The latest weekend from the FIA World Touring Car Championship was an interesting one. The fast Salzburgring in Austria was the scene for the latest 2 races in what is proving to be a close and interesting 2013 season, but also it was a weekend of note for many reasons...
First of all the weekend began with Honda being penalised for the rear wing on all 3 Civics being illegal by fractions of measurement. That meant that all 3 cars were to start from the back in Race 1. It would put a dent in Tarquini's aspirations to catch Muller in the title hunt but they would soldier on.
Next came qualifying. Now this is a much more simpler affair than in recent seasons of WTCC. Q1 sets the grid for positions 13 to 24 for both races, so if you qualify 14th, you start 14th for both races. This session is normally 20 - 30 minutes long, depending on if the track is a circuit or street circuit.
Q2 sets the top 10 positions for Race 1 and Race 2. However the top 12 cars from Q1 go through to Q2. Drivers that qualify in 11th and 12th positions start in those positions for both races. However the top 10 cars start as they qualify for Race 1 but for Race 2, the top 10 is reversed. So if you qualify on Pole Position for Race 1, you start 10th for Race 2.
Still with me? Good. You've earned yourself a cup of tea...
In WTCC, when the series goes to tracks with long straights, cars slipstream or tow each other to get a quicker laptime in Qualifying. This backfired in Austria. With Q1 set, the top 11 cars went out for their first runs in Q2 with Tom Coronel choosing to save tyres and go out at the end of the session.
For the second run, RML Driver Tom Chilton led the train of cars out of the pits. But as he had no partner infront to tow him to a faster laptime, Tom slowed up, hoping to allow the others behind him to go past and set faster times.
But no one did.
In fact at one stage all 12 cars slowed to an officially recorded speed of 32 kmh. As a result, althought Coronel and Nash sped up to try and set times, all 12 cars crossed the line after the time ran out.
Cue 14 drivers getting called to the stewards office with their Team Managers in tow and the Race 1 grid left in tatters. On track Muller was on pole with Chilton beside him in an RML AON/Lukoil 1-2. The outcome would be much different and announced on Sunday Morning after Warm Up.
Cue Michel Nykjaer on Pole Position for Race 1 and Muller down in 13th. A very much topsy turvey grid that led to a great Race 1 and a 2nd WTCC win for danish driver Nykjaer and swedish team NIKA Racing. (I have a thought about this which I will share in another post...)
Now while Nykjaer had a race long defence against James Nash in the Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze (and by god did James push him hard!) the other drivers that were misplaced due to penalties went to work. First of all Yvan Muller who managed to go from 13th to 3rd in Race 1, not giving or asking any quarter from any of his opponents. Yvan is mighty at any track against any of the current crop of WTCC drivers and this was another display from the triple world champion.
However Yvan wasnt alone in his charge. Alex MacDowall towed the Frenchman with him and brought Rob Huff in the SEAT along too. However MacDowall's day was halted when he found the BMW's of Barth & Bennani tough competition. He would pass Barth however finish 5th behind Bennani with Muller 3rd.
Huff followed both Chevy drivers through but his progress was hampered by Chilton and then contact with Thompson. Rob was easily the fasest SEAT again and his racecraft showed as he carved his way through the field. Chilton, Huff, Thompson and Coronel completed the top 10. The Honda's would finish 11th, 12th and 13th making progress from the back of the field but complaining of a lack of power.
Race 2 was a more normal affair. The original Race 1 grid had Muller on Pole, so he would start 10th while James Nash would be on Pole with Michelisz on the front row with him.
Norbert powered passed Nash at the standing start however by the end of lap 1, James had powered back passed the black and orange Honda and stayed there to take his first outright win in WTCC and the first for Silverstone based team Bamboo Engineering. He's the 3rd first time winner this season...
Meanwhile Muller did what he does best.
He started 10th, however by the end of the 12 lap race he finished 2nd having overtaken Huff, Tarquini, Race 1 winner Nykjaer, Oriola, Monteiro, MacDowall and Michelisz. Theres no stopping this guy when he's fired up and he's proven time and again that he can start 10th and take a podium or even a win in his trusty Chevrolet Cruze.
While the Honda's showed that they are still down on power compared to the Cruze, the Lada's showed that running at their lightest weight so far, they can fight with the others. Thommo took 9th in Race 1 and 12th in Race 2. Koslovskiy finished behind him in both races but the young Russian is improving.
The BMW's suffered as expected on the high speed circuit with their power deficit hurting them. In Race 1 Engstler and Ng tangled taking Darryl O'Young with them whilst Coronel salvaged 2 10th places. Barth and Bennani scored well in Race 1 but this could be attributed to the topsy turvy grid.
A quick mention of Tom Boardman and Special Tuning Racing who have sat out Austria and will also miss Moscow while they try to sort the issues they've suffered since his huge crash in Narrakech. All being well they will return for Porto.
Next up is the Moscow Raceway as the WTCC makes its first appearence in Russia. This will be new territory to everyone as none of the current grid have raced there before...however you can bet on one thing...
Muller will be leading the pack...While the pack squabble hard behind.