The WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO completed its China double-header in memorable and spectacular fashion in Wuhan with Mehdi Bennani and Gordon Shedden joining the list of 2018 winners that now totals 13 drivers.
After Frenchman Jean-Karl Vernay claimed the Race 1 honours at the Wuhan International Circuit on Saturday, Morocco’s Bennani took the reverse-grid Race 2 spoils on Sunday afternoon for his maiden category victory, before Scottish driver Shedden converted his DHL Pole Position into WTCR OSCARO win number one later in the day.
The three-time British Touring Car champion’s success was the second for Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team on the streets of Wuhan – China’s car-manufacturing hub – which produced excitement from start to finish and included a dramatic victory for Bennani. The Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR driver crossed the line 0.4s ahead of Aurélien Comte after the pair briefly tangled on the final lap, which allowed Nathanaël Berthon to join a three-car scramble to the finish to signal his first WTCR podium for Comtoyou Racing.
Shedden’s win, coupled with his third place in Race 1, made him the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver for the most points scored across the Wuhan weekend, while Frédéric Vervisch – who finished second in Race 3 after shadowing Shedden for several laps – took the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy. He was joined on the day’s final podium by Denis Dupont, the Belgian federation-backed driver’s second top-three in as many events.
Aurélien Comte, in a DG Sport Compétition PEUGEOT 308TCR, returned to form with second in Race 2 but his hopes of a repeat in Race 3 were dashed when he was involved in a multi-car collision, which eliminated Rob Huff’s Volkswagen and also forced Mato Homola and double DTM champion Timo Scheider out.
Pepe Oriola (Team OSCARO by Campos Racing) experienced a weekend of differing fortunes. He was second in Race 1 but crashed in Second Qualifying as he gave his all to make it into the final-five showdown. However, he hit back with fourth in Race 2 and sixth in Race 3. The points scored put him fourth in the table, 34 down on leader Gabriele Tarquini, who endured a frustrating event, failing to score as he battled to find a competitive edge in his BRC Racing Team Hyundai following the latest compensation weight and balance of performance rulings.
Tarquini’s fellow Hyundai driver Thed Björk – the double winner in Ningbo – also struggled for form but his capture of P10 in Race 3 could yet prove decisive in the final championship reckoning. He’s now seven points behind Tarquini and one point ahead of YMR team-mate Muller, who scored a weekend best P10 in Race 2. Like team-mate Tarquini, Norbert Michelisz failed to score.
Other results of note included Ma Qing Hua becoming the first Chinese driver to land WTCR OSCARO points with seventh in Race 3. However, it was a case of what might have been for the Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda driver, who started Race 2 on the front row only for early contact to put him back. Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon (Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR) added eighth in Race 3 to his sixth in Race 1. Esteban Guerrieri took a weekend-best fourth in Race 3 for the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda team.
Race winner quotes
Jean-Karl Vernay, Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team, Audi RS 3 LMS (Race 1): “A good car and a good team made that possible, and I was able to make a good lap in qualifying. I guess it started from there and I just had to manage a good start, making sure I would still lead after the first corner. And then just focus on my driving, being consistent, making no mistakes. The track is tricky during the race because if you have a lack of concentration there are so many marbles on the outside line you can go directly into the wall. So I just tried to keep focused until then end. The car was great, so that was a little bit easier for me. I was just trying to understand a few things I need to work on for qualifying tomorrow. I couldn’t have hoped for a better result after the nightmare of last week and I’m really glad for the team, the guys. Now we have to make sure we are out front again, together with Gordon. It’s a great team effort.”
Mehdi Bennani, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR (Race 2): “It was very tough from the beginning of the weekend. The car was heavy on weight after my podium in Ningbo and I had to drive at 110 per cent because I knew I would be struggling with tyres from lap 12 or 13. And this is what happened. It’s a nice victory because so much has happened since my crash at Vila Real. This win is dedicated to the King of Morocco, who has done so much to make me a professional driver. I knew [Comte] was much lighter, by something like 60kg. He closed too much in the final three laps, but when he overtook me I knew it would be nearly impossible for him to stop the car at the hairpin on that line. I’m very happy.”
Gordon Shedden, Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team, Audi RS 3 LMS (Race 3): “Wins in the WTCR don’t come easy and today has been exactly that: trials and tribulations, ups and downs from a fantastic qualifying this morning to qualify on pole position and then get involved with somebody who hit me in Race 2 and broke the steering rack. The guys at WRT did an amazing job to replace the steering rack. I didn’t even think I’d make the grid to be able to start from pole position. Race 3 was very eventful, there was lots going on. Denis [Dupont] was exciting… but we made it to the end and it’s fantastic to get my first win and also to have two more Audis on the podium. It has been a fantastic day for the RS 3 Audis.”