Thailand’s loss is Doha’s gain. At least in terms of touring cars, that is. In a decisive move at a meeting in Paris last month, the FIA World Motor Sport Council approved the cancellation of the WTCC Race of Thailand, due to unresolved issues between the WTCC promoter, Eurosport Events, and the WTCC Race of Thailand Promoter, the Royal Automobile Association of Thailand.
Why are we telling you all this? Simples. The net result is that the cancellation of the Thai leg – originally scheduled for November 4-6 – means the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s crucial next race will now actually hit these shores, from Thursday November 24 and Friday 25, chalking up only the championship’s second ever visit to the Middle East.
Even more excitingly, the race will play out under the bright glare of the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit, marking only the second time a WTCC has ever taken place at night. And, with the coveted runner-up spot in the overall drivers’ standings still up for grabs, there will be plenty for all of them to fight over.
But for four-time champion Yvan Muller, his time in the city will also prove to be an emotional one. Finally hanging up his helmet after a brilliant and prodigious career, the 47 year-old Frenchman has announced that the race this month in Doha will mark his adieu to the sport, saying he will now dedicate his time to his family and building his self-named racing team.
Frankly, it’s an appropriately grand place for the legend to bow out. Ever since starting out in single-seaters in 1992 (his sister, Cathy, in fact raced four times in the category before him), he’s lit up tracks all across the world, especially when it comes to touring cars.
Muller started his touring car career in 1998, when he took the seat Frank Biela had left vacant at Audi. From there he won the World Touring Car Championship in 2008 (with SEAT), 2010 and 2011 (both with Chevrolet) and then again in 2013 with RML. When you go to see him this month at Losail, he’ll be tearing up the tracks in a Citroen.
“Alsace has always had a culture of motor racing,” Muller says when asked why the region he calls home has such a rich history of quality drivers. “Bugatti is there, the Peugeot factory is nearby. Bruno Spengler, Bob Wollek. It’s just a part of the culture. That or it’s the sauerkraut, which is a speciality of Alsace…”
He smiles. “Actually, it probably is that!”
November 24-25. Free entry (grandstand), QR200 (2-day paddock pass), QR1,200 (2-day VIP ticket). Losail Sports Club. www.fiatcc.com (4472 9151).