Mehdi Bennani survived a last-lap challenge from Aurélien Comte to become winner number 12 in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO, scoring a dramatic victory in the reverse-grid Race 2 at WTCR Race of China-Wuhan.
The Sébastien Loeb Racing driver had led from the start from his DHL Pole Position in his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, but Comte’s DG Sport Compétition PEUGEOT 308TCR was closing, the Frenchman flashing his lights at the leader to emphasise his threat.
On the last lap, Comte made his move at the chicane, nudging Bennani to take the lead. But on a tight line for the following hairpin he ran wide, allowing Bennani to slide back inside and claim victory. Comte held on to second from Comtoyou Racing’s Nathanaël Berthon, who scored his first WTCR OSCARO podium in his Audi RS 3 LMS.
“It was very tough from the beginning of the weekend,” said an overjoyed Bennani. “The car was heavy on weight after my podium in Ningbo and I had to drive at 110 per cent because I knew I would be struggling with tyres from lap 12 or 13. And this is what happened.
“It’s a nice victory because so much has happened since my crash at Vila Real. This win is dedicated to the King of Morocco, who has done so much to make me a professional driver.”
Bennani described the final-lap move from Comte and said he was relieved to hold on to the victory, having led for so long. “I knew he was much lighter, by something like 60kg,” he said. “He closed too much in the final three laps, but when he overtook me I knew it would be nearly impossible for him to stop the car at the hairpin on that line. I’m very happy.”
At the start, Bennani held on to his lead as Boutsen Ginion Racing’s Ma Qing Hua made a slower start beside him, ran wide at the first corner and dropped down the order. Comte was quick off the line to challenge the leader, while Pepe Oriola chased the pair in his Team OSCARO by Campos Racing Cupra TCR.
Further down the field, there was drama on lap four when Oriola’s team-mate John Filippi made an ambitious move on both YMR Hyundai i30 N TCRs, smacking Thed Björk’s left rear corner which forced the Swede to retire to the pits with damage.
At the front, Berthon was on a mission to claim his first WTCR OSCARO podium and made a fantastic move on Oriola for the place at the chicane on lap 14 of 18. He then closed on Bennani and Comte and almost improved his position further in those dramatic final few corners.
Oriola finished fourth, ahead of Race 1 winner Jean-Karl Vernay and the other Comtoyou Audis of Frédéric Vervisch and Aurélien Panis. There was less luck for Vernay’s Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil team-mate Gordon Shedden, the DHL Pole Position winner for Race 3 suffering a puncture and power steering damage on the first lap after contact from his P10 starting position.
Ma Qing Hua recovered to finish eighth after a good pass on Denis Dupont into Turn One on lap 16, with Yvan Muller scoring a vital point in his YMR Hyundai in P10. He moves back up to equal second with Björk, eight behind Gabriele Tarquini, who retired his BRC Racing Team Hyundai.
Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Rob Huff was out of the points in P11 and unhappy after contact from Ma cost him places on lap 12. Huff finished just ahead of the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR of Kevin Ceccon.