|The most wide-open World Touring Car Championship season in a decade will go down to the wire in the Middle East next week. 30 November – 1 December, when three coveted titles are decided at Qatar’s Losail Circuit.|
After 18 races over nine weekends in four continents, it all comes down to the duel in the desert when the WTCC for Drivers and Manufacturers, plus the WTCC Trophy for independent racers are decided.
The third WTCC Race of Qatar will conclude a thrilling year of high-speed action and intense competition with 10 drivers having taken race wins and seven still in mathematical contention for the overall crown prior to some classic Friday night fever touring car style. However, with 6.5 points separating the title top two, Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk and Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team’s Norbert Michelisz, Volvo Polestar 12.5 points in front of Honda and Tom Chilton a mere half a point ahead of Mehdi Bennani in the WTCC Trophy and Rob Huff only seven points behind Chilton, the 2017 season closer at the Losail circuit will be the ultimate winner-takes-all battle.
With 60 points up for grabs, Björk (255.5 points), Michelisz (249), Mehdi Bennani (216), Nicky Catsburg (211.5), Tom Chilton (210.5) and Esteban Guerrieri (205) battle it all out for the title. Tiago Monteiro’s total of 200 would also have been enough to keep him in the fight but the Portuguese will be in Qatar in a supporting role only while he continues his recovery from injuries sustained in a testing crash in September.
WTCC season finale at Losail Circuit, what to look out for…
With the Losail track not awash with overtaking opportunities, the results of qualifying could be key. Having taken more pole positions than his rivals, Michelisz might have the edge. The Hungarian will also take heart from the fact he won the WTCC Trophy title in Qatar two years ago. But Björk was second on his Qatar debut last season and knows what it takes to win championships: he’s claimed the Scandinavian touring car crown four times.
Having run 10 kilograms lighter than the Volvo S60s in Macau, the Honda Civics will be at the same 80-kilogram maximum compensation weight in Qatar, meaning no driver will have a weight advantage. The role of Björk and Michelisz’s team-mates could be a factor, however, after Guerrieri provided the perfect support to Michelisz in Macau by holding the pursuing Chilton at bay for much of the Main Race as Michelisz kept hold of a vital second place. Polestar Cyan Racing pair Catsburg and Néstor Girolami are more than capable of taking points away from Michelisz, which will add another intriguing dimension to the championship shootout.
In the manufacturers title fight, Volvo Polestar is 12.5 points in front of Honda, with 117 points on offer in Qatar between qualifying, Manufacturers Against the Clock, the Opening Race and the Main Race. Honda won the WTCC manufacturers title in 2013, while Volvo Polestar is chasing its maiden success.
WTCC season finale: Best five showdowns
2005: Andy Priaulx reached the Macau season finale trailing Dirk Müller by a single point. But a brace of seconds for the Briton and a double non-score for the German left Priaulx on top.
2006: It was another Priaulx versus Müller show only this time it was Dirk’s namesake Jörg who failed to stop his fellow BMW driver, by a solitary point at the Macau finale.
2009: Gabriele Tarquini’s one and only WTCC crown came after he defeated his then SEAT team-mate Yvan Muller by four points having arrived in Macau just two in front.
2011: Rob Huff did everything he could to prevent Yvan Muller from claiming WTCC title number three by winning both races in Macau. But he came up short courtesy of two Muller podiums.
2012: Having come within three points of his first world title in 2011, it all came good for Rob Huff the following year when second place in Race 2 proved enough to land the big prize.