Menu and D'Aste win races in Japan
Alain Menu and Stefano D’Aste have shared race victories at Suzuka, while Yvan Muller and Rob Huff collected the same number of points, meaning that they are still equal in leading the standings.
The top positions remained nearly frozen in both races. Those who started at the front managed to defend their positions. However, the races were not boring at all, with the drivers changing lines at all the braking points and with countless close fights for the positions that resulted in a few contacts, like the one between Mehdi Bennani and Aleksei Dudukalo in Race 1. In the first race, the Chevrolet trio pulled away, leaving Gabriele Tarquini to defend his fourth position from the attacks of a brilliant Alex MacDowall. The second race was even closer, with D’Aste chased by Pepe Oriola, Tarquini, Bennani and the Chevrolets that, for once, were not in the position to benefit from their superior power. With Muller and Huff still on equal points, the fight for the Drivers’ Championship is getting hotter and hotter, while Chevrolet grabbed the Manufacturers’ title after Saturday’s qualifying. The battle for the Yokohama Trophy is even closer. Oriola has reduced the gap from Norbert Michelisz to ten points, while D’Aste and MacDowell are only a few further points adrift. The championship will resume in two weeks at Shanghai, on November 4, for Rounds 21 and 22.
RACE 1 – MENU LEADS CHEVROLET 1-2-3
Alain Menu converted his pole position to his fourth race win of the season and led home another 1-2-3 for Chevrolet, as his Cruze was followed by the sister cars of Yvan Muller and Rob Huff. Alex MacDowall completed Chevrolet’s hat trick by finishing fifth overall and first of the Yokohama Trophy in his bamboo-engineering Cruze. The top positions were decided immediately after the start, when Muller kept Huff at bay resisting a contact into Turn 2, while Gabriele Tarquini overtook MacDowall for fourth.
However, the battles between the midfielders and the back markers were exciting. A group of seven drivers – Dudukalo, Bennani, Coronel, Oriola, D’Aste, Monteiro and Egstler – was fighting for the sixth place. With four laps to go Mehdi Bennani, under pressure from Tom Coronel, hit Aleksei Dudukalo and retired, while the Russian was able to keep the lead of the pack. Tiago Monteiro finished tenth and scored the first point for Honda in the Civic’s maiden race.
A sextet formed by Boardman, Michelisz, Yoshimoto, Nash, Cerqui and Monje fought for the 13th position. After a number of clashes, Boardman prevailed, while Yoshimoto dropped back.
Start – Menu takes the lead from pole
Lap 1 – Muller keeps second from Huff; Tarquini overtakes MacDowall for fourth
Lap 2 – Ng goes out at Turn 1 and rejoins
Lap 3 – Boardman overtakes Michelisz for 14th
Lap 4 – Yoshimoto overtakes Michelisz for 15th
Lap 6 – Monteiro and O’Young make contact while fighting for 11th
Lap 9 – Michelisz knock on Boardman’s rear bumper
Lap 11 – Boardman overtakes Yoshimoto for 14th
Lap 12 – Michelisz overtakes Yoshimoto for 15th
Lap 14 – Cerqui spins onto the gravel at Turn 1
Lap 15 – Münnich spins at Turn 8
Lap 21 – Coronel puts pressure on Bennani who is seventh
Lap 22 – Bennani hits Dudukalo and retires
A. Cerqui: race incident; M. Bennani: race incident
RACE 2 – D’ASTE WINS FROM ORIOLA
Stefano D’Aste claimed a lights to flag victory, his second one in the season. Pepe Oriola and Gabriele Tarquini completed a podium that, for once, did not feature any of the Chevrolet drivers. While at the front D’Aste was performing his best defense driving to keep Oriola and Tarquini at bay, Rob Huff, Alain Menu and Yvan Muller were stuck in fifth, sixth and seventh positions behind Mehdi Bennani. Only in the last two laps they finally managed to overtake the Proteam Racing BMW. Huff and Menu did it on lap 24 and for a while Muller found himself second in the points for the first time this year. However, the reigning champion was quick to react and grabbed the sixth position on the last lap. A move that enabled him to stay on equal points with Huff. Just like in the first race, there were close fights for the positions. Aleksei Dudukalo, beat Alex MacDowall for eighth, and Tiago Monteiro stole tenth from Franz Engstler scoring a second point for Honda. Further back, Tom Boardman finished in 12th after a race-long battle with O’Young, Cerqui, Nash and Coronel.
Start – D’Aste takes the lead from Oriola and Tarquini
Lap 1 – Michelisz it punted off at Turn 3
Lap 2 – Nash overtakes Ng for 14th
Lap 3 – Dudukalo drives wide at Turn 8 and slips down from 5th to 8th behind the Chevrolet trio
Lap 4 – MacDowall overtakes Monteiro for tenth
Lap 6 – Monteiro keeps Boardman at bay
Lap 5 – MacDowall overtakes Engstler for ninth
Lap 9 – D’Aste loses his rearview mirror brushing the tyres at Turn 7
Lap 15 – Yoshimoto exits at Turn 8
Lap 18 – Tarquini knocks on Oriola’s rear bumper
Lap 19 – Monje retires with technical problems
Lap 24 – Huff and Menu overtake Bennani for fourth and fifth
Lap 26 – Muller overtakes Bennani for sixth
N. Michelisz: race incident; F. Monje: mechanical failure
Dudukalo receives a time penalty
Three drivers were given time penalties by the Stewards after the first race and had 30 seconds added to their respective elapsed times. Aleksei Dudukalo was punished for having a collision with Mehdi Bennani while they were fighting for the sixth position. The Moroccan drivers retired and, because of the penalty, the Russian was dropped from sixth to 19th. Tom Chilton and Alberto Cerqui were penalised for jumping the start.
THE WORD TO THE WINNERS
Alain Menu – Race 1 winner: “It was a good weekend. Once again the Chevrolet was the best car, and the key was pole position. Against people like Yvan and Rob you cannot afford to make mistakes as they are ready to overtake. On top of this I had to be gentle with my front tyres. Yvan and Rob never gave up and I had to push. It was very very tricky. It was a hard work. For the championship is going to very difficult. 38 points to recover are a lot with only four races left. But I won’t give up.”
Stefano D’Aste – Race 2 winner: “I am very surprised for this victory, because at the beginning of the weekend we were really struggling to find the right set up. We had meetings all the time to find a solution. And this paid off. In the races my car was really good. I could take a good start and in the first laps I really had to fight hard to keep Oriola behind. He was quicker than me in the first part of the race. Then the rear-wheel drive of my car helped me to save the tyres and I was able to create a gap in the final laps.”