López and Qing Hua, the True Kings of Real
The European leg of the FIA WTCC season ended in triumph for the Citroën Total team, which scored two one-two finishes in the streets of Vila Real. In race one, José María López and Sébastien Loeb built on their qualifying form to take an uncontested one-two finish. Marked by a multitude of incidents, race two brought a smile to Ma Qing Hua.
The Chinese driver won his second ever race in the FIA WTCC ahead of Yvan Muller. The four Citroën drivers retain the top four places in the World Championship: José María López (322 pts) ahead of Yvan Muller (267), Sébastien Loeb (230) and Ma Qing Hua (146).
Race one got underway just before lunchtime on Sunday, as the temperature began to rise in the streets of Vila Real. For José María López and Sébastien Loeb, the big unknown was the grip level of the starting grid, which isn’t part of the circuit’s racing line.
When the lights went out, Pechito managed to get the best start ahead of Loeb, and the two Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs pulled away from the rest of the field. Third on the grid, Valente blew his start and squeezed Yvan Muller, who was trying to get by on the inside. Ma Qing Hua took advantage to overtake Van Lagen and Castburg and close up on Valente, who then made contact with the Chinese driver. Valente dropped out a few minutes later and Ma Qing Hua was up to sixth place behind López, Loeb, Michelisz, Tarquini and Monteiro. Yvan Muller followed in seventh place.
With every lap, the gap between the leading drivers rose steadily. While Ma Qing Hua narrowed his deficit to Tiago Montiero late in the race, the positions stood all the way to the chequered flag. In triumphing for the sixth time of the season, José María López also scored maximum points, while Sébastien Loeb secured yet another one-two finish for the Citroën Total team.
Following a long break, the cars were back on the starting grid late in the afternoon. This time, Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller shared row one. Thanks to two perfect starts, the teammates led the way, while contact eliminated Van Lagen and Monteiro. The safety car was called into action to allow marshals to clear away the damaged cars.
When the race resumed, Qing Hua held on to the lead in front of Muller, Catsburg, Tarquini, Michelisz, Loeb and López. While the two leading Citroëns pulled away, the chasing group was tightly bunched due to the absence of overtaking opportunities on the Vila Real circuit.
On lap 10, Catsburg made a mistake, allowing Michelisz then Loeb to close the distance. But the three cars made contact under braking and Seb’s race ended prematurely in the tyre barrier. The race continued without the nine-time World Rally Champion, who also lost valuable points along the way.
Two laps later, Catsburg had a big shunt. His car was stopped on the racing line and the marshals made the wise decision to bring out the red flag. This didn’t alter the joy of Ma Qing Hua, who scored his first win in the FIA WTCC since Moscow 2014, with Yvan Muller finishing second. Championship leader José María López picked up valuable points with his fifth place result in race two.