Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani claimed his first-ever Independents title in the World Touring Car Championship races in Shanghai, as his main rival and team-mate Tom Chilton was knocked out of contention.
Moroccan racer Bennani now has an unassailable 31-point lead in the WTCC Trophy standings, and with only two races left to run in Qatar it means he can now no longer be caught by Chilton, with a maximum of 12 points per race up for grabs.
Bennani enjoyed a strong weekend in China, including claiming his first podium since Hungary in May in the Main Race.
At the same time Chilton was on the receiving end of some bad luck, being taken out of a strong second place in the Opening Race due to contact from Gabriele Tarquini.
Bennani admits that winning the title of top independent was his main goal for this season, which was his first at the wheel of a Citroën C-Elysée.
“It’s been a tough weekend, because when you know you can be champion by scoring points it’s very nice,” explained Bennani. “It’s also very bad because you don’t want to crash the car in the first race, even though it was very close.
“I wanted to do well and my engineer was explaining to me ‘now you are two points ahead’. It’s very tough, and also because my team-mate is a very strong driver and has been for this whole championship.
“He was fast and a winner in the same car and with nearly the same set-up, so it was really tough to score the points I needed. He retired in the first race, which was a shame for him but it gave me the opportunity to fight and be the champion.
“It was my main goal for this season, and last year I was also very close to winning; I was four points from Norbert Michelisz. But this year was my year and I’m very happy.”
Bennani also scored another outright podium at the same circuit where he claimed his maiden outright win in 2014 – and he has his own theory as to why he goes so strong in China.
“Often the races in Asia are good for me and it also happened when I was in Formula BMW,” added Bennani. “It’s working for me all the time, but I don’t know why.
“Maybe it’s because it is a track that’s far away and no one can practice much, so maybe we are more on the same level here and it’s not such an advantage for the top drivers.”
As well as winning the independent’s title, Bennani also moved past LADA’s Nicky Catsburg up to sixth overall in the drivers’ championship standings, and he remains in contention for third overall in the season finale in two months’ time.