Yvan Muller catapulted himself into the heart of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO title battle with his second victory at WTCR Race of China in a dramatic Race 3.
The World Touring Car legend led from the DHL Pole Position to the chequered flag ahead of fellow Lynk & Co driver and nephew Yann Ehrlacher, while title rivals Norbert Michelisz and Esteban Guerrieri were among the many drivers not to make the finish. The trio are now separated by just 17 points after Muller set a new record for WTCR / OSCARO points scored in one weekend.
“Fantastic weekend,” said Muller, 50, having joked on his radio after the flag that one day he will retire. “All the boys and girls at Cyan Racing Lynk & Co deserve this. We had a hard summer thinking about what we needed to do. We stayed focus and this weekend we have hit our target. Everything is possible.”
As Muller and Ehrlacher made a clean start at the Ningbo International Speedpark, there was immediate action behind them after Jean-Karl Vernay and Daniel Haglöf made contact in a battle that also involved Frédéric Vervisch and Guerrieri. Both Vernay and Haglöf were out. Then Michelisz hit the back of Andy Priaulx’s Lynk & Co for the second race in succession, and the Hyundai spun into the barriers. Michelisz pitted, but was forced to retire.
The safety car was called upon to clear the damaged cars, with racing resuming on lap five. The next lap Tiago Monteiro made contact with Niels Langeveld, which forced the Comtoyou Team Audi Sport off the track and out of the race. Then as he accelerated out of the last corner, Monteiro’s Honda was nudged into a heavy impact with the pitwall by Mehdi Bennani’s Volkswagen Golf. Monteiro escaped injury, while Bennani would receive a drive-through penalty for the incident.
The safety car returned to the track as the cars of Langeveld and Monteiro were recovered, with the action resuming on lap 10. But not before Guerrieri had sensationally pulled off into retirement with a broken trackrod, the legacy of earlier contact. Following Michelisz’s demise, this could have been a golden chance to regain the points lead he lost in Race 2.
Once again the Lynk & Co duo at the front made a clean getaway, but there was a fierce battle for the final podium position as Nicky Catsburg picked up a puncture and was hit up the back by Aurélien Panis. Augusto Farfus emerged in third, but soon gave the position up to fellow Hyundai driver Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian shadowed Muller and Ehrlacher to the flag, with Farfus safe in fourth.
Thed Björk made it three Lynk & Cos in the top five at the Chinese brand’s home circuit, ahead of Panis, Vervisch, Néstor Girolami and Kevin Ceccon, who had started from the back of the grid. His Team Mulsanne team-mate Ma Qinghua had looked on track for an even more remarkable result after starting from the pitlane, following a mammoth team effort to prepare his car which had been badly damaged in Race 2.
Ma rose as high as ninth, only for contact with Girolami – with whom he’d also collided in qualifying – to finally scupper his day. The damage forced the local hero out of the race.
Johan Kristoffersson completed the top 10, with Priaulx, Tom Coronel, Attila Tassi, Bennani and Gordon Shedden the other points scorers and only other race finishers.
While Haglöf’s Race 3 ended in disappointment, his performance in Race 2 earned him the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy for the first time.