Zhang Zhi Qiang successfully defended his Guia Race victory for Shell Teamwork Lynk & Co Racing at Macau in a dramatic race, which saw him pass team-mate and Race 1 Macau winner Ma Qing Hua on the last lap due to a puncture. The victory marks the third straight Macau Giua win for the Lynk & Co 03 TCR race car.
It was a dominant weekend for the Shell Teamwork Lynk & Co Racing squad at Macau, with Ma Qing Hua topping the shortened practice session on Friday morning, before taking pole position for the 50th edition of the Guia Race of Macau by 1.5 seconds.
Championship leader Zhang Zhi Qiang and team-mate Sunny Wong both had trouble with traffic in a session which was interrupted by a red flag.
For Saturday's race, Ma controlled the race, while a great start for Zhang Zhi Qiang saw him quickly move up to second, and he kept in touch with MA's Lynk & Co 03 TCR throughout the race, occasionally looking down the inside into Lisboa to see if he could make a move.
But Ma held on to take his first win at the Guia circuit, after having been deprived of the chance to win the Guia Race last year after he was taken out.
Wong finished in fifth where he started, having dropped two spots at the start but was able to reclaim them by the end of the eight lap encounter.
The Guia Race
On Sunday, Ma got away well from pole, with Zhang holding onto second into Reservoir bend, but a fast-starting Sunny Wong was able to drive around the outside of Zhang at Lisboa and move into second place on the first lap.
Zhang retook the place a lap later at the same spot, and closed up to Ma after he came across traffic, and took the lead from MA in a daring move at the Mandarin bend. Wong also passed Ma a corner later at Lisboa, and the three held station for another four laps.
The three Lynk & Cos pulled out a substantial lead on the field, and on lap nine, Ma was able to pass both Wong and Zhang for the lead, while it was at this point the drivers realised there was an issue with the tyres, which were having to run 12 laps at full pace, and began to back off.
Unfortunately it was too late, as both Ma and Wong suffered punctures on the final lap. Zhang initially tried to support race leader Ma, whose tyre puncture wasn't his fault, but as a rival car was catching up, he was forced to pass Ma to ensure the team of victory.
Zhang therefore crossed the line first and successfully defended his Guia Race title from 2020, and also wrapped up the 2021 TCR Asia drivers' championship title.
Ma managed to get his Lynk & Co across the line, and still held on to third, despite setting a lap a minute and a half slower than his best - and only just! Crossing the line half a second ahead of the next placed car.
Ma was later promoted to second overall after it was discovered the car ahead had breached the turbo boost limits, but was already confirmed as second of the TCR Asia competitors.
Sunny Wong sadly was the final retirement in the classification, unable to get back to the chequered flag after both his front tyres had punctured.
While the promise of a fairytale 1-2-3 finish in the season finale wasn't possible due to issues with the tyres which were exclusive to this event, and have never been used in any TCR competition before, it was still a fantastic sign-off to the year.
With a 1-2 finish for Zhang and Ma, another win at the Guia Race for Zhang, and a year where the team wrapped up all three titles in the TCR Asia series, with Zhang succeeding current WTCR - FIA World Touring Car Cup driver Luca Engstler as the TCR Asia drivers' champion.
After a hectic end to the year, with ten races held over two months, the team now heads into a well-deserved winter break.
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID
Ma Qing Hua #33 RACE 1: P1 | RACE 2: P2
"It was a great weekend up until that last lap. I had great pace in qualifying - and I was able to get through the traffic to set a good lap to take pole. In Race 1, I was able to finally take my first win at Macau, even though my team-mate was definitely keeping the pressure on throughout.
"On Sunday, it was a crazy race. I lost the lead early on but was able to get it back, but then we realised the tyres were starting to fail and we all backed off, but it was too late.
"To finish the Guia Race in second place, driving a whole lap with just three tyres is certainly an achievement in itself. I hope to be back next year and be one place further up, and with all four tyres inflated at the finish."
Zhang Zhi Qiang #36 RACE 1: P2 | RACE 2: P1
"Last year at Macau it was my first time with Shell Teamwork Lynk & Co Racing, and this time it’s quite emotional. I don’t know why, but here in Macau I’ve always been quite lucky. My best lap was not as fast as my team-mate MA Qing Hua, and my race pace wasn’t better either, but he always seems to be unlucky here.
"If we’re here again next year I’d like to see him on the podium and winning in Macau.
"I’m really honoured to be here with my Chinese friends, and fellow Chinese drivers and to stand here on the podium and take the TCR Asia title. Huge thanks to the team, who gave me a very fast, very good call all weekend and all season."
Sunny Wong #12 RACE 1: P5 | RACE 2: DNF
"Macau is always a bit of a lottery. I had traffic on my lap, as did Zhi Qiang, so we ended up fourth and fifth though we definitely had the pace to lock out the top three.
"In a busy start in Race 1 I dropped two places, and it took me most of the race to get back to where I started.
"My start on Sunday was one of my all-time best. I was able to get around the outside at Lisboa to get to second, and for a time it looked like I was going to be able to get to third in the championship, but it wasn't to be.
"Despite trying to conserve the tyres, I had two punctures on the final lap, and it was impossible to get the car back to the finish line.
"A unfortunate end to what's been a fantastic season for the team, with wins at Macau, all three titles secured, with ten wins from 12 races."