Marrakech, Zandvoort, Wuhan (2 wins) and Macau: the Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team stunned the FIA WTCR OSCARO field for its first FIA World Championship entry. Title contender up to this last event in Macau, Jean-Karl Vernay secured a last win in Saturday’s race 1 starting from position 4th on the grid and once again proved himself as the fastest Audi of the field. Fate played its hand with both the Frenchman and his team mate Gordon Shedden being hit by Macau’s notorious unpredictability in race 2 and 3, with huge pile-ups of cars going from flat Mandarin corner to the narrow and twisty old town.
Free practice 1 started promisingly for Jean-Karl Vernay setting a scorching pace in the first session at WTCR Race of Macau. The Frenchman topped the times for most of the 30-minute session, then improved again on his final lap to set the benchmark at 2:31.328s. It was yet quick enough to set a new record for TCR cars around the Circuito da Guia with JayKay beating the previous record from past Leopard Racing driver Rob Huff. With no experience of the track, Wuhan race winner Gordon Shedden mainly focused on his Audi RS 3 LMS setup and track knowledge.
On an unusual 4-days format, the qualifyings for Races 1, 2 and 3 of the FIA WTCR Race of Macau were all held on Friday. Being given a 10-place grid penalty for the Race1 after a 3rd reprimand over the course of the season, Gordon Shedden helped slip-streaming J-K Vernay through the 40-minutes Race 1 qualifying session. The Frenchman positioned himself in 4th position with his Audi RS3 LMS, securing his championship tender while Rob Huff set an incredible 2:29:040 putting himself in pole position for Race 1. The Brit continued to dominate the top of the timesheets on the next qualifying sessions. By a narrow 0,2 second gap, the Audi RS3 LMS #69 from Vernay kept on the 2nd row with a 4th fastest time. Meanwhile it was a complicated session for the Scot Gordon Shedden as he closed in 18th.
On Saturday afternoon, Race 1 began with a multiple incident but, at the restart of lap three, Vernay got a fantastic run through Mandarin to take the lead from Muller, as Huff and Tarquini made it a four-way train at the front. 2 laps later, the race was stopped after Gordon Shedden’s Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team entry, nosed hard into a barrier at Police. When the green flags waved, Vernay had four laps to hold off past world touring car champions Muller and Huff, as Tarquini dropped off the trio to secure a safe fourth. Neither Vernay’s fellow countryman nor Rob ‘King Of Macau’ Huff could get close enough on the fastest part of the circuit to make a move for the lead giving Vernay his 4th win of the season and bringing him back in 3rd position in the championship ranking.
Vervisch became winner number 15 of WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup 2018 season as Yvan Muller scored a vital podium finish in Race 2 at WTCR Race of Macau. Good start from 7th by JayKay but in the pack because of the reverse grid. After Mandarin corner, coming to Lisboa to enter the old town, the Frenchman was blameless involved by another rivals’ incident concluding against the wall.
Race 3 began at 11:00 local time in Macau: at the front, Guerrieri, Huff and Race 1 winner Jean-Karl Vernay began to stretch away as the Audi driver 3rd in the championship provisionally, but on Lap 11 the Frenchman made a mistake at Lisboa again and crunched his RS 3 LMS into the barrier. Guerrieri won the final race of the year as the old fox Gabriele Tarquini secured the inaugural WTCR title.
#69 Jean-Karl VERNAY:
“The start of the weekend has been very good despite the 60 Kg of compensation weight; it left the Audi being the heaviest car of the field. But I have to say the Team made an incredible job to make it easy to drive for me. Unfortunately Pepe Oriola’s accident in Race2 impeded us to defend our chances in the drivers’ championship. It would have been such a great reward for the guy’s in the Team and for the partners which made this 1st season possible. I am still happy to be the best of the VW group cars but we know it was not our goal. Now the focus is on 2019!”
#52 Gordon SHEDDEN:
“Macau is an iconic Circuit, always full of action and incidents. The luck wasn't quite with us and the gambles didn't quite pay off this weekend but we look forward to a new start and a new season in 2019 where we will again fight for success.”
WTCR 2018 Race of Macau (GMT +8)
Circuit: Circuito Da Guia
Length: 6.120 m
Free Practice 1 : p 1 - Vernay / p 4 - Shedden
Free Practice 2 : p 16 - Vernay / p 21 - Shedden
1 - Huff / GBR / Sebastien Loeb Racing / VW Golf GTi / 2’29.660
2 - Guerrieri / ARG / All-Inkl Munnich / Honda Civic TCR / 2’30.034
3 - Michelisz / HUN / BRC Racing / Hyundai i30 N / 2’30.218
4 - Vernay / FRA / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / 2’30.223
18 - Shedden / GBR / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / 2’31.427
1 - Vernay / FRA / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / 10 Laps
2 - Muller / FRA / Mracing YMR / Hyundai i30 N / +0.516
3 - Huff / GBR / Sebastien Loeb Racing / VW Golf GTi / +0.881
4 - Tarquini / ITA / BRC Racing / Hyundai i30 N / +6.522
NC - Shedden / GBR / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / +6 laps
1 - Vervisch / BEL / Cometoyou Racing / RS 3 LMS / 8 Laps
2 - Scheider / AUT / All-Inkl Munnich / Honda Civic TCR / +1.713
3 - Muller / FRA / Mracing YMR / Hyundai i30 N / +2.132
14 - Shedden / GBR / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / +45.334
NC - Vernay / FRA / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / + 7 Laps
1 - Guerrieri / ARG / All-Inkl Munnich / Honda Civic TCR / 13 Laps
2 - Huff / GBR / Sebastien Loeb Racing / VW Golf GTi / +2.368
3 - Michelisz / HUN / BRC Racing / Hyundai i30 N / +3.354
22 - Vernay / FRA / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / + 3 Laps
NC - Shedden / GBR / Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil / RS 3 LMS / + 12 Laps
WTCR DRIVERS’ STANDING:
1 - Tarquini/ 306 p.
2 - Muller / 303 p.
3 - Guerrieri / 267 p.
4 - Michelisz / 247 p.
5 - Vernay / 246 p.
13 - Shedden / 122 p.
WTCR TEAMS’ STANDING:
1 - MRacing - YMR / 562 p.
2 - BRC Racing Team / 559 p.
3 - All-inkl Motorsport / 481 p.
4 - Sebastien Loeb Racing / 412 p.
5 - Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team / 381 p.
Photo credit: DPPI