Runner-up spot to be decided at WTCC Qatar season finale

 2016 WTCC Slovakia race start The WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) season finale at the Losail Circuit in Qatar from 24-25 November marks the final outing for WTCC multiple Champions Jose Maria Lopez and Yvan Muller. The season finale will be a duel for the Drivers standing runner-up spot in the desert as the 2016 season reaches its climax.

No driver has won more titles (four) and races (48), claimed more pole positions (29), set more fastest laps (38) or led more races (571) than Muller. And Muller intends to go out with a bang rather than a whimper by beating Tiago Monteiro to the coveted runner-up spot in the final standings behind his Citroën team-mate López. With a 31-point advantage over the Portuguese Honda driver, Muller has high hopes, “I realize it’s a special race and there might be some emotions. It’s also more than a race because I want to be second for my team. It’s always good to race at night so I hope it will be another special moment.”

For López, the WTCC’s desert duel also marks the end of an era. After claiming a hat-trick of drivers’ titles and breaking the record of most wins in one season (10), the Argentine ace has chosen the Formula E championship for his next motorsport challenge although he admits a WTCC comeback is part of a long-term plan. While second in the final table remains Monteiro’s target, he will also be keeping an eye on fellow factory Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff, who are 14 and 24 points behind respectively.

The five Honda Civic WTCCs will run with 30 kilograms of compensation weight at WTCC Qatar, half the amount carried by the Japanese machines during the last event in China and 50 kilograms less than the extra load that will be fitted to Citroën’s pacesetting C-Elysée WTCCs in the Middle East. While the Citroëns have run with the maximum permitted 80 kgs all season, the amount of success ballast in the Hondas has fluctuated throughout the campaign. Apart from the opening two events of the season in France and Slovakia, when they ran with zero additional weight, not since Russia in early June have the the Hondas run at 30 kgs. Although the Civics have been competitive running with 80 kgs, the drop in weight will doubtless benefit its quintet of drivers racing in Qatar.

As at WTCC Race of China, the trio of factory LADA Vestas and pair of Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s will run without compensation weight at the Losail track. Drivers of the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 will also benefit from running at the 1100-kg minimum base weight in Qatar.

There will be more on-track drama in store on Friday 25 November when the Manufacturers Against the Clock team trial takes place. The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third Volvo from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new tyres. Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps. Failure to get all three cars over the line, or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car, means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia earlier in the season when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory.

After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals. And Citroën will be out for revenge in Qatar after Honda took the WTCC MAC3 honors in China, its fifth outright triumph and sixth in total…