Wellingborough [UK] – Wednesday 29th July 2015: It aint half hot Ma!
The heady mix of testosterone, oil and sun tan lotion cause fireworks in Vila Real
WTCC creates a festival fever as 180,000 fans attend over three days
The WTCC paddock arrived in a very warm Vila Real in Portugal for the last European round of the 2015 season.
Many Chevrolet RML Cruze drivers had stayed on at Paul Ricard for a day of some much needed testing. However any improvement in set up and understanding of the Cruze was hampered by a difficult and often frustrating qualifying for some, particularly the ROAL pairing, with Tom Coronel being blocked on his best lap by the Citroen of Ma and Tom Chilton having his worst session for a long time. Stefano D’Aste was also held up at a critical time. It was left for Hugo Valente to once again get his Cruze into Q3 with a stunning 3rd fastest time.
Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem around circuit with a top speed of ever 150mph. However this is Vila Real, one of the fastest and most daunting of street circuits. Very fast, even with a ridiculously tight chicane (it has three but only one deserved to be called ridiculous..), and almost impossible to pass on. Race day showed us that!
With an ambient of 30c and cockpit temperatures reaching 60c, race day was going to be all about keeping a cool head. As the lights went out, Hugo struggled to judge the clutch bite and get off the line cleanly, immediately being swamped by the Hondas and Citroens he had so expertly out qualified the day before. Determined to fight back, the young Frenchman immediately went for the aggressive defensive offensive approach in the opening 1km, rebuking Muller’s advances before damaging the front right suspension against Ma’s Citroen and heading immediately for the pits.
As Valente slowed, the other Cruzes, led by Coronel battled their way around the limping Campos car, so at the end of the first lap, there was the unusual phenomenon of no Cruzes in the top 10 – a first in the new TC1 era. However that didn’t stop the customer cars providing a great deal of the entertainment for the sell out crowd, with Dutch Tom heading the pack and challenging Bennani’s Citroen for most of the race. Behind Coronel, Stefano D’Aste was doing another great job in the Munnich car, hanging onto the train for 7th place. Originally a bike racer and former teammate of Valentino Rossi, Stefano clearly fills his race suit and always goes well on high risk circuits! A strangely subdued Tom Chilton followed some way behind and just ahead of a racy looking John Filippi and Greg Demoustier. The two young Frenchmen went on to enjoy a very tight battle with great defence from Filippi and great probing from Demoutier.
Up front Lopez had managed to get away as Valente struggled, leading Loeb and Michelisz over the line with Coronel pushing Benanni over the line, quick but frustrated.
Race 2 saw Hugo back on the grid in his repaired Cruze, starting better this time in 8th place and joining his fellow Cruze drivers in having a clean start. This lasted for approximately 400m as all hell had broken lose around row two as a fired up Montiero dived between the two slow starting Lada’s only to be squeezed and turned into the barrier. With bits of car everywhere the unlucky D’Aste got hit by a bouncing wheel (complete with upright attached) causing immediate retirement with a broken toe link.
After a six lap safety car period, racing was underway again with Valente putting Lopez under extreme pressure, nearly forcing his way around the outside into the first chicane. Overtaking was again almost impossible as positions 3 (Catsburg’s struggling Lada) to 7 (Hugo) were in a high speed snake, followed by another led by Huff followed by Bennani and Coronel. Tom was using all his experience and tried every which way to get past the Citroen. A few seconds back, Demoustier was ahead of Chilton and no doubt benefitting from the presence of RML alumni, Alain Menu as driver coach. Behind Tom was John Filippi who was pushing the normally rapid Briton hard.
After the long safety car the race had been extending by 2 laps to 15. This was too much for Catsburg who’s defence crumbled as he overshot the quick downhill right hander, inviting both Michelisz (on the inside) and Loeb (on the outside with D’Aste levels of bravery) attempting to enter the chicane three abreast. Michelisz made it, Loeb didn’t and the Lada went the other side of the roundabout rejoining just ahead of Valente who smelled blood. Sadly before Hugo could pounce, the Lada broke and speared into the barriers at high speed, bringing out the red flag.
The results were set on count back to the previous lap handing the win to the dominant Chinese driver Ma in his Citroen, followed by Muller, Tarquini, Michelisz and Lopez. Despite causing the red flag Catsburg retained his 6th place ahead of the lead Cruze in 7th??, followed by Huff, Benenni, a hot and bothered Coronel, Demoustier, Chilton and Filippi.
With the cars all heading to Antwerp for the long sea freight to Japan, all teams were grateful for relatively little damage, ready to fight another day.