The Macau circuit follows an unforgiving series of narrow streets; nothing, however, to scare off the Sébastien Loeb Racing team, as Mehdi Bennani proved by pushing his Alsatian Citroën C-Elysée to her best performance in order to claim the pole position in the Opening Race. The Moroccan driver kept his advantage throughout the race and crossed the finish line in the lead, thereby also reclaiming his stake to the WTCC Trophy. Meanwhile, Tom Chilton and John Filippi found themselves caught in a pack collision which ultimately signed a premature end to the Opening Race, and an eighth and eleventh place respectively for the two drivers. For his return to the WTCC with Sébastien Loeb Racing, Ma Qing Hua earned three points and finished in fourteenth position.
On Sunday, the wet track made it necessary for a safety car to lead the start. Tom Chilton, third after the qualifying heats, managed to avoid the multiple pitfalls of this urban track and launched an attack in the final lap, finishing on the podium and scoring significant points before the last event of the season. Mehdi Bennani fought for third place in the WTCC Trophy, before finishing fourth. Having started seventeenth, Ma Qing Hua revelled in a long overtake which led him to the twelfth position by the end, with the fastest lap in his category. Finally, John Filippi, whose confidence was slightly shaken by the previous day’s small error, finished his race just outside the Top 15.
One victory and one podium in Macau provided enough points for the Sébastien Loeb Racing to unequivocally win the 2017 WTCC Teams’ Trophy. Additionally, Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton, who are currently in first and second place for the Drivers’ WTCC Trophy, are both in the Top 5 overall, an exceptional performance for independant drivers.
“The Macau circuit requires a lot of concentration for the driver and his team. The SLR technical staff worked until 4am to prepare the car. We signed a perfect race on Saturday for the first confrontation of the weekend,” Mehdi Bennani rejoiced. “It’s a true honour to join the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher in winning here. On Sunday, the aim was to get big points in Race 2. The humid weather forced us to review our tuning and the team engineers found a great compromise. We ultimately got the points for the fourth place, and it’s clear that the fight against Tom will be intense in Losail in two weeks!”
“We started with a very aggressive strategy in the qualifying heats to find a good place on the starting grid for Race 2, and we managed that by getting the third fastest time,” Tom Chilton explained. “Once again the team at Sébastien Loeb Racing worked hard to get me a perfectly balanced Citroën C-Elysée adapted to the streets here in Macau. Unfortunately, the collision in Race 1 prevented me from getting any big points, although I got my revenge in Race 2 with a particularly fast C-Elysée. The WTCC Trophy title is within grasp in two weeks in Qatar, I’m not dropping the ball.”
“That was the most strenuous race of the season! The Macau circuit allows no mistakes, with those long but fast bends. My tenth position on the starting grid for Race 1 allowed me to hope for a good result, but that collision ruined those chances,” analysed John Filippi. “On Sunday, I was less confident on the wet track. I want to put this result behind me now and focus on the last event of the season, in Qatar.”
“Its atmosphere and its street track make Macau a unique part of the year. It’s also a circuit that will not tolerate any mistake from the drivers or their teams,” observed Dominique Heintz, co-founder of the team with Sébastien Loeb. “Mehdi and Tom’s results prove our team’s capacity to adapt to such an intractable circuit as the one here in Macau. They also allow us to win the Teams’ Trophy, one of our main objectives this season. Tom and Mehdi will now compete for the Drivers’ Trophy in two weeks. John and Ma were less in luck in both races, but Ma’s best lap time in Race 2 confirms the level of their performances.”
In a week, the Rallye du Var will be the occasion for Sébastien Loeb to reunite with his Peugeot 306 Maxi and Quentin Giordano to defend his French Rally Vice-Champion title, and for Anthony Fotia to make his debut with the team’s Peugeot 208 R2. And the following week, the Soultz-sous-Forêts team will head to Qatar, for the final WTCC event in Losail.
Race 1: 1. Mehdi Bennani (1er WTCC Trophy), 2. T. Coronel, 3. R. Michigami… 8. Tom Chilton (4e WTCC Trophy)… 11. John Filippi (6e WTCC Trophy)… 14. Ma Qing Hua (8e WTCC Trophy), etc.
Race 2: 1. R. Huff, 2. N. Michelisz, 3. T. Chilton (2e WTCC Trophy)… 7. M. Bennani (4e WTCC Trophy)… 12. Ma Qing Hua (8e WTCC Trophy)… 16. J. Filippi (10e WTCC Trophy), etc.