José María López retains World Championship title
By claiming pole position and victory in race one, José María López secured his second successive FIA World Touring Car Championship title* with the Citroën Total team.
The Argentine driver was joined on the podium by his teammates Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua, who also took second and third positions in race two. The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs had started the day in style by achieving the unprecedented feat of occupying the top five places in qualifying. The manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles may be sewn up, but Citroën is keeping up the suspense: Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb are now separated by just two points and will battle it out for the runner-up spot in Qatar.
With no real hierarchy having emerged after Saturday’s free practice sessions, the drivers turned up for qualifying needing to lay their cards on the table. Drawing on what they had learned the previous day, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC drivers took the top five positions in Q3 for the first time. For the sixth time this season, José María López was the quickest man on track, followed by Sébastien Loeb, Yvan Muller, Ma Qing Hua and Mehdi Bennani in that order.
By late afternoon, the main stand of the Chang International Circuit was packed as the cars lined up on the starting grid. The weather conditions were extreme, with temperatures of 33°C, 60% humidity, and a track temperature of 45°C.
When the lights went out, José María López got off to a perfect start. He reached the first turn in the lead, followed by Sébastien Loeb, with Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller neck-and-neck behind them. Muller, as it turned out, would not make it much further. After being run into by two other drivers, he was forced to return to the pits with a broken rear-end assembly. Mehdi Bennani took advantage of this to move up into third.
Once the safety car had been and gone, Ma Qing Hua got the better of the Moroccan driver, and there would be no further changes to the top four before the finish. Despite coming under constant pressure from Sébastien Loeb, José María López clinched his ninth race win of the season. In doing so, he scored the points he needed to secure a second consecutive FIA World Touring Car Championship title.
The celebrations would have to wait, however, as the drivers were immediately back out on track for race two. Once again, the start was a chaotic affair. Yvan Muller was forced to pull out at the very first turn after a collision with Ma Qing Hua. Michelisz led at the end of lap one, with Monteiro, Chilton, Loeb, Qing Hua and López in pursuit.
The race was full of incident, with plenty of overtaking. Sébastien Loeb gradually worked his way up the field into second place. Picking up the pace, he was right on Monteiro’s tail when the red flag was brought out due to fading light.
Loeb had to settle for second position, with Ma Qing Hua and José María López, who had both pulled off some impressive overtaking manoeuvres of their own, in third and fourth respectively.
José María López: “I am so happy to have won this second World Championship title. Last year, people focused on the fact that mine was the first title for an Argentine driver since Juan Manuel Fangio. But this year, I’m thinking first and foremost about my family, who have sacrificed a lot for me to be able to come and race in Europe. I started my career at the age of 23. After all these seasons, my passion remains undiminished and retaining this World Championship title is a massive achievement. I would also like to thank the Citroën Racing team, who gave me a chance and have given me carte blanche to compete hard against my prestigious teammates. I think the standard has gone up a level this year. That is probably why I’m feeling even more emotional than I did in 2014. I want to savour this moment.”
* Subject to official publication of the results by the FIA.