Chevrolet and Yvan Muller strike again
The 2012 FIA WTCC kicked off just like the 2011 season had ended, and the opening weekend of was dominated by the Chevrolet team.
A 1-2 in the first race was bettered in the second with one of the blue Cruze cars occupying every one of the podium places. It was the reigning Drivers’ Champion, Yvan Muller, who left
Monza with the biggest smile - the Frenchman won both races and so already has a healthy lead in the series.
However the first two races made clear that between Muller and his team-mates Rob Huff and Alain Menu the fight for the championship will be tough, no hold barred.
For a while, it seemed Chevrolet would not have things completely their own way. SEAT’s new turbocharged petrol engine arrived literally a few days beforehand and it immediately proved to be competitive. Gabriele Tarquini, in front of his home fans, qualified on pole position for the first race with Pepe Oriola qualifying as the leading Yokohama Trophy driver with an identical engine in his León. Thoughts of a Spanish giant-killing were short-lived, however; Tarquini’s engine was changed as a precaution after Qualifying and he eventually finished Race 1 in third place before retiring from Race 2 after a collision. Oriola was the highest-placed Yokohama Trophy driver in Race 1 but then finished Race 2 outside the top 10.
Team Aon were among several WTCC debutantes in Monza; the team’s two Ford Focus cars qualified just outside the top 12 that went through to the second stage of qualifying (also new for 2012). Despite that fact that both drivers were involved in incidents during the races, Tom Chilton (13th in race 1 and 16th in Race 2) and James Nash (16th and 13th) gave the team a promising start to its WTCC campaign. Among the Yokohama Trophy entrants, Stefano D’Aste was the winner in race 2 while Norbert Michelisz was able to lead Race 2 overall until lap 7 when the Hungarian driver hit something on the the track and allowed the charging Muller to snatch the lead. In both races, Oriola, D’Aste, Michelisz, Franz Engstler, Albert Cerqui and Alex MacDowall (another newcomer) were all impressive, which suggests a terrific battle is in store this year.
Results of the second race remain provisional pending technical checks on the brake calipers of cars 18 and 40. The championship will resume at Valencia, Spain, on April 1 for rounds 3 and 4.
RACE 1 - MULLER STARTS ON A HIGH NOTE
Despite Gabriele Tarquini denying Chevrolet its fourteenth successive pole position, it was ‘business as usual’ in the race as Yvan Muller headed Robert Huff in a Chevrolet 1-2, with Tarquini completing the podium positions.
A precautionary engine change on Tarquini’s SEAT León after Qualifying suggested possible concerns in the Lukoil Racing garage, but Tarquini finished the race after battling with both Muller and then Huff. Alain Menu in the third factory Chevrolet Cruze ended the race in a frustrated eighth place after contact with Huff that saw
the Swiss driver forced to take to the gravel on the first lap. The battle amongst the competitors for the Yokohama Trophy was just as fierce, with Pepe Oriola, Aleksei Dudukalo, Alex MacDowall and Norbert Michelisz all fighting for the first points of the season. Dudukalo pulled up on lap 11 after leading the independents’ category, leaving Pepe Oriola to take maximum points from the race.
Two laps were completed behind the Safety Car after Isaac Tutumlu’s BMW stopped on the circuit on lap 3 and had to be removed.
Start - Tarquini is first into the chicane, but Engstler, D’Aste and Monteiro collide
Lap 1 - Menu is sent into the gravel at Lesmo after contact with Huff
Lap 2 - Muller runs wide and lets Tarquini retake the lead
Lap 2 – Bennani, Nash and Barlesi have contact; only Nash rejoins
Lap 3 - Tarquini runs wide into the chicane, Muller takes the lead
Lap 6 - Huff takes third from Rydell, but Rydell retakes the place.
Lap 6 - Chilton passes D’Aste but also then loses the position on the same lap
Lap 7 - Huff passes Rydell again to move into 3rd place.
Lap 7 - Dudukalo passes Coronel.
Lap 8 - Ng and Weber collide at the Roggia chicane; Tutumlu is also involved
Lap 9 - Huff passes Tarquini for second place
Lap 10 - Menu moves up into eighth place.
Lap 11 - Dudukalo retires from sixth
D. O’Young: DNS; T. Monteiro: race incident; A. Barlesi: race incident; M. Bennani:
race incident; I. Tutumlu: race incident; A. Dudukalo: engine.
RACE 2 - CHEVROLET CLAIM 1-2-3 FINISH
Following the team’s 1-2 in Race 1, Chevrolet Cruze cars took all three of the podium places in Race 2 with the reigning WTCC Drivers’ Champion Yvan Muller securing his second win from as many races.
New for 2012, the starting grid for Race 2 was a reversal of the top 10 from the Q2 session and so it was the BMW 320 TC of Norbert Michelisz that started from pole position. It wasn’t until lap 7 that the lead changed hands, with Michelisz’s challenge fading to eventually leave him in eighth place at the chequered flag. Any hope of another podium finish for Gabriele Tarquini in the Lukoil Racing Team SEAT León ended at the first corner of lap 2, when a four-car clash saw Robert Huff send Muller straight on at the chicane and Tarquini - the only casualty - parked up. The fight amongst the Yokohama Trophy competitors was just as keen with Michelisz, Alex MacDowall, Stefano D’Aste and Franz Engstler scrapping throughout the race. In the end, it was the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320 of D’Aste that took maximum points, with Engstler’s BMW and the Chevrolet Cruze of MacDowall both finishing within a second or so of D’Aste.
Start - Michelisz is first into the chicane; Rydell takes a bad start
Lap 1 - Menu has contact with D’Aste
Lap 2 - Huff hits Muller; the three Chevrolets and Tarquini spin at the first chicane
Lap 2 - Tarquini retires following the incident
Lap 4 - D’Aste passes MacDowall for third at the first chicane.
Lap 4 - Muller, Menu and Huff overtake MacDowall
Lap 4 - Muller overtakes D’Aste to take third
Lap 5 - Menu overtakes D’Aste to take fourth
Lap 6 - Muller passes Coronel to take second
Lap 7 - Coronel re-takes second place from Muller at the chicane
Lap 7 - Menu makes contact with Muller at the second chicane
Lap 7 - Muller re-takes second from Coronel, then passes Michelisz for the lead
Lap 7 - Michelisz drops back, being passed by Menu, Coronel and Huff
Lap 8 - MacDowall makes contact with Michelisz and drops two places
Lap 9 - Huff passes Coronel to take third place
A. Dudukalo: DNS; C. Ng: race incident; G. Tarquini: race incident.
O’YOUNG’S CAR ON FIRE IN THE WARM UP
The WTCC warm-up session was halted after less than three minutes when flames were spotted coming from the front left-hand side of the SEAT León of Darryl O’Young. The Hong Kong driver pulled up at the Ascari corner and marshals were able to douse the flames. O’Young’s car had suffered from engine problems during yesterday’s qualifying session and the STR team had applied for an engine change that was approved by the Stewards without penalty, but the fire sidelined the driver for good.
ENGINE CHANGE FOR TARQUINI AND WÉBER
Two other engine changes occurred during the weekend on Gabriele Tarquini’s SEAT and Gábor Wéber’s BMW. That on Tarquini’s car, made mainly as a precaution, was authorized by the Stewards without penalty, as per decision 27 of the Touring Car Committee that allows changes for the engines homologated in 2012 (SEAT and Ford) until May 1. On the contrary, Wéber was demoted to the back of the grid for Race 1, because the BMW engine benefitted from the same waiver in 2011.
THE WORD TO THE WINNER
Yvan Muller (after Race 1): “I couldn’t have started the season in a better way. I went straight on at the chicane so I let Gabriele (Tarquini) past again, but Lesmo helped me when Gabriele went wide and I could get past him. Of course, the SEAT engine is new but they have a good team and so I didn’t expect that Gabriele would have any problems and I knew I had to push him. Monza is always hard on the brakes and the front left-hand tyre, so I took things a little easy on the last few laps; I had some vibrations so I backed off a little.”
Yvan Muller (after Race 2): “It’s far too early to be thinking of the title - we still have 22 races to go! The entire second race was a lot tougher than I was expecting, but it’s been the perfect way to start the year. I was hit from behind at the chicane and I think I spun around 360 degrees, so I was worried that I’d stressed the tyres, but Yokohama clearly make fantastic tyres because, apart from some vibration, I was fine. The guys ahead of us were fighting each other and so they were losing time to us but Michelisz hit something just before the second chicane and so I was able to pass him.”