CITROËN RACING’S ASIAN TOUR KICKS OFF IN BEIJING
The long break after the Argentina meeting is drawing to a close, and the FIA WTCC season is about to enter its final sprint with four weekends in AsiaThe first port of call is the Goldenport Park Circuit in BeijingFour Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs will be in action, with José María López, Yvan Muller, Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua – sure to be the crowd’s favourite – behind the wheelIn its very first season in track racing, Citroën Total already has a mathematical chance of securing the World Manufacturers’ Championship title
The continent-hopping World Touring Car Championship is gearing up for a trip to China. This is an important moment for Citroën, which has operated in the country for over 20 years in partnership with Dongfeng. In 2013, the brand’s sales grew by 25%, exceeding the average (19.1%). With 280,000 units sold last year, China is now Citroën’s biggest global market in terms of sales growth. The C-Elysée, which is produced locally, is at the heart of Citroën’s sales offensive in the country, just as it is central to its sporting commitments in WTCC.
Citroën Racing’s début track campaign has been a resounding success. With its four drivers winning fourteen of the fifteen races they have competed in, Citroën Total is already in a position to win the World Manufacturers’ Championship. The chances of the team clinching the trophy at this coming meeting are slim however, as this would require them to score 48 points more than the Hondas, something they have achieved only once all season.
For the ninth round of the competition, the teams will be battling it out at the Goldenport Park Circuit. Located in the Chaoyang district, close to the international airport, the 2,391 km track is the shortest of the year. It will be a brand-new experience for everyone involved in the WTCC, with the notable exception of Ma Qing Ha.
“Goldenport Park is one of the oldest circuits in China. It’s not the one I know best, but I did several single-seater races there a few years ago,” he explains. “The track may be short, but there’s absolutely no margin for error, as you’re always close to the safety barriers. You really can’t let your concentration slip for a second. The other difficulty lies in the track surface, which is very abrasive on the tyres. That’s going to be particularly tricky with our front-wheel drive cars. We’ll have to find the right setup to preserve the tyres throughout the races.”
JOSÉ MARÍA LÓPEZ AND YVAN MULLER BATTLING IT OUT FOR THE TITLE
José María López’s record speaks for itself, with twelve podium finishes and seven race wins in fifteen races. Victories in his last three races and a perfect weekend in Argentina mean that Pechito has a comfortable lead in the Championship standings. Now 60 points ahead of Yvan Muller, the driver of the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC No. 37 car finally seems to be considering the prospect of a world title.
“I would love to go back and experience those hours after the Termas races again. I was totally drained, but it was an incredible feeling to have won pole position and two races in front of my home crowd. It’s something I hadn’t even dreamed of,” explains José María. “Up till now, I didn’t want to think about the title, as the gap was still very narrow. Now, with a 60-point lead, things are different. I’m not going to change my approach at the upcoming meetings, but I may settle for the minor places rather than take risks all the time.”
While not yet resigned to defeat, Yvan Muller recognises that he will have his work cut out: “Mathematically, it’s all still possible, but I have to be realistic: the gap is impossible to make up, unless Pechito gets into real trouble and ends up having some pointless races. If I’ve still got a mathematical chance going into Macao, then I’ll begin to believe it’s possible, because anything could happen in that last race. Deep down, I think it’s José María’s year – he’s had lots of success.”
MA QING HUA AND SÉBASTIEN LOEB: THE OUTSIDERS
Ma Qing Hua has already made a big impact on the competition. With a victory in Moscow in his very first weekend in the discipline, the racer from Shanghai now has his heart set on repeating the feat in front of his home crowd.
To help their driver in this endeavour, the Citroën team have prepared a special decoration for the C-Elysée WTCC no. 33 car, based around the Year of the Horse. “I’ve prepared well, taking part in test sessions and working on the Citroën Racing simulator,” he explained. “I’ll have to be strong in free practice so that I go into qualifying in good shape. This circuit doesn’t have any long straights, so there will hardly be any overtaking opportunities – a lot fewer than in Shanghai, in any case.”
With six podium finishes to his name, two of them on the highest step, Sébastien Loeb is no less ambitious than his teammate. “The break was beginning to drag for me. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC,” said the former World Rally Champion. “My aim is to carry on where I left off in Termas: hold onto my position in the pack, identify the right opportunities and overtake when possible. Those are things you can’t practise: you only get better by competing. Hopefully, I’ll make it back onto the podium this weekend.”
The ninth WTCC meeting of the season will be a joint event with the hugely popular CTCC (China Touring Car Championship) and will take on a brand new format. Because the equipment will be arriving late from Argentina, the three free practice sessions will all be held on Saturday. The drivers and teams will have three half-hour sessions, at 08:10, 12:50 and 17:20, to adapt their setup to the Goldenport Park track.
Qualifying has been moved to Sunday morning, with Q1 starting bright and early at 08:30. The two races, which will comprise 26 laps, are scheduled for 14:50 and 15:50. China’s time zone is GMT+8, meaning the races will get underway at 07:50 and 08:50 UK time.