Audi Sport driver Niels Langeveld has returned from China with a positive feeling, following a race meeting at the Ningbo circuit that netted him a fair few points and also saw him be the fastest Audi driver on the first day of racing. That is why the Audi Sport driver isn’t overly concerned with the fact that on the second day of racing he was forced to suffer a string of setbacks. The progress made over the weekend and his form in the first race give Langeveld the confidence to perform well at Suzuka at the end of October.
After a long summer break, Langeveld and his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport outfit were eager to get back to work in the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR), the pinnacle for TCR touring cars worldwide. For this, the WTCR circus had travelled to Asia for its seventh round in the series, with 26 TCR cars taking part in three races on the Ningbo circuit. The Dutchman describes the winding track south of Shanghai as a nice track very similar to the Hungaroring. "A bit wider than the Hungaroring, though, so you can actually overtake here. But you need to be quite a bit faster – and that doesn't happen all too easily given the tiny margins in this series."
Langeveld started free practice in quiet fashion, but then increasingly stepped up the pace. "I had no previous track knowledge, so I wanted to build it up nice and slowly.''
His ascendance continued in qualifying. "I made it into the top 12 and then set 11th time while being the fastest of the Audis. I subsequently finished ninth in the first race, again as the best-placed Audi driver. That was absolutely perfect. Got some points, the car felt great, it couldn't have been better. So at the end of that day I could be satisfied – here was a weekend that was going according to plan, with a good result as its crowning glory."
But then the next day the devil played tricks on Langeveld yet again. First, a gearbox issue forced him to miss the second race, and then his third race ended prematurely due to a contretemps with one of his adversaries.
"You always have a few times during a season when things just don't work out in qualifying – and this was one of those times", Langeveld said about Sunday morning’s second qualifying session. "It was a shame as the car was great. My first set of new tyres simply failed to switch on, so I had it all to do on my second set. Right at that moment, it started to rain, so I lost four tenths with a big moment of oversteer. I did improve after that, but it wasn’t enough – 23rd on the grid. I should have been right in the mix with the other Audi drivers, and the data bore witness of that. And then at the end of the session I heard a rattling sound... the gearbox. I completely missed out on the second race while that was being repaired."
Langeveld hit back in the third race with a demon start that lifted him from 22nd to 14th. This was followed by a safety car period – and a restart that seemed to result in another pass. "I was much faster and the two of us went into the corner side by side. But he kept pushing my right rear corner until he shoved me around, causing me to spin in front of him, straight into the guardrail. I’m certain that I could have finished ninth or tenth, but there was just too much forceful driving going on."
The Dutchman is fully aware that this is part of the WTCR’s ultra-competitive mentality. "We're all fighting for every position. Everyone is so good that it is bunched tightly together. Then everyone is forced to take risks and dive into every gap, especially on a slow circuit like this. But this was so unnecessary. If you ask me this had nothing to do with motor racing."
And yet, Langeveld looks back on the Chinese WTCR weekend with a positive frame of mind, and is ready to take on the races in Japan, at Suzuka on 26-27 October. "I scored points here, the car was good, the team was happy, Audi was happy. I'm therefore going to Suzuka with lots of confidence. I see many opportunities for us to figure at the sharp end there."