Saturday, 31 August 2013

WTCC 2013: Muller and Lopez star on Argentina's Debut...

When the FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar for 2013 was published earlier in the year, there was some confusion as to whether or not there would be a Brazilian round in the series.

Since 2005, the Brazilian round of the WTCC has always been held at Curitiba. Well in 2013, there was no Brazilian round. Instead the event was to take place in Argentina at the newly revamped Autodromo Termas De Rio Hondo circuit.

Now I should point out that there is some history with trying to get a meeting in Argentina going back several years. Back in 2009 there was talk that the Super TC 2000 Honda squad were considering an entry in the WTCC with Mugen Honda supplying engines to the S2000 Honda chassis. This announcement also included a possible event in Argentina...

But neither announcement came to fruition.

Fast forward to 2013 and the WTCC now has a fully fledged Works Honda Team and the confirmed round in Argentina...

All Good Things...

So as the first of the flyaway races, Argentina marks the final run to the championship finale in Macau in November. However both the Drivers and Manufacturers Titles will be decided well before then.

Yvan Muller has stamped his authority on the 2013 championship with no clear, consistent challenger to stop him. Indeed his victory from Pole in race one was the usual formbook showing. Yvan has usually taken Pole and the race one win in 2013, however although he has often started 10th in race two, he has often finished on the podium as well.

But there was a surprise in Argentina and a reminder that Mullers luck doesnt always run in his favour in the flyaway races...

Remember Sonoma 2012? Well Argentina 2013 would prove to be a repeat.

The surprise? That came in the form of former USF1 (remember them?) nominated driver and Super TC 2000 star Jose Maria Lopez. Now in South America, Super TC 2000 is the biggest Touring Series around and has as bigger following as V8 Supercars does in Australia and as bigger following as the DTM has in Germany.

So with Fredy Barth unable to race due to business commitments, Lopez was signed up for the Weichers Sport BMW seat.

And this would turn out to be the surprise of the weekend with Lopez showing good pace in both practice sessions and in qualifying too where he qualified in 10th place for race one putting him on pole for race two, his experience with the rear wheel drive Super TC 2000 cars transferring to the Super 2000 BMW 320 TC.

After Qualifying finished, the top ten for race one were Muller, Chilton, Michelisz, Tarquini, Oriola, MacDowall, Montiero, Nash, Nykjaer and Lopez. ROAL Motorsport team-mates Tom Coronel and Darryl O'Young collided whilst trying to give each other a tow, eliminating them from the top ten. Rob Huff suffered an engine failure in practice meaning he needed an engine change and this put him to the back of the grid for both races.

There were 2 rolling starts for race one. The first start was aborted as Chilton was out of position. On the second start, Muller led away and would never be challenged, leaving the action to take place behind. Now there was some niggle between Oriola and Chilton during qualifying with Chilton unhappy about Oriola's driving and blocking and this spilled into the race.

As Muller disappeared off into the distance, Chilton lost 2nd to Michelisz and then fell to 4th as Oriola passed him also. However after some good close racing between the three drivers, Chilton made his way back up to 2nd place on lap 4. To add to Michelisz's bad luck Chevrolet drivers Pepe Oriola and Michel Nykjaer passed the Zengo Motorsport Honda driver so that on lap 5 he would cross the line in 5th with Bamboo Engineering's James Nash closing on him.

At the start of lap 6, Nash tried to pass Michelisz at the first corner, however James made contact with the Honda and that contact included Nykjaer also. All this resulted in Tarquini overtaking all three drivers after he made a poor start at the 2nd attempt. Lopez was in a fighting mood as he made his way through from 10th on the grid. This was to be a preview of what he could do as on lap 8 the Argentine driver made his way past Nash and Nykjaer to become the lead independent on track.

Things weren't over between Oriola and Chilton as the Spanish Chevrolet driver hassled the English RML driver to the end for 2nd place and his efforts were rewarded by the end of the race as Muller took victory from Oriola and Chilton to make it an RML Chevrolet 1-2-3 on the podium. Tarquini finished in 4th with Lopez in fifth and taking the independent race win. Nykjaer and Michelisz finshed 6th and 7th whilst Huff managed to finish 8th after starting 22nd. Nash and Montiero completed the top ten.

Race two offered some interesting action as Lopez took off like a scalded cat at the start to take the lead from Pole. As he led, Nykjaer had no answer for the BMW as the Danish driver bogged down at the start and lost the place to Montiero in the Honda. As the laps progressed, Muller went on the hunt for another podium finish in race two. His cause was aided quite nicely by Tarquini who made contact with Nykjaer, allowing the Frenchman through to third and in pursuit of Montiero...

Heres where Mullers luck runs out. As he pursued Montiero, both the Chevrolet and Honda drivers were closing on Lopez's BMW, setting up what would have been an exciting race to the finish for the win. However on lap 5 Muller tried to pass Montiero first on the outside of turn 5 and then as he tried to pass him on the inside,  this resulted in contact between the drivers with the Honda driver spearing off into the gravel.

As Muller carried on he would later be handed a drive through penalty that dropped him from 2nd to 18th. Yvan would finish 13th at the end. Lopez was assured of the win and duly took it whilst Tarquini was ideally placed for 2nd place.

Oriola managed to grab third and prove again that given the right car, he is in the hunt for podiums and more wins and that maybe, just maybe he would be in the hunt for the Independent title.

Behind Lopez, Tarquini and Oriola came Nykjaer, Michelisz, Montiero and Nash followed by Valente, Coronel and D'Aste.

Hang on... Valente, Coronel and D'Aste???

Yup. During the race, Coronel made contact with Huff as he tried to pass the SEAT and this broke the achilles heel of his car, the steering arm, sending the Englishman into the gravel. The BMW drivers (apart from Lopez) suffered during both races and didnt make a big impact on the points table. The Lada's also found the going tough despite James Thompson topping morning warmup on sunday and Kozlovsky suffering penalties from qualifying and parc ferme from race one that dropped him to the back off the grid for both races

The SEAT's also suffered with a lack of race pace with Valente pushing off Huffs team-mate Marc Basseng during race two. Monje didnt feature in either races and Boardman was missing from both races to allow time to repair his STR SEAT in time for the Sonoma races.

So, this brings us to the next round in the USA at Sonoma raceway where last year the Chevrolets dominated qualifying and the races and where Muller got a drive through for pushing Franz Engstler round and this helped Rob Huff closed in the title chase.

This time you can virtually guarantee that Yvan Muller will be crowned champion after race two, making it the earliest championship title win since 2010 when Yvan won the title at the penultimate round in Japan after his main title rival Andy Priaulx was disqualified for a technical infringement. Honda can win the Manufacturers title as they have a sizeable points gap over Lada.

However, this is the FIA World Touring Car Championship... And anything can happen...

Anyway enjoy both the USA WTCC races and if you need a motorsport fix before hand, apparently there some big Formula One race on in Italy...



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