place. Unfortunately as the Campos Cruze came back on line it clipped the front right on the lead Citroen of Muller and broke the left rear suspension, spinning spectacularly and frustratingly into retirement.
Just behind, John had also made a good start and was fighting hard in 5th, enjoying battling at the front with another of RML’s World Champion drivers, Huff.
As the race settled down Filippi started to fall into the clutches of Monteiro and got mugged at the end of the straight by the wily Portuguese ex F1 driver. Battling to hold his ground the Corsican lost 2 more places before D’Aste also arrived on the scene and scrabbled past a couple of laps later.
Finally coming to life after a lacklustre quali and race 1, Stefano then put his head down and set off after Ma’s Citroen, the Munnich Cruze showing some real pace before succumbing to a front left puncture and retirement.
As the race entered its closing stages, Filippi dropped away from Bennani and Lapierre but stayed ahead of Michelisz to score another World Championship point in 10th, with a closing Demoustier finishing right on the tail of this battle in P12.
The battered and bruised flotilla of Cruzes now head for the new challenge of Buriram in Thailand next month. Let’s hope some sanity breaks out in the WTCC paddock.