Yvan Muller won the third and final World Touring Car Cup race at Ningbo in China last weekend. The result mirrored his earlier success in the first race, and as such, he has jumped right back into contention for the overall championship.
The veteran started from the premier spot on the grid, with nephew – and teammate – Yann Ehrlacher alongside. Aurelien Panis made it a trio of Frenchmen at the front, but that chain was quickly broken by Nicky Catsburg who barged past upon entry to the first few corners.
Unfortunately though, the rough nature of the previous race had trickled into this one as well. At turn nine, Norbert Michelisz and Andy Priaulx came to blows, proving that lightning can indeed strike twice. Again, the former ran into the back of the latter, but this time there were no punctures involved, and it was Michelisz instead of Priaulx that came off worse.
The safety car was deployed, and as the dust settled, it had become clear that Jean-Karl Vernay was the reason why. As the cars left the starting grid, Vernay was one of a quartet of drivers who found out the hard way that you can’t fit that many cars into one section of track. As the circuit tightened, Frederic Vervisch squeezed Esteban Guerrieri towards the Cupra of Daniel Haglof. Haglof was pitched sideways after contact with the front-left quarter of Guerrieri’s car, at which point he speared into the side of an unlucky Vernay. The Audi was left mired in the gravel as a result, so recovery was needed.
Niels Langeveld was the next driver to drop out on lap five, before the safety car was then deployed a second time. On this occasion, it was Tiago Monteiro‘s car which needed to be recovered from the circuit. At the final corner, Monteiro and Mehdi Bennani made slight contact, but it was enough to send the Portuguese driver head-first into the pit wall. The stewards did not take kindly to this sort of behaviour, and promptly awarded Bennani a drive-through penalty for his troubles.
Crucially, Esteban Guerrieri then followed his title rival Michelisz into retirement. This race had been a huge chance to regain some of the points that he’d lost to the Hungarian over the course of the previous two, however luck simply wasn’t on teh Argentine’s side this time out.
Monteiro’s car was finally recovered from the track on lap ten, and as the race got back underway, Panis looked to regain the position he’d lost to Catsburg in the opening stages. The much-improved youngster made his move at turn six, but the ever-aggressive Catsburg defended his position well. This then opened the door for Gabriele Tarquini to pull alongside Panis on the run down to the hairpin.
Things soon turned sour for this group however, as Nicky Catsburg suffered a sudden puncture like Andy Priaulx had done in the race before. His entry to the hairpin was therefore compromised, and the Dutchman had to brake suddenly. Panis just about avoided making contact, but the same couldn’t be said for Augusto Farfus who hit the back of Panis. The ricochet effect meant that Panis’ car was pushed into the rear of Catsburg’s, which was forced out wide as a result. Ultimately this would have little bearing, as the puncture that he had suffered was enough to ruin his race all by itself.
Meanwhile, amidst all the attrition in the midfield, local hero Ma Qing Hua had made his way up into tenth position despite having started from the pit lane. Soon enough, Ma was then up into ninth as he beautifully overtook Priaulx on the inside line into turn one.
Continuing his charge, Ma then launched an attack on Nestor Girolami, this time at turn six. Sadly though, his race was also set for a premature end, as contact broke the rear suspension of the Chinese driver’s Alfa Romeo. Ma had shown brilliant pace throughout proceedings at Ningbo, but sadly he didn’t quite have the luck to translate that into the results that he deserved.
Johan Kristoffersson and Andy Priaulx’s battle for ninth place eventually got the better of the pair of them, as Kevin Ceccon managed to cease on the opportunity to pass them both. At this stage, so many cars had retired that so long as you finished the race, you were now guaranteed to score points.
With this in mind, the remaining drivers that were left circulating around the track refrained from any more ‘optimistic’ attempts at overtaking, and so all fifteen surviving cars made it to the chequered flag.
Race Result – Top 15:
|1st||Yvan Mulller||Lynk & co|
|2nd||Yann Ehrlacher||Lynk & Co|
|5th||Thed Bjork||Lynk & Co|
|9th||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo|
|11th||Andy Priaulx||Lynk & Co|