The first round of the World Touring Car Championship takes place at Monza next weekend and regining champions Chevrolet head to Italy prepared to defend both of their titles for the second successive year.
Chevrolet dominated the 2011 season as all three of its drivers dominated the podium, taking all except three wins during the course of the year and locking out the podium no less than five times. The team have now taken the ‘double’ (Drivers and Manufacturers titles) twice in a row with Yvan Muller, although long-time Chevrolet campaigners Alain Menu and Rob Huff will be eager to challenge for the outright title in 2012.
Chevrolet are expecting much more competition in 2012 with SEAT increasing their involvement as well as the addition of a new Ford team (Team Aon) and the arrival of LADA and, later in the year, Honda as full works teams. However the team are taking nothing for granted.
“From the outside, it could appear that Chevrolet is favorite to win the titles,” said Eric Nève, Chevrolet Racing Manager. “However, to stay in the front of the pack for three consecutive years is always a challenge, in any sport. We are approaching 2012 with humility, but also with great determination. To see the competition progressing puts pressure on us, but is also very stimulating. We are definitely thrilled about the debut of Ford, our traditional rival in U.S. racing, and it’s great to see the WTCC becoming more global year after year. Going to the U.S. later in the year for the first-ever WTCC event in our brand’s home country is going to be very exciting.”
Reigning World Touring Car champion Muller has adopted a much more relaxed approach to his preparation for the season and is hoping that this will pay off in his sixth season in the WTCC.
“I am approaching this new season in the same way I have always done – thinking that we have to start everything from scratch and nothing can be taken for granted,” said Muller, 42. “I have no particular goals except to do my job as best as I can, and not to put pressure on myself. If I made a mistake last year, it was precisely to put excessive pressure on myself at the beginning of the season. I will avoid repeating that this year, which is why I took more time to relax and rest during the winter break.
“Apart from promotional activities for the brand, my coaching courses at an ice driving school in Lapland, and a couple of testing sessions with the team, I have been quite disconnected from racing. I feel I’m in much better shape than at the same time last year. Having said that, it is not going to be an easy season with the new reliability rules and increased competition. But I’m ready to take up the challenge.”
Having come so close to taking the title in 2011 – only missing out at the final meeting in Macau – Huff has also decided to relax over the winter, describing his season last year as ‘intense’.
“I have more or less kept away from racing and cars during the winter,” explained Huff. “I think it was necessary after the intense season we had in 2011. I am very happy with what I accomplished last year, although it was disappointing to lose the title by a handful of points. It takes an extra little something to beat such a great touring car star like Yvan, and that is what I’ll try to achieve this year. I am as motivated and determined as I could be.”
Despite taking five wins during the year, Swiss racer Menu was left frustrated with his 2011 campaign which saw him finish behind his two team-mates. “My 2011 season left me with mixed feelings,” said Menu. “On one hand, I was very happy with my driving and managed some really good results. But on the other hand, I was unlucky on a number of occasions, such as the two accidents in Monza and Budapest, both of which were not my fault. Those ruined my championship chances.
“In a very competitive series such as the WTCC, consistency is essential and you have to score big points at every race. This is what I aim to do in 2012. Although I’m nearly 49, I enjoy driving and racing as much as I did the first day I took to the wheel. I am still at the top of my form and this is exactly what I will try to prove this year. I have worked a lot on my physical condition during the winter.
“Another positive development is that I will have a new car engineer. It is good to change working partnerships from time to time as this obliges you to refresh the way you think and helps you take a step forward, so I am feeling very positive about the new season.”
The WTCC begins in earnest on Thursday at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza when the teams take to the circuit for the first official test sessions of the year.