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2011 Changes Pay Off in WTCC

The 2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship headed into a complete unknown as the season got underway back in March in South America.

Having originally announced a switch to Interlagos from the traditional host venue, Curitiba, the series headed back to Curitiba for the opening rounds of the new look series.

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New look series? The series had moved away from the 2 litre era and moved to a 1.6 Turbocharged era, with S2000 Normally aspirated cars and the 2.0 litre Turbo Diesel cars also on the grid, with their own Championship to compete for – the Jay Ten trophy (such named after the appendix in the sporting regulations for 2010).

BMW had withdrawn its works backing and were represented on the grid by a number of independent drivers, while SEAT continued to be represented via the SUNRED operation, while Polestar Racing joined the grid with a single Volvo C30 for Swedish driver Robert Dahlgren.

This left Chevrolet as the only full works team in the series and they got the season off to a perfect start, as Rob Huff secured the opening Pole Position of the season and then led home a Chevrolet 1, 2, 3 – Yvan Muller and guest driver Carlos “Caca” Bueno completed the podium.

In previous seasons, the race two grids were formed from the results of the first race of the weekend, with the top eight drivers reversed. This has changed for 2011, as it is now the top ten drivers after the first part of qualifying which form the grid for race two, but reversed – so the driver who finishes tenth after Q1 starts from Pole for the second race.

Alain Menu brought home his first win of the season in the second race of the weekend as Chevrolet showed that starting on the 2011 car and engine package was the right move – the other manufacturers, BMW, SEAT and Volvo were all playing catch up, for SEAT and Volvo, they couldn’t wait for their new engines to be introduced.

Zolder marked the start of the European leg of the Championship – and as in Brazil, Rob Huff secured Pole Position ahead of the first race, which he converted into his second victory of the season, leading home his Chevrolet team-mates for their second podium lock out in three races.

The first non Chevrolet win came in the second race of the weekend as the final Turbo diesel victory was secured. Gabriele Tarquini brought home the Lukoil-SUNRED SEAT Leon TDi ahead of Alain Menu and Tiago Monteiro. Zolder marked the first appearance for bamboo-engineering and their all new Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T, and Darryl O’Young brought the car home fourth.

Monza was the scene for the third weekend of the season. It also saw the first signs of some discontent from within the Chevrolet ranks as Yvan Muller and Alain Menu came to blows in the first race, an incident which saw Menu pushed into the barriers and into retirement – Rob Huff continued his Pole Position, Race One win run ahead of Muller and Monteiro.

Race two saw Huff double up, and in the process becoming the third driver in the history of the WTCC to secure both victories in one weekend – joining the unique club, which had previously seen Jurg Muller (Magny-Cours, 2005) and James Thompson (Valencia, 2007) join.

As in race one, it wasn’t without incident as Muller tried and failed to get ahead of his British team-mate – Muller was still chasing his first win of the season while Huff secured his fourth victory in six races.  The second Monza race saw Kristian Poulsen secure his maiden WTCC podium finish at the wheel of the BMW 320TC. Monza also saw the introduction of some of the new 1.6T engines for the SUNRED operation, and the homologation saw the cars renamed SUNRED SR Leon’s.

Rounds seven and eight saw the Championship head to Hungary and the Hungaroring. The trip to Hungary was arranged after the race of Morocco, on the streets of Marrakech had to be cancelled. This proved to be an inspired decision as 75,000 fans made their way to the circuit, the vast majority of them showing their support for local driver Norbert Michelisz.

Michelisz, or “Norbi” to his fans repaid them for their support by bringing home his #5 Zengo-Dension BMW 320TC home second overall, finishing behind Alain Menu while the podium was completed by another Independent driver, Javi Villa, who came out on top of a race long duel with Gabriele Tarquini. Tarquini would ultimately finish sixth, behind Muller and a recovering Huff, who had failed to qualify inside the top ten.

A freak rain shower dampened the second race – a race which saw Muller secure his first victory of the season ahead of Huff, who had worked his way up from twelfth to second. For Michelisz, he had a race to forget after corner one contact with Poulsen saw him drop to the back of the field and with a rather hastily rebuilt front end – a lot of tank tape was visible… Tarquini rounded out the podium.

Brno was next up and Huff got back to winning ways at a circuit where he secured his first WTCC victory in 2006 as well as a victory last season. A circuit which normally favoured the Rear Wheel Drive BMW’s didn’t go according to plan this season as the race one podium was a Chevrolet lock out – Tom Coronel was the top BMW runner in fourth. Brno also marked the first appearance for Tarquini in the SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T and Dahlgren in the Polestar Racing Volvo C30 Drive, having switched from their five cylinder, 2 litre naturally aspirated engine.

Round ten saw Muller back up his Hungaroring victory with the victory at Brno, leading home Coronel and Menu while Huff finished fourth. Did this mark the start of a swing in power towards Muller?

The midway point of the season on the streets of Porto, a circuit which had previously seen Chevrolet, SEAT and BMW share the victories. A number of changes around the circuit had been made to try and improve overtaking opportunities, and the series welcomed back Stefano D’Aste in the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC.

As had been the case in all the previous qualifying sessions to date, Chevrolet took Pole Position and marched on to the victory in the opening race, Alain Menu led home another Chevrolet 1, 2, 3 – their seventh in eleven races.

Seven became eight in the twelfth round of the Championship – but it also saw another sign that things weren’t as sweet as they could be in the RML camp. Huff had a visible speed advantage over team-mate Muller and heading into the first chicane on the back straight, Huff made his move around the outside. Contact ensued and Huff cut the chicane and into the lead as Muller made the chicane. Huff took the victory; Muller took the walk to the Stewards: Huff 1-0 Muller. Racing incident was the decision. Monteiro secured a home podium with third and the first podium for the new SUNRED 1.6T engine.

Another new circuit welcomed the WTCC as the series headed to the United Kingdom for rounds thirteen and fourteen. Having previously visited Silverstone in 2005 before switching to Brands Hatch for 2006 until 2010, the series headed to Donington Park for the first time.

Replacing Stefano D’Aste at Wiechers-Sport was 2009 British Touring Car Champion, Colin Turkington – D’Aste had prior commitments, Turkington had a free weekend from his STCC commitments.

Pole Position went the way of Muller, just ahead of Huff while the returning Turkington was solidly inside the top ten for both races – he wasn’t able to take advantage of his grid position as he was forced off the track and could only salvage tenth place in both races.

Muller took full advantage of his Pole Position to lead home yet another Chevrolet 1, 2, 3 while the Volvo C30 Drive of Dahlgren showed its true performance and left many wondering – could he have split the Chevrolets if he had qualified higher up the order?

Huff, still searching for his first victory at home was left with one final chance in the second race before having to wait for another year. He started ahead of Muller on the grid but finished behind him after yet another moment of contact between the two of them – this time, Muller was hit with a suspended grid penalty – a twenty nine point advantage had been halved in just two races, Muller out scoring Huff by fourteen points. Rounding out the podium was Franz Engstler for his first ever outright WTCC podium finish.

Oschersleben in Germany was the host of rounds fifteen and sixteen, the final races before the summer break and one thing was noticeable – Dahlgren and the Volvo were right on the pace, as qualifying proved when he split the Chevrolets by lining up second on the grid. Muller had secured a dominant Pole Position, some six tenths quicker than anyone else.

Muller then secured his third win on the bounce, just, from Huff – who had to recover after running wide and onto the grass early in the race. Tarquini secured the final spot on the podium, finishing just ahead of the impressive Dahlgren, who may have regretted his slow start which resulted in him dropping down to eighth position.

Round sixteen, the final one before the summer break saw the BMW 320TC cars offered their best opportunity to secure their first win of the season as Engstler lined up on Pole with Michelisz third. Michelisz made the best start and led the opening laps before a spin at the penultimate corner dropped him down the order and promoted Engstler into the lead – which he didn’t relinquish as he secured a home victory for BMW, their first win with the new 1.6T engine and his first WTCC victory – he also became the oldest driver to win in the WTCC and said afterwards that “we will show the young ones we can still party hard!”

Menu and Tarquini rounded out the podium while Muller eroded a little bit more out of Huff’s Championship lead – in just four races, the reigning Champion has slashed his team-mates lead from twenty nine points to a mere six points.

After sixteen races in the Yokohama Independents Championship, Norbert Michelisz leads the way but after a couple of tough weekend’s for the young Hungarian driver, he has a slender one point advantage over Kristian Poulsen and Darryl O’Young – while ten points covers the top six drivers, Michel Nykjaer currently sixth overall.

In the Jay-Ten Trophy, Aleksei Dudukalo leads the way despite racing one of the 1.6T engines for the last two weekends. Fabio Fabiani is the only full time driver left in the trophy and with eight races left, should pick up the trophy as long as he finishes. He sits twenty seven points behind Dudukalo.

With the Championship heading to the business end of the season, two circuits are still to make their WTCC debut – the tracks at Suzuka and Guangdong while Valencia and Macau have been mainstays of the series. Who will come out on top is anyone’s guess – with 200 points still to play for over the next four race weekends, any one of the top six drivers could be crowned Champion, while most would say it is a two horse race between Huff and Muller, with Menu some sixty-nine points off his team-mate.

There could also be an interesting battle for fourth between Coronel, Tarquini and Monteiro; Tarquini currently holds the advantage, seven points ahead of Coronel while Monteiro is forty points behind his team-mate after a couple of tough rounds where his luck has been bad luck or no luck at all.

Valencia, over the 3rd/4th September marks the resumption of the WTCC season, the final European race of the season. Let the Championship battle commence… again.


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