The 2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship heads to China and the Tianma circuit in Shanghai for the penultimate race weekend of the season with the three works Chevrolet drivers all in contention for the drivers’ Championship.
Last time out at Suzuka saw Alain Menu keep his slender hopes of securing his maiden World Championship title alive with a victory in the opening race while Championship leader and team-mate Yvan Muller struggled with the set up and finished off the podium.
The second race saw the roles reversed – Muller finished second in his Chevrolet Cruze while Menu was down in fourth. The main beneficiary of the Japanese race weekend was Rob Huff, who closed the gap to Muller slightly.
Arriving at Tianma, thirteen points’ separates Muller and Huff with 100 left to race for in the season. Menu, who is third overall, arrives seventy three points behind and the rank outsider. Menu will need to end the weekend within fifty points of the Championship leader – whether that be Muller or Huff – to have any chance of denying them the crown.
Chevrolet could celebrate a close on clean sweep come the end of the season as Darryl O’Young is still in with a chance of the Yokohama Independents driver’s title.
The trip to Tianma marks the series debut in China, and for the circuit, which is a late replacement for the previously announced Guangdong circuit. The field race their longest ever races since the series resumed back in 2005 – each race around the 2.06km circuit will be 25 laps, which beats Suzuka by 2 laps per race.
Unlike the Japanese Grand Prix venue however, the Tianma circuit could offer opportunities for overtaking. The lack of overtaking opportunities was visible at Suzuka, as Muller was quicker than race two winner Tom Coronel in his ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC and the returning Colin Turkington was quicker than Michel Nykjaer in the SUNRED SL Leon 1.6T.
Coronel did his chances of finishing as the best of the rest no harm at all with his Suzuka win – his second win in the WTCC and his second on Japanese soil, after his famous Okayama victory in 2008.
Sitting fifth overall but with a chance of finishing as best of the rest of 2009 Champion Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian saw his hopes, dented in Japan after he retired in the second race, just after the announcement that he had been issued with a drive through penalty for an incident earlier in the race.
Tiago Monteiro still retains ambitions of a top five Championship finish but needs to be aware of the Independent BMW of Kristian Poulsen behind – the Danish BMW driver is just seventeen points behind the former Formula 1 driver and has had a consistent season to date.
Robert Dahlgren once again proved the pace and potential of the Polestar racing Volvo C30 Drive at Suzuka, and set the fastest lap of the race during the second race of the weekend, and the maiden podium for the team is getting closer, they just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Their pace over the previous few events has seen them become the closest challenger to the RML run Chevrolet outfit, in terms of pace. They head to China with an additional 20kgs of success ballast on board.
Leading the way in the Yokohama Independents Championship is Kristian Poulsen in the Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC. Poulsen has opened up an eleven point advantage over his nearest rival, Norbert Michelisz in the Zengo-Dension Motorsport BMW 320TC while Nykjaer has thrown himself right back into contention after his double win at Suzuka – the Danish driver in the SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T secured his maiden podium finish during the opening race.
With a maximum of sixty six points available at Tianma and Macau – where double points are awarded – and of the top seven drivers could still end the season as the 2011 Yokohama Independents Champion.
In the Jay Ten Trophy, it has been all change. Lukoil-SUNRED’s Alexsei Dudukalo leads the way, despite having the 1.6T engine since Donington Park. His closest competitor, Fabio Fabiani has left Proteam Motorsport to be replaced by Phillip Ma, and Fabiani now finds himself at Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
In terms of the Manufacturers crown, Chevrolet have wrapped up the title but the battle for second is wide open, with BMW Customer Teams’ opening up a significant advantage over SR Customer Racing – fifty points is the advantage with 172 points up for grabs – four races with a maximum of forty three points available.
Will Tianma produce any surprises, or crown a new winner in the WTCC? Can Alain keep the Championship on the Menu or will Muller and Huff cancel their Swiss team-mate’s order?
All the answers to the questions will be answered this weekend, with qualifying being shown live on Eurosport at 07.15 GMT on Saturday, 5 November. Rounds twenty one and twenty two will be live on Eurosport at 06.15 and 07.15 GMT Sunday, 6 November.
Tianma Schedule: (All times GMT)
Friday, 4 November:
Test: 06.00 – 06.30
Saturday, 5 November:
Practice 1: 01.10 – 01.40
Practice 2: 04.00 – 04.30
Qualifying 1: 07.15 – 07.35
Qualifying 2: 07.40 – 07.50
Sunday, 6 November:
Race 1: 06.55 (25 Laps)
Race 2: 08.10 (25 Laps)