Chevrolet heads to China and the Tianma circuit in Shanghai for the penultimate round of the 2011 Championship. The circuit is a late replacement for the previously announced Guangdong circuit and it is the second of three fly-away races which rounds out the season.
As Ron Hartvelt explains, three fly-away races at the end of the season isn’t ideal for ensuring the cars are in top condition: “Three events overseas, far from the team’s base, is always a challenge in terms of logistics and time available for repreparing the cars, and this time it is even more so, as the next stop, Tianma, is a completely new venue for the WTCC and was changed at very short notice. But we’ll be ready. The boys had six hours to work on the cars after the Suzuka races and were busy almost all night loading the cars and the equipment into the containers that will bring everything by sea to China. This means that we will have roughly a full day’s work on the cars. Luckily, there were no damages in Japan and from now on, we will also have a spare car, the fourth Cruze driven by (Japanese driver Toshi) Arai in Suzuka.”
Tianma marks the first visit of the Championship to the Chinese mainland, before heading to Macau for the traditional season finale.
This weekend also marks a special anniversary for the manufacturer, as on the 3rd November marks the 100th Birthday for Chevrolet, and the team will hope to celebrate that occasion with a double Chinese win.
Chevrolet Racing Manager, Eric Neve, is excited for the series first visit to the Chinese mainland as it marks the first visit into the rapidly expanding Chinese Motorsport market.
Neve said: “We are very excited about this first WTCC visit to China, a market tremendously important and a country with a fast growing interest for motorsports. This event coincides with the production of the one-millionth Cruze since the launch of the model in 2009. Additionally, it is the Centennial year for Chevrolet, as the company was established on 3rd November 1911. This special moment will be underlined by a commemorative sticker on the cars, and I hope we can contribute to the celebrations with one or even better, two wins!”
Last time out at Suzuka in Japan, the team secured a victory during the opening race which was backed up with a double podium finish in the second race. The overall results saw Rob Huff close in on team-mate Yvan Muller by three points – while Alain Menu remains as the rank outsider, as he is seventy three points behind Muller with four races to go.
For Menu, the trip to Shanghai reminds him of his early career in France, as he explains: “I have never been to Shanghai, so I am quite excited and eager to discover a new city and a new circuit. From the map and the pictures I have seen, it seems a short, twisty and slow circuit, I wonder whether we will go over 180 km/h as top speed. It reminds me of Croix-en-Ternois in France, which brings me back to the early years of my career, but we will see once we are there and, in any case, the circuit is the same for everybody. My goal is to keep the form I had in Suzuka and finish the season as high as I can.”
Huff also feels that the short nature of the Tianma circuit could play into his hands, with his club racing past in the UK. He is also hoping for some mixed weather conditions to help him close the gap to Muller even further.
“I was pleased with the results in Japan, where I reduced the gap with Yvan by three points; that’s not much, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Huff.
“The title battle is still long and is becoming more interesting, as the decisive moment approaches and the pressure grows. I am very excited to go to Tianma; it’s a circuit that is new for everybody and given its typology, I’m confident that my experience in club racing in the can be useful! The weather may play a role as this is a region where conditions can change very quickly, from hot and humid to stormy. I must say that I wouldn’t mind wet races!”
Muller heads to the circuit hoping that it is a suitable venue for a WTCC event. He has a clear objective heading into rounds twenty one and twenty two of the season.
He added: “Tianma is a new circuit for everyone, and one we know very little about. I hope it will be suitable for a WTCC event. I have gathered some info on it, but not much. It definitely looks small and short, with many tight corners. This will mean very close gaps and difficult overtaking, so it will be extremely important to stay very focused as from the first minute. For the rest, not much to say with regard to the title battle; the objective is to stay ahead of Huff.”
Hartvelt believes that getting track position in qualifying will be vital due to the short, tight nature of the ‘micky mouse’ circuit: “Tianma is unknown to everybody, but I am less concerned about that than about the logistics. We could get some track data from other categories that have raced there, and have done the basic simulations that allow us to calculate gear ratios and all the initial parameters from where to start working.
“The track appears to be short and narrow, almost a mickey-mouse track, where it will be difficult to reach top speed. Hence the importance to be in the front in qualifying and ensure the best possible grid positions for Race 1. Qualifying for Race 2 is a different exercise, as we know, and that’s where you can possibly gain or lose some crucial points. This will be particularly important with regard to the title fight among our three drivers, so I expect a very strategic session. As we saw in Japan, as the battle advances, it is more and more important for each contender to finish races, so qualifying is becoming really decisive.”