Muller and Menu take one race apieceAlthough SEAT and BMW are quickly closing the gap, Chevrolet is not prepared to abdicate their WTCC throne.
The two races in Valencia said that fans should expect to see very exciting fights as the season will go on, with the trio of blue cars defending themselves from the attacks of the likes of Gabriele Tarquini, Tom Coronel and a platoon of competitive independents such as Pepe Oriola, Norbert Michelisz, Sefano D’Aste and Franz Engstler.
The world champion team leave Spain with two more victories in their bag, but have not been easy ones. In Race 1 Muller cruised home comfortably, but his large gap was mainly due to the fight behind him between Tarquini and Coronel. The second race was one of the most exciting ever, with Menu capable of keeping at bay a bunch of four BMW cars.
With Oriola and D’Aste sharing victories in Spain, the Yokohama Trophy remains extremely close, with four drivers covered by six points only.
Team Aon’s Ford Focus cars are also making steps forward and for the first time James Nash was running close to the point-scoring positions.
The championship will resume at Marrakech, Morocco, on April 15 for rounds 5 and 6.
RACE 1 - MULLER CRUISES TO VICTORY
Yvan Muller took a comfortable win in the first race at Valencia. The reigning world champion sprinted from pole position to lead the field into the first corner, and then pushed to create a gap.
Behind him Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Coronel had a close fight for second place, which left Muller to easily manage his leading margin. Muller’s team-mates, Rob Huff and Alain Menu, had to settle with fourth and fifth, as they were not able to find a gap to attack the Tarquini-Coronel duo. Pepe Oriola took the chequered flag in sixth place, winning the Yokohama Trophy from Norbert Michelisz.
Franz Engstler, Tiago Monteiro and Darryl O’Young filled the remaining point-scoring positions, while Stefano D’Aste emerged victorious from the battle for 11th that involved James Nash (12th at the end – the best result so far for Ford) and Alberto Cerqui.
Mehdi Bennani completed a brilliant recovery, climbing to 14th after dropping to 24th because of a first lap incident.
Start – Muller keeps Tarquini at bay and leads into the first turn
Lap 1 – Huff overtakes Oriola for fourth
Lap 1 – Bennani is sent into a spin at Turn 5 and rejoins at the back of the field
Lap 2 – Menu overtakes Michelisz for sixth
Lap 4 – Muller increases his gap by six tenths a lap
Lap 5 – Menu overtakes Oriola for fifth
Lap 5 – Dudukalo pits with a broken suspension
Lap 6 – Nash struggles to defend 11th position from Cerqui and D’Aste
Lap 7 – Monteiro overtakes O’Young for ninth
Lap 8 – Coronel knocks on Tarquini’s rear bumper
Lap 9 – Coronel is shown a black-and-white warning flag
Lap 10 – D’Aste overtakes Cerqui for 12th
Lap 11 – D’Aste overtakes Nash for 11th
A. Dudukalo: suspension
RACE 2 – MENU CLAIMS A FIGHTING WIN
Alain Menu claimed his first victory of the season after an action packed race that saw him surviving clashes with Tom Coronel and Stefano D’Aste who completed the podium in the order.
In the first part of the race, the Swiss driver had to chase D’Aste who had taken an early lead.
After a few skirmishes with his Italian competitor, Menu managed to outbrake him with a great manoeuvre at Turn 2. Then he spent the final laps defending the lead from a rushing Coronel.
For most of the race Menu, Coronel and D’Aste were involved in an exciting fight with Norbert Michelisz, Franz Engstler, Rob Huff, Pepe Oriola and Yvan Muller. The outcome of the battle was affected by an oil stain on the track that sent a few drivers wide on the gravel. They all rejoined, but some of them lost their positions. However, Michelisz and Engstler were able to finish in fourth and fifth respectively, while Muller could not achieve any better than eighth.
James Nash was very unlucky; on his way to claim Ford’s best result, he retired from 11th on lap 9 for the consequences of a collision.
Start – D’Aste sprints from pole and pulls out from Engstler and Menu
Lap 1 – Boardman is hit by another car and stops
Lap 1 – Menu overtakes Engstler for second
Lap 2 – Coronel overtakes Engstler for third
Lap 3 – Huff and Muller are in a close fight for sixth
Lap 6 – Dudukalo and Monteiro make contact while fighting for 12th
Lap 6 – Menu pushes D’Aste sideways, but gives him back the lead
Lap 7 – Menu overtakes D’Aste and takes the lead
Lap 7 – Engstler retakes third from Coronel
Lap 9 – Menu, D’Aste, Engstler, Muller and Bennani skid on oil
Lap 10 – Coronel and Oriola move up to second and seventh
Lap 12 – Tutumlu overtakes Dudukalo for 11th
Lap 13 – Menu and Coronel make contact, the latter defends second place from
G. Wéber: clutch; T. Boardman: race incident; A. Cerqui: suspension; D. O’Young:
overheating; J. Nash: racing incident; C. Ng: power steering
CHARLES NG STAR OF DRIFTING SHOW
Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Charles Ng had a very busy Sunday. Besides racing at the wheel of his BMW 320 TC car, the Hong Kong driver was also the star of the drifting show that took place in between the two WTCC races.
At the wheel of a 400 bhp Nissan 180SX modified by Greek specialist Dimitrios Patsatzis, Ng excited the Spanish fans driving sideways at 170 kmh.
ENGINE CHANGE FOR TOM CHILTON
Team Aon’s Tom Chilton was the only driver who requested an engine change during the Spanish weekend.
Engines had been also changed on four SEAT cars (Tarquini’s, Dudukalo’s, O’Young’s and Oriola’s) after the previous event at Monza.
The Stewards authorized all these changes 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.
DELAYED PENALTIES FOR BARLESI, MONJE AND NG
Andrea Barlesi, Fernando Monje and Charles Ng were all given… delayed penalties. The three drivers were found guilty of speeding during the rolling start of the first race and, because they have finished out of the points, the Stewards decided to punish them by imposing a drive through penalty during the second race.
THE WORD TO THE WINNER
Yvan Muller (Race 1 winner):
“I have the luck of driving the best car of the field, and the whole team are doing a perfect job. I remembered very well that last year Gabriele (Tarquini) pipped me at the start, so this time I was absolutely focused on keeping him behind into the first corner. I was worried about my tyres, because of the hot temperature and the ballast, but when I saw there was a fight behind I say: now it’s the time to create a gap. And then the fight for second place went on and this helped me to increase the gap and save the tyres. It was the perfect scenario for me.”
Alain Menu (Race 2 winner):
“It has been an exciting race for me. I had a very good start, but I knew the BMW cars would be better and I had to be kind with my tyres for the first laps. I took my time behind Stefano (D’Aste) and when I tried to get at him I maybe braked too late and we touched, which allowed Tom (Coronel) to close the gap. The finally I had my chance to overtake him before Turn 2. I created a gap, but then I was too cautious and this allowed Tom to catch me in the final laps.”