- Tough start to Qatar ends with satisfaction for Honda in privateer title win
- Strong points finishes in second race with a combined 7-position gain for Castrol drivers
In a momentous week of firsts for the FIA World Touring Car Championship; the first night race, the first race in Qatar and the first non-weekend event (running on Thursday and Friday) Honda applauds Norbert Michelisz and the Zengo Motorsport team on their successful battle to be first in the Independents’ championship following an impressive display from the customer outfit in the day’s second race. Michelisz’s third place finish was more than enough to secure the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy, four points clear of title rival, Mehdi Bennani – but it wasn’t first without some tense action as the title came down to the wire.
To the opening race and Michelisz started from 6th on the grid but found himself under attack from turn one, emerging down in 8th by the end of the first lap. Though he managed to regain 7th across the finish line, the title was yet to be decided with just two points separating the title protagonists. The ever determined Hungarian faced the second race with one mission; to finish ahead of Bennani in order to claim the privateer championship. Simple to say, but as both races proved, a 5.8km track over 12 laps felt like an eternity.
In the second race Michelisz would start from 5th and straight off the mark had promoted himself to 4th and running well behind the leading trio of John Filippi, Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua.
Whilst an investigation into pole man Filippi’s false start was in progress, contact with Muller pushed the Campos racer out of contention and Michelisz moved into 3rd whilst Bennani was running 5th – positions both privateers would maintain to the end, much to the emphatic delight of the Zengo team.
For Castrol Honda the team were hopeful of a change in fortunes following earlier disappointment in qualifying, but for Gabriele Tarquini the day’s first race would not be one to remember. Contact in turn 1 would see the #2 Civic running wide off track, rejoining down in last place and with a mammoth task ahead to salvage any potential for points – an opportunity which sadly didn’t present as the Italian took the flag in 16th.
Teammate Tiago Monteiro got a clean getaway off the line and progressed over the unfolding laps through the field from his 11th place grid position to a points-scoring 8th by chequered flag in an otherwise relatively quiet race as the pack calmed into rhythm.
Race two would bring a stronger set of points finishes; the Castrol duo making up an impressive seven positions between them. Running 8th and 9th respectively the order was set over the following laps when turn one contact near the back of the pack necessitated the safety car.
As the racing resumed some five laps later, Tarquini was locked in an engaging battle for 7th with Nicolas Lapierre whilst the front-running Honda of Michelisz was revelling in some close but clean competition with Sebastien Loeb.
Meantime Monteiro was under threat from race one winner, Jose Maria Lopez and, whilst the Argentine eventually found his way through, it wasn’t without challenge.
At the flag Michelisz ended the season finale with a perfect title-winning result, followed by Tarquini in 7th from 14th and Monteiro in 9th from 11th.
Gabriele Tarquini (16th/7th) “In the first race I had contact in turn 1 and went off. After that I tried to rejoin the group but I was last. I fought a little bit with Nasser [Saleh Al-Attiyah] and Gregoire [Demoustier] but it wasn’t possible to progress any further after that. Race two was a little better but I had contact with an accident in front of me in turn 3. Luckily my car wasn’t damaged and afterwards I had a good fight with Nicolas [Lapierre]. The car was quite good; much better than qualifying and yesterday. But unfortunately I started further down the grid than I’d have liked and always that makes it harder to fight for the front.”
Tiago Monteiro (8th/9th): “It’s been a mixed event here, much like the whole season. We’ve had some bad luck, such as in Vila Real or Paul Ricard but sometimes things haven’t worked out then the next time they have – it’s racing. Qualifying today wasn’t as we’d planned but we managed to take points in both races which is important.
“Overall we’ve shown progress throughout the year and despite the setbacks, we still took three victories on track so we can be happy with our performance over the season.”
Norbert Michelisz (7th/3rd) “I’m really happy. I have said many times that finishing as high as possible in the overall standings is more important but this win is special because I have been feeling extra pressure. Over the past two or three races I have been watching Mehdi’s performance, which has been impressive. I knew before I arrived here that I need a perfect race weekend. Mehdi is on top of his game and has done a great job – he deserved a top spot too. I always want to say congratulations and thank you to my team. All the guys at Zengo work so hard and I think sometimes to the outside they overlook just how much effort the team put in. Thank you.”
Alessandro Mariani, Managing Director JAS Motorsport: “We tried a new setup yesterday, but it didn’t work properly so by the end we came back and the final pace was pretty satisfactory in the races. I am very happy because of Norbi’s success in the Yokohama Trophy and also the pace of all three cars, in spite of the contact in the first corner, was good. As usual our race was better than qualifying. Now we need to think about next year and come back stronger….”
Daisuke Horiuchi, Large Project Leader for WTCC Development at Honda R&D: “I am very glad that Norbi was able to get the Yokohama Drivers’ title and congratulate him and Zengo for that success. For Gabriele and Tiago the results weren’t as hoped coming into the weekend but after qualifying earlier I think the points finishes are the best we could do. It has been a challenging weekend and we need to make further effort to improve overall performance for next year.”