With another action-packed touring car calendar consigned to the record books, a panel comprised of Editor-in-chief Andrew Abbott, DTM correspondent Alex Goldschmidt and BTCC correspondent Damian Meaden have picked out their favourite moments from this year’s TCR International, DTM, British and World Touring Car Championship campaigns.
Shedden claims a hat-trick as Tordoff misses out
It sounds quite simple – Shedden passes Tordoff and claims a third championship crown. Factor in the sizeable deficit the Scot turned around to put himself in with a shout at the final round for the second season in succession, and the fact Tordoff was chasing a first-ever crown, and suddenly scything the distinctive orange Civic Type R in front seems a slightly larger mountain to climb.
But climb it Shedden did, and despite late pressure from the ever-improving Adam Morgan he was able to hold on and retain his British Touring Car Championship title.
José María López letting Yvan Muller win in Japan
It was the sign of a true champion – as López secured his third consecutive World Touring Car Championship in the Main Race in Japan, he did so having also helped Citroën team-mate Muller to his last-ever WTCC win. There have been few nicer and more humble champions than López. Ever since I first interviewed the Argentine ace, it was clear that this was a man who was willing to give people time and consideration.
López could have gone on to take yet another Main Race win at Motegi (he had already claimed six of the nine available at that point) but instead he slowed to give Muller a taste of victory. Whilst the gesture might have also been designed to help Citroën take another 1-2 in the drivers’ championship (it worked) it also ended up giving Muller his 48th and final win in the championship that he has dominated more than any other.
It also signaled a true changing of the guard; Muller went on to announce his retirement just three weeks’ later. That López will also not be around to defend his championship in 2017 is a bitter blow to the WTCC, but it leaves a huge void to be filled at the top where these two greats once sat.
MG dominate – then lose it all!
The first contest at Silverstone proved a dream result for the works MG team, with impressive rookie and eventual Jack Sears Trophy winner Ashley Sutton claiming what seemed to be the second victory of his debut campaign. Team-mate Josh Cook fending off the challenge from behind to claim the runner-up spot. Then came the technical checks.
Both MG6’s fell foul of regulations dictating the alignment of the rear wings on their cars, leading to the pair being disqualified. To add insult to injury, both were demoted to the back of the grid despite the subsequently lodged appeal, and retained their success ballast from the one-two finish.
Wittman and Mortara clash in Hungary
The title race for this year’s DTM drivers’ title had become more intense, as the series headed to the Hungaroring for the penultimate round of the championship.
It all came to a head on the Sunday race that weekend, which saw eventual champion Marco Wittmann and newly-signed Mercedes driver Edoardo Mortara clash on the run down to turn one.
It also meant that Jamie Green would retire and lose his chance to realistically stay in the hunt for the title for the second straight year, following the clash between the pair. But further developments would see Mortara retire at the end of the race, whilst Wittmann would be later disqualified for a technical infringement, as a result of the underside skin pan being below the minimum thickness.
The race would also see Mattias Ekström take his 24th career win, before he opted to miss the final weekend of the year, which enabled him to claim the FIA World RX title in Estering.
Stefano Comini successfully defending his TCR title
Two years, two TCR titles for the venerable Swiss. Undoubtedly one of the biggest personalities in touring car racing at the moment, Comini also proved in 2016 that he has the speed and tact to defend his championship.
You could argue that such was the lottery of Macau that Comini could easily have lost his title in the finale, with half points having been awarded for two very sub-par races (you can blame the event organisers and not the championship for that one). But such is the importance of qualifying on a street circuit, even more so at Macau, that was where the decisive hit came from Comini.
Having been slower than chief rival James Nash in the dry in Q1, wet conditions stuck for the first time in years in Q2, making the already challenging Circuito da Guia even trickier. But Leopard Racing were dominant, and Comini put his car on the front row with a little help from a cheeky handbrake turn at the Melco hairpin. Nash could only manage seventh…
When the chaos ensued in the races, Comini was in the clear out front thanks to his qualifying effort, and that ultimately gave him the title. Further back, Nash experienced first-hand the risks that come with qualifying in the pack, picking up damage that ultimately cost him dearly.
Should Comini continue in TCR in 2017, and it’s hard to see that changing, then it would be foolish to bet against him being in contention for a third crown come the end of the season.
Tordoff rescues title advantage with stunning victory
After a torrentially wet and hazardous qualifying session at Rockingham left him 27th on the grid for the opening race the following day, championship leader Sam Tordoff could have been forgiven for feeling the odds were stacking against him with races running thin.
However, the WSR ace put in one of the drives of recent history from the midfield in race two to claim victory after a scintillating four-way duel with his team mate Rob Collard and Motorbase Ford duo of Jackson and Jordan to claim victory, and re-ignite his chances of a maiden title. Though he eventually lost out to Shedden at the last, the performance marked out his qualities as a front runner in touring cars.
António Félix da Costa signs off in style
António Félix da Costa shows that there is clearly unfinished business for him in DTM, as he ended a three-year spell in the series with a very impressive double pole position at the Hockenheim season finale.
Having taken a maiden victory in 2015 at Zandvoort, the Portuguese driver has been at the sharp end of the grid multiple times, along with having made the switch to Schnitzer for the last two seasons, teaming up with 2011 champion Martin Tomczyk.
Even with the incident between him and Gary Paffett on the final race of the season, costing him another podium trophy and potential win, I’m sure that given a chance to return, we’ll see him back soon.
Aron Smith signals class with maiden BKR victory
Some choice remarks by Jason Plato at the season finale in October 2015 left many raising question marks over the future of Aron Smith within the BTCC. If one thing has ever been certain, however, it’s the race-winning capabilities of the tenacious Irishman.
Smith was reunited with the Volkswagen CC at the impressive fledgling Team BKR outfit, and scored their maiden victory from pole position in the reverse grid race at Rockingham, fending off heavy challenges from championship contenders Colin Turkington and eventual series winner Gordon Shedden in the process. Certainly one to watch next season.
The first win for Polestar, Volvo and Thed Björk
Polestar have been flitting in and out of the WTCC for years, having first poked their heads in at Anderstorp Raceway in 2007. In 2016 the team finally entered a multi-car team for a full season for the first time, but it took until the 19th race of the season in China for either Thed Björk or Fredrik Ekblom to make it to the podium.
Honda’s Norbert Michelisz led much of the race, but Björk held on and closed in during the tense final laps. After plenty of door banging and wheel rubbing, which let Yvan Muller, Nicky Catsburg and José María López join the party, the top five went on to the last lap all with a chance for the win.
Björk passed Michelisz on the back straight, but contact at the penultimate corner broke the rear suspension on the Volvo. The Swede crabbed over the finish line in first in a sensational finish that was also one of the closest in WTCC history.