WTCC: Ma Qing leads the charge for Citroen

The ninth round of the FIA WTCC got underway today with three free practice sessions at the Goldenport Park Circuit in Bei jing.

- All four Citroën Total drivers featured prominently in a highly competitive day’s driving, but it was Ma Qing Hua who clocked the fastest time of the day.

- Qualifying and the two races will take place on Sunday.

At 8.20 a.m., the FIA WTCC competitors were already out on track for a first half-hour session of private testing. The circuit was soaking-wet, but Sébastien Loeb was not to be put off by the lack of grip. The nine-time World Rally Champion held the best time for much of the session. After a stoppage to remove a car that had got stuck in the mud, the track began to dry out, lap by lap. Just before the chequered flag, Tiago Monteiro nipped in to steal first place from José María López.

In the middle of the day, the Citroën Total team continued its development work. The track had continued to dry out, and the drivers were able to shave a full ten seconds off their times from the previous session. Lap by lap, the C-Elysée WTCC drivers made their mark. In his final run, José María López crashed off into the gravel pit, bringing the session to a premature close. The Argentinian nevertheless claimed second place, just ahead of Ma Qing Hua.

The third and final session got underway as night fell. Sébastien Loeb once again found himself at the top of the timing screens. Ma Qing Hua then produced a sensational performance to produce a time tantalisingly close to the 1’06’’ mark. With visibility declining, the red flag was brandished a few minutes before the scheduled close, meaning Citroën’s Chinese driver ended the day in the best possible fashion.

WHAT THEY HAD TO SAYMa Qing Hua: “I found out what it was like to drive the car on a wet track this morning. It took me a while to find a groove, but more than anything I wanted to avoid making errors. The safety barriers at this circuit are so close that you really have to avoid slipping off the track. As the weather conditions changed, we tried a few different setups. I could have gone even quicker this evening, but everything went OK and I think we’re ready for tomorrow. I’ll be aiming for at least a podium place, but I think everyone here has the same ambition!”

Yvan Muller: “Obviously, this isn’t the most interesting circuit of the season! The straight sections are a little short for our cars, which haven’t been able to go any faster than 190 km/h, when they are capable of reaching 270 km/h. The track is quite wide, but there are unlikely to be many overtaking opportunities. We put in some pretty good work today, but the conditions will probably be different tomorrow. I hope we’re in for some interesting races!”

Sébastien Loeb: “I’m quite happy with my day. I was generally the quickest driver at the time when I was out on track. The conditions were tricky, with some wet and slippery sections, especially when drivers crashed off and left earth on the track. It’s always difficult to know where exactly everyone stands, as the performances depend to a large extent on tyre strategy. I know that I’m up with the pace, but I’m expecting qualifying to be really tight.”

José-María López: “You can’t relax for a minute on this circuit: the straights are so short that you’re always braking or turning. I ended up in the gravel pit at the end of the second session. I was on my last run and I was trying to attack. The track was dry, but I got two wheels in a wet spot and lost control of my front end. It doesn’t matter, though. I feel really confident with my car. Qualifying tomorrow morning is going to be difficult: the weather is set to be good, and we will hardly have driven here in the dry before we set off for Q1.”

THE PROGRAMMEQualifying has been moved to Sunday morning for this meeting, with Q1 due to get going at 8.30 a.m. The two races, which will comprise 26 laps, are scheduled for 2.50 p.m. and 3.50 p.m. China’s time zone is GMT+8, meaning the races will get underway at 8.50 and 9.50 a.m. Paris time.

STANDINGSPRIVATE TESTING1. Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic WTCC) 1’17’’5502. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’17’’9125. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’18’’4557. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’18’’87914. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’20’’019

FREE PRACTICE 11. Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic WTCC) 1’06’’6212. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’7913. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’9376. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’07’’26910. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’07’’851

FREE PRACTICE 21. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’1274. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’2635. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’3207. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1’06’’397