A date with destiny for José María López?
Five weeks after winning the Manufacturers’ World Championship in China*, Citroën is preparing for what could be another decisive weekend.
After trips to Japan and China, the FIA WTCC’s Asian tour ends in Thailand. 400 km north-east of Bangkok, the little town of Buriram is used to big sporting events, thanks to its local football club. The Chang International Circuit, which was built right next to a 32,000-seater stadium, was officially opened in October 2014. This will be the first time the 4554 m track, designed by architect Hermann Tilke to meet FIA Grade 1 homologation standards, has hosted an FIA World Championship event.
With the Manufacturers’ title already secured for Citroën during the last round, all attention will be focused on the Driver standings for the remainder of the season, and things are looking good for José María López, to say the least!
I have prepared well and I know how many points I need to score to become World Champion.
José María López
After five pole positions, eight race wins and sixteen podium finishes in twenty races, the Argentine has notched up 396 points. With a 75-point lead over teammate Yvan Muller – the only driver who can still deprive him of the title – Pechito could have his second consecutive championship crown all sewn up by the end of next weekend. Buriram means ‘City of Joy’ in Thai. Could this be a happy omen?
“Obviously, I’m really looking forward to this meeting,”admitted José María López. “I have prepared well and I know how many points I need to score to become World Champion. Of course, whenever I get into my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, I’m aiming for the best possible result. But this weekend, my sole objective will be to secure the title. It would be great to do it with a win, but I’ll be trying to stay out of the in-race battles to make sure I get the points I still need. I’ll be battling with myself rather than against my competitors!”
“Since I became World Champion in 2014, my life has changed. I get up every morning with a smile on my face and the great time I’m having with Citroën has a lot to do with that,” he added. “People know what I’m capable of now, so I’ve become the man to beat, and that has made my job harder. My rivals – not least my teammates – are better prepared than ever. The standard of the competition has gone up again. The statistics might not show it, but I’ve found this season even harder than last year. Winning a second title would make me even happier than I already am!”
“Mathematically, I’m still in with a shot in the title race. But realistically, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Yvan Muller. “I would have to produce two perfect weekends and hope that Pechito went virtually pointless… It seems a little far-fetched! Above all, I will be trying to enjoy myself, to perform well and to win some more races.”
A lightning-fast circuit
The Thai circuit will be new to all the FIA WTCC teams and drivers, and has some interesting features. “In terms of average speed, Buriram will be the second-quickest, between the Nürburgring and Vila Real,” judged José María López after his preparations on the Citroën Racing simulator. “There aren’t a lot of tight bends and we are going to be spending a lot of time going at full tilt. I think Turn No. 4 will be particularly interesting. It reminds me of the Signes bend at the Paul Ricard Circuit, except that it’s a left-hand turn. The track is wide, with clear tarmacked sections, and we will have to be careful to stay within the bounds of the racing surface. Another vital factor will be the weather: it will not only be hot, but humid too. These will probably be the toughest conditions of the season.”
“It looks like a nice circuit. The long straights and the wide track will be conducive to overtaking,” added Yvan Muller. “Apart from the fact that they are right-hand turns, the first and last bends are similar to those at Moscow Raceway. So it should be possible to overtake at the start and finish, just like in Russia! I think the races will be interesting and I hope a big crowd will show up to watch. It’s great to see Thailand opening its arms to international motorsport and the FIA WTCC acting as a pioneer by racing at this new circuit.”
Battles at every level
Lying third in the World Championship with three race wins so far this season, Sébastien Loeb is 39 points adrift of Yvan Muller. He may be out of the title race, but the nine-time World Rally Champion can still eye the runner-up spot if his teammate slips up.
Ma Qing Hua is one hundred points behind in fourth place. The Chinese driver has produced some excellent performances of late, but had no luck at his home meeting, and has Norbert Michelisz, Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro right on his heels. With just thirteen points separating the four drivers, that battle looks like going down to the wire!
Saturday has been earmarked for free practice, with three half-hour sessions to be held at 9 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. This means a packed schedule on Sunday, with qualifying beginning at 10 a.m. The races – each lasting eleven laps – will get under way at 4.25 and 5.30 p.m. With the sun due to set at 5.40 p.m., night will already have fallen when the chequered flag is lowered! Thailand is in the GMT+7 (ICT) time zone, 6 hours ahead of France in winter.
* Subject to official publication of the results by the FIA.
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