As Shanghai was the home race for our team, this was always going to be an important weekend.
However it had become even more important after our championship lead had reduced significantly in the last few races. The aim was very clear – win the race and once again stamp our authority on the championship ahead of the title decider in Bahrain.
Testing went well, and despite the low grip nature of the track we were happy that we were making progress and would have a good race car.
One of our weakest areas this season has been qualifying and unfortunately Shanghai was no different. Despite what felt like two good laps from both myself and Thomas, we simply didn’t match some of our rivals in outright pace.
Qualifying is something that we don’t focus on too much, as being a six-hour race the race set up plays a much more significant role, however a major downside of this, and one that cost us significantly in Shanghai, is if you don’t start at the front it is easy to get stuck behind other cars and lose a significant amount of time.
It also puts you at risk of having more contacts as you try to move through the field fighting teams and drivers with less to lose.
Thomas took the start, and unfortunately heading into Turn 6 had to avoid a spinning Nico Mueller by going wide off the track which meant that he lost several places.
From there he set about fighting the cars in front, but Shanghai proved to be an extremely difficult track to pass on.
Despite having good pace every time he was in clean air, by the time he handed the car over there was a significant gap to the leaders.
Ho-Pin took over the car after Thomas’ double stint and started to reduce the gap to the leaders before catching Ben Hanley in the Manor car. Ho-Pin made a great move up the inside of turn two, however Ben tried to retain his position by cutting the corner into Turn 3 and eventually making contact with the side of our car spinning us round and costing us a significant amount of time.
Despite this, by the time I got in the car we had managed to reduce the gap to the lead car and our championship rival No. 31 to just under ten seconds.
Having pitted earlier than the No. 31 I knew I had a few laps to try and jump them before they pitted so I pushed as hard as I could, knowing that it could make or break our race, so every lap was a qualli lap.
Eventually the No. 31 pitted and came out behind us but it was important that we opened up a big enough gap as there was a chance we would need to make an extra stop to them for a splash of fuel at the end of the race due to the fact we pitted a few laps earlier.
By the end of my double stint, I had managed to open a lead of 28-seconds and everything was looking good, even with the extra stop it was going to be very close for the win.
Ho-Pin got back in the car and as we again pitted a few laps earlier than the No. 31 was planned to stop, we had another opportunity to increase our lead as we were on fresh tires whilst they were coming to the end of their double stint.
Exiting the last corner Ho-Pin got a good run on the G-Drive car with Nico Mueller driving. Nico moved to the right to defend but Ho-Pin could pull partially alongside entering turn one.
Unfortunately, Nico turned in leaving Ho-Pin no room and the two cars made contact causing both to spin.
For me, the most frustrating thing about the incident was that it could prove crucial in our attempt to win the World Championship and the No. 26 was not directly fighting us in the race, and with Nico being new to the championship that weekend it was completely unnecessary to take any risk with the championship leaders.
The spin cost us lap time but the biggest issue was that it flat spotted all four of the tires. From that moment on we had no chance to fight for the win, and the race became about survival to the finish.
We managed to salvage a 4th place finish but it was far from what we had hoped for or what was possible before the incident but having said that we were lucky to even finish as the tires were down to the canvass by the end of the race.
We now head to the final in Bahrain four points behind but it is still in our hands as a race win would be enough to clinch the title!