The 2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship is set to resume this weekend at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, the final European race weekend before the series heads for its Asian triple header of races.
Valencia has traditionally suited Front Wheel Drive cars and the dominant force of the season to date this season have been Chevrolet, with their three drivers locking out the top three positions within the Championship.
Last year, it was Spain’s SEAT who took the honours – with Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro securing the honours ahead of the Chevrolet’s and BMW’s. This season has only seen a solitary SEAT victory, and that came during the second weekend of the season at Zolder, when the SUNRED teams were running the 2.0 TDi engine compared to the 1.6T engine now.
All three of the Chevrolet drivers have tasted success at the circuit – Rob Huff, who before 2008 had never got past the first corner: “I don’t think the Spanish Gods like me,” said Huff back in 2007. “I know the fans very and well and I know the marshals very well.” He added.
The 2008 weekend saw Huff secure the victory in race one before following home team-mate Alain Menu in the second race – that was just before the heavens opened and it pelted it down.
For Yvan Muller, his sole Spanish victory came in 2009, during the first race of the weekend while driving the SEAT Leon TDi.
This season to date has seen Chevrolet secure twelve out of the fourteen possible race victories and they are locking out the top three Championship positions – heading to Valencia, it is currently Huff who leads the way but he has seen his team-mate and Championship rival Muller eating into his advantage over the previous two race weekends. What was a twenty nine point lead after Porto has become six points after Oschersleben.
Although not out of the running yet, it will take a monumental effort from the third RML Chevrolet of Menu to catch up with Muller and Huff, he heads to Valencia sixty three points off Muller but with a buffer of seventy five points to the man in fourth – currently Lukoil-SUNRED’s Gabriele Tarquini.
With 200 points left to play for, ROAL Motorsport and Tom Coronel can still claim the title as can Tiago Monteiro – at 152 and 184 points behind respectively, their title challenges are likely to be at an end as the series leaves Europe.
Coronel is currently top BMW driver in what has been a tough season for the multiple Champion brand – a single win for Franz Engstler in Oschersleben is the total for their work this season. With all the German manufacturer cars being represented by Independent teams’ and drivers’, they are trying to do all of the development work while racing and this has hindered their progress.
Having entered a single car for the 2011 campaign as an evaluation before committing to a full time campaign, Volvo in the hands of Polestar Racing and Robert Dahlgren have started to show their potential – podium pace was shown at Donington Park while Oschersleben saw their best qualifying result to date. It will be interesting to see how the team goes with some extra weight in the car, thanks to their performances in the last two race weekends.
In the battle for the Yokohama Independent Trophy, the battle for the title is as close as it can be – six drivers separated by a mere ten points. Currently leading the way is Norbert Michelisz in the Zengo-Dension run BMW 320TC, but he is being chased down by Kristian Poulsen, in another BMW 320TC, Darryl O’Young in the bamboo engineering Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T, Poulsen’s Liqui Moly Team Engstler team-mate, Franz Engstler, Proteam Racing’s Javi Villa and SUNRED’s Michel Nyjkaer, while in the Jay-Ten Trophy, Fabio Fabiani is the only competitor and should secure the honours – he has a twenty seven point gap to make up on leader Aleksei Dudukalo – who started the season in a Lukoil-SUNRED SEAT Leon TDi, which was eligible for the trophy.
Whatever happens in Valencia, it is bound to be a turning point for the Championship. Can Huff stop the rot and outscore Muller to build up his Championship advantage, or will his bad luck from past seasons return and give the initiative to Muller? Or will Menu throw himself back into contention?
You can catch the answer to all of these questions on Sunday, at 13:15 (Race 1, recorded) and 13:45 for race 2, which is being shown live on Eurosport.
Pole Position: Yvan Muller
Race One: 1. Yvan Muller, 2. Rob Huff, 3. Gabriele Tarquini
Race Two: 1. Rob Huff, 2. Robert Dahlgren, 3. Tiago Monteiro.