Saturday, 22 June 2013

WTCC Russia: Welcome to Mother Russia...

The World Touring Car Championship made its first visit to Russia for the 2013 season and the series made its mark.

You could say Yvan Muller had a typical weekend by taking a race one win and a race two podium but while that seems to be the norm for the Frenchman in a WTCC weekend, that doesn't tell the whole story.

In fact the RML/Lukoil Racing Chevrolet Cruze driver had to work hard to earn both of his podiums from quite a few drivers in both races...although his hard work was aided by that long straight into the final corner and the superb straight-line speed of his Cruze...

At the Moscow Raceway, Tom Coronel's ROAL Motorsport BMW 320 TC proved to be the revelation of the weekend. Not only was his BMW quickest in one of the practice sessions but he also had the speed to take Pole Position, had it not rained in Q2.

Michel Nykjaer also showed that he was a force to be reckoned with again the NIKA Racing Chevrolet. His race two win was inspired in the way he hunted down Mehdi Bennani in his ProTeam BMW who led Pole Position in race two. Due to Engstler Motorsports Charles Ng being sent to the back of the race two grid due to breaching Parc Ferme rules, Nykjaer was promoted to 2nd.

Another driver to shine in the WTCC Event was James Thompson in his Lukoil Racing Lada Granta Sport. Thommo and the Lada have been threatening to take on both the Honda Civics and the Chevrolet Cruzes' in an equal fight but either bad luck or retirement has scuppered this. However at its home circuit, the Lada proved up to the task with Thompson taking his best finish of the season in race one with 5th, fending off Tarquini in the Honda and Nykjaer in the Chevrolet.

But the talking point of the weekend was not just the racing but also the first turn incident on lap 1 that involved the three BMW's of Charles Ng, Freddy Barth and Stefano D'Aste. Barth ran into the back of Ng after being assisted by D'Aste and un the ensuing chaos that followed, Barth then spun Ng around. ROAL Motorsports Darryl O'Young and Campos Racing's Nikolay Karamyshev took damage as they both took avoiding action but the reason for the safety car being deployed and then later a red flag being deployed would be down to a rescue vehicle that was trying to assist in the clean-up and had broken down.

Now, watching the Eurosport feed on TV, it wasn't instantly clear to the reason for the race stoppage, but when the reason was confirmed, the following decision understandably left Martin Haven's co-commentator and former WTCC Bamboo Engineering driver Harry Vaulkhard fuming...

The race would restart behind the safety car before it would pull off and let the field race again, however double waved yellow flags would remain out at turn one due to the marshals' not being able to remove the offending vehicle.

Now I'll be honest, when I see a Safety truck/Caterpillar vehicle on the track during a race weekend, any race weekend and the first reaction I have is A: stop the race so the car/cars can be removed safely and that no Marshalls', drivers or spectators are hurt and that followed by B: hearing Martin Brundle's voice in my head shouting that's a bad idea seeing a rescue truck, on track during a race, because of the accident he had during the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

That particular race was a downpour and conditions for the F1 drivers were terrible to drive in. A car had gone off at the very fast 130R corner near the end of the lap. Gianni Morbidelli had crashed his Footwork and as the Marshalls were attempting to remove the car using a Caterpillar rescue vehicle, Brundle slid off at the same corner, crashing into the F1, car and the rescue vehicle. A Marshall suffered a broken leg that day and the race was stopped for good reason.

So for safety reasons I think the rescue truck should've been removed and the race re-started with a clear run off area for safety...

But it wasn't.

What this did was dilute race one to an affair of Coronel harrying Muller for the win. However as the Cruze has better horsepower than the BMW, Tom would lose out down the back straight to Muller. Now passing is possible into the last corner, but the run up the start finish straight could allow an attempt into turn one..

Oh wait, there's a rescue truck stuck there...

Buggered that idea up then...

Don't get me wrong, Coronel tried everything he could to get past Muller and any advantage Muller pulled out on Coronel in the quick 3rd sector of the track, but the BMW would close that advantage in the first 2 sectors and that's how race one would finish with Muller winning from Coronel while Norbert Michelisz took 3rd in the Zengo Motorsport Honda Civic

Norbert had passed Rob Huff's SEAT Leon at the restart and would stay in 3rd with Huffy's attempts to pass the Honda at turn one because... Yup, the double waved yellow flags.

Annoyingly, after race one, it took 10 minutes for a second rescue truck to come out and tow the broken one away...

10 minutes.

Anyway, race two proved to be a bit more spectacular with an incident that involved all 5 makes taking part in the championship...and that was just one of many...

To begin with Charles Ng was demoted for having his car worked on during Parc Ferme conditions (basically this is where the car is left alone until declared its legal by race officials). With him demoted to last this left the grid order as Bennani, Nykjaer, Oriola, Thompson, Tarquini, Michelisz, Huff, Coronel Muller and Nash.

Bennani flew off the line at the start like a scolded cat whilst Nykjaer set off after him. Its the second time this year that the Moroccan driver has had a race two pole and I am convinced that he will join Nykjaer, Nash and Oriola in taking his maiden win during this season. Nykjaer did catch Bennani, however the Moroccan defended hard until Nykjaer dived through on lap 7 to take the lead at the final corner and spun around on his own.

From that point Bennani fell back through the field. At the start, Oriola and Tarquini diced for third position, however Tarquini and Oriola came together at the first hairpin, with Gabriele knocking the young SEAT driver wide and down to seventh position...not the best way to treat old team mates...

The main incident of race two came from the best drivers in this years WTCC Field and three of them are former champions!

By lap 2, Coronel was making good progress from eighth on the grid in his BMW, passing Thompson for fourth and then moving onto attacking Tarquini for third place. Coronel, Tarquini, Thompson and Huff came through the last corner to start lap 4 and were four-wide battling for third all the way up the start/finish straight when Coronel ran across the nose of Tarquini and spun right into Thommo, which saw retire and Coronel fall to the back of the order.

So, who benefitted from this...

Yup, you guessed it... Muller.

Yvan chased Nykjaer all the way to the flag and although both men were in the same cars, Muller closed in on the Dane but to no avail. Nykjaer took his 3rd win of the season and with it became the second man behind Muller this season for wins with 3 wins to Frenchman's many....

Behind Muller and Nykjaer came Huff in third, taking another good position in his SEAT and showing that there is life in the old dog yet, he was followed home by Oriola in 4th and Michelisz in his Honda for 5th. Chilton, Tarquini, D'Aste, O'Young and Nash rounded out the top 10.

So Muller increased his lead to over 100 points from Tarquini and Nykjaer is now 6 points behind Tarquini in the overall championship. Could the Danish man overtake the Italian for second?

Well, we'll know for next weekend when the WTCC moves to the street circuit of Porto. The circuits at Porto and Portimao alternate for the Portuguese round of the WTCC and back in 2011, there was a rather incidental fight for the lead between then team-mates Muller and Huff at Chevrolet. It also showed a cracking comeback to the series by Stefano D'Aste in the BMW 320 TC.

I look forward to it with much anticipation. Its also a track that my son Aaron goes well on when we play the game of Race Pro on the Xbox 360. That kid can make a BMW 320si do things on that track that make me wince....especially his speed through the last chicane...

Anyway I'll leave you to your weekend.



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