World of Sport: WTCR; NASCAR Cup; Mo­togp; Bathurst 1000

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - JACK COZENS

The World Tour­ing Car Cup’s Wuhan week­end was a tale of two WRT drivers but, while Jean-karl Ver­nay’s third suc­cess of 2018 was sig­nif­i­cant for play­ing him back into the cham­pi­onship pic­ture, his team­mate Gor­don Shed­den’s break­through win was the high­light on the streets of China’s au­to­mo­tive-man­u­fac­tur­ing cap­i­tal.

This had been a long time com­ing for Shed­den. There were flashes of pace at the Mar­rakech sea­son-opener (Shed­den fin­ished fifth in the open­ing race) and at Vila Real (he was third over the line in race two be­fore a penalty), but his cam­paign had fal­tered at times, and failed to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions many had of the three-time Bri­tish Tour­ing Car cham­pion.

Shed­den talked af­ter July’s Slo­vakia Ring round of a “des­per­ate” need to fix car is­sues – that if un­re­solved threat­ened to make the rest of the sea­son “a write-off” – and pushed for a car swap. WRT obliged, giv­ing him the RS3 LMS that Ver­nay had raced in TCR Europe. But things got no bet­ter last time out at Ningbo, where both drivers failed to score a point.

But still, Shed­den held out hope.

“The car was quite strong at the other street races in Mar­rakech and Vila Real, so hope­fully that’ll work in our favour,” he said. “It’s also a new cir­cuit for ev­ery­body, no team or driver has even been there be­fore so everyone starts a bit more on an even keel.”

Sure enough, things fi­nally came good at Wuhan, where the Audi pack­age reigned supreme. Third-fastest in FP1 and FP2, Shed­den was fifth on the grid (and the fourth Audi) for race one and had to cede the lime­light to Ver­nay – as the 2017 TCR International cham­pion romped to vic­tory to keep his ti­tle-out­sider sta­tus alive.

Even so, Shed­den had rea­son to cel­e­brate as a pass on the Mun­nich Mo­tor­sport

Honda Civic of Yann Ehrlacher mid­way through gave him third place – which ended a run of seven races with­out a point. More im­por­tantly, it marked his first podium since step­ping up to the World Cup.

But af­ter qual­i­fy­ing on pole for Sun­day’s main race, the chance he’d been wait­ing for could have gone beg­ging thanks to an in­ci­dent on lap one of the re­versed-grid race two. When Aure­lien Pa­nis bumped into the side of Rob Huff (Se­bastien Loeb Rac­ing Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI), he in turn tagged his com­pa­triot – and off went the Audi into the bar­rier. Shed­den dragged his hob­bled car back to the pits, but played no fur­ther part af­ter it was dis­cov­ered his steer­ing rack had been dam­aged.

A swift rack change al­lowed Shed­den to take up pole – he feared he might miss the race – but he still wasn’t out of the woods. Af­ter beat­ing fel­low front-row starter Fred­eric Vervisch into Turn 1, Shed­den was then hit by an­other Audi – that of Com­toyou driver De­nis Dupont – into the cor­ner and sent side­ways, al­though he man­aged to con­tinue still in the lead.

The other side of a lengthy early-race safety car pe­riod, Shed­den was again caught up in an in­ci­dent with Dupont, who clum­sily clat­tered a tyre stack at the Turn 10/11 right-left that was fired into the back of the lead­ing Audi. That re­sulted in an­other safety car, be­fore which Vervisch passed Dupont and set up a nine-lap run to the fin­ish.

Vervisch stayed within reach of Shed­den in the clos­ing stages, but failed to over­haul the WRT car. Shed­den clinched a first win on the world stage by 0.558 sec­onds.

“It’s been an ab­so­lutely epic week­end,” said Shed­den. “The car’s just been trans­formed since last week. There’s been a lot of work done by the team be­hind the scenes, and this is the first week­end where I feel like I’m part of the car, and it makes such a dif­fer­ence.”

Shed­den wasn’t the only first-time WTCR win­ner at Wuhan, as Me­hdi

Ben­nani took his first spoils of 2018 in

the re­versed-grid race. Hav­ing led from the start, the Moroccan al­most lost out on the crazy fi­nal lap when he was passed by the Peu­geot 308 TCR of Aure­lien Comte on the run to the penul­ti­mate cor­ner, but Comte then ran wide at the hair­pin, al­low­ing Loeb driver Ben­nani back up the in­side.

So, what of the ti­tle race? With all four Hyundais that started the week­end at the head of the ti­tle race en­dur­ing a night­mare event, the door re­mains ajar for an out­sider to sneak in.

YMR pair Thed Bjork and Yvan Muller claimed all three tri­umphs at Ningbo, but at Wuhan ac­cu­mu­lated just three points be­tween them as the i30 Ns strug­gled for pace. That meant that, even though Gabriele Tar­quini fared even worse – like BRC team-mate Nor­bert Miche­lisz, fail­ing to score – he still leads by seven points, with Bjork and Muller tied for se­cond over­all.

Al­though Ver­nay had the chance to lead the best-of-the-rest charge, he fluffed his lines when he put Comte into the wall at the start of race three, earn­ing him­self a driv­ethrough penalty that dropped him out of points con­tention.

In­stead, Pepe Ori­ola – who was se­cond to Ver­nay in race one – leads the chas­ing pack. A run of 13 points fin­ishes from the past 14 races, in­clud­ing a vic­tory and three podi­ums, has al­lowed the Cam­pos Rac­ing Cupra driver to go un­der the radar, and he now sits 34 points off the sum­mit.

The triple BTCC champ scored his first WTCR win

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