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