Citroen duo Bennani and López take WTCC win

Track Action (Photo by WTCC)

Track Action (Photo by WTCC)The FIA World Touring Car Championship delivered two dramatic races on a wet day at the Hungaroring, with Mehdi Bennani (Morocco) and José María López (Argentina) triumphing in slippery conditions.

Bennani scored his second outright WTCC victory in the Opening Race, leading from start to finish as many big names, including Citroën’s López and Yvan Muller and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Rob Huff were caught out by the difficult weather. All four opted for dry-weather tyres and finished outside of the points as a result. Tom Chilton made it a one-two for Sébastien Loeb Racing from P10 on the grid ahead of LADA driver Nicky Catsburg and Volvo Polestar’s Fredrik Ekblom for the Swedish make’s best WTCC finish so far.

López was lapped in that first race but later on claimed his third Main Race win from as many events to extend the championship lead he claimed with five points for the DHL Pole Position on Saturday. He was pressured by Huff and a fast-starting Muller, who made contact when fighting over second place that led to a penalty for the Briton. Erstwhile title leader Tiago Monteiro completed the Main Race podium for Honda ahead of Thed Björk (Volvo Polestar). After a turbo failure forced him out of the Opening Race, Norbert Michelisz produced a stunning comeback drive from the back of the grid in the Main Race before a suspension failure late on dropped him from sixth to P10. López claimed the TAG Heuer Best Lap award for the second event running.

Mehdi Bennani scored WTCC win number two in an action-packed wet Opening Race, in which Tom Chiltion came from P10 on the grid to make it a one-two for Sébastien Loeb Racing on WTCC start number 100. Bennani led from start to finish in the difficult conditions while others struggled on incorrect tyre choices. His factory Citroën counterparts Yvan Muller and José María López were among those to gamble on slicks, lapping 20 seconds off the pace before eventually pitting for wet-weather tyres and finishing a lap down in P13 and P14 respectively. Fredrik Ekblom held second for the first part of the race before being passed by Nicky Catsburg, but the Dutchman would himself be overhauled by a charging Chilton on the penultimate lap. Gabriele Tarquini pitted after the two formation laps to fit wet tyres and came through to finish on the tail of Ekblom in fifth and ahead of his team-mate Hugo Valente. Grégoire Demoustier claimed his best ever result in seventh in the third Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën, while John Filippi equalled his top result in eighth despite serving a drive-through penalty for a false start. Ferenc Ficza took his first points in ninth to give something for the Hungarian fans to cheer after their hero Norbert Michelisz suffered a turbo failure prior to the start. Like Citroën, Honda was left rueing its tyre choices with Rob Huff being passed for the final point late on by René Münnich, despite the German being handed a penalty for first-lap contact with Tom Coronel.

José María López scored his third Main Race victory of the season in another thrilling encounter in the Hungarian rain. Citroën driver López led from start to finish but didn’t have it easy, having to defend from Rob Huff and Yvan Muller. Muller made a fantastic start from seventh on the grid to climb to third, and passed Huff for second place at Turn 5 just before the safety car was required after Grégoire Demoustier went straight on at speed into the barriers at Turn 1 at the start of lap three, but escaped unharmed. After the restart following a period behind the Volvo V60 Polestar Safety Car, López was unable to pull away in the difficult conditions and had both Muller and Huff for very close company heading onto lap 10 of 17. Huff repassed Muller at Turn 2, but was handed a drive-through penalty for making contact from behind under braking. This released Muller to chase after López once more and the Frenchman set the fastest lap with two tours of the Hungaroring remaining, but the defending champion responded immediately with a best lap of his own and claimed victory by 2.8 seconds. Tiago Monteiro finished third for Honda after seeing off a mid-race challenge from Thed Björk, who came close to scoring the first podium for the Volvo S60 Polestar. Tom Chilton followed up his second place in the Opening Race with fifth overall and a first WTCC Trophy win of the season. Starting the race from the back after the turbo failure that kept him out of the Opening Race, Norbert Michelisz delivered a hero’s drive for the home crowd and was challenging Chilton for fifth when his left-rear suspension broke with a lap to go, but he still managed to bring the car home in P10. Huff therefore took sixth ahead of Tom Coronel, who fell backwards on the first lap after his magnificent second place in qualifying. Eighth was Opening Race winner Mehdi Bennani, who went from ninth to fourth on the first lap but was given a drive-through penalty for knocking Monteiro wide at Turn 5, ending his streak of WTCC Trophy wins.

Honda claimed its first outright victory in the WTCC Manufacturers Against the Clock team time trial after a penalty dropped Citroën from first to second at the Hungaroring. Citroën was set to celebrate its third consecutive WTCC MAC3 top score by a narrow 0.174s margin over Honda. However, a track limit infringement by Mehdi Bennani – who formed part of Citroën’s three-car team along with José María López and Yvan Muller – resulted in a 30-second time penalty and a one-place demotion. LADA, which finished third with Nicky Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente, was also penalised by 30 seconds when Valente also fell foul of the track limit rules at Turn 11. WTCC MAC3 was inspired by professional cycling events such as the Tour de France and both incidents underlined the importance of effective team work with on-track errors having a major impact on the final result. And the amended result means Honda celebrates its second maximum WTCC MAC3 score having tied on time with Citroën in Slovakia. Honda also moves seven points clear of Citroën in the WTCC Manufacturers’ standings following the strong showing by its trio of Rob Huff, Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro in the Civic WTCC, who performed without fault over two laps of the 4.381-kilometre layout.

Written by