Alex MacDowall concluded his debut weekend in the FIA World Touring Car Championship with a three way tie for the lead in the Yokohama Independents trophy, having shown impressive speed throughout the weekend at the wheel of the bamboo-engineering Chevrolet Cruze.
Monza marked the BTCC graduate’s début in the series and MacDowall’s first-ever race at the Italian circuit and during the pre-event testing held on Thursday, the former works Chevrolet driver was immediately on the pace, ending the day fourth fastest and as the fastest Yokohama Independents driver. He topped the times in the fourth of five sessions with his best time of the day, a 1:58.415.
His performances in the pre-event testing, qualifying and races were all the more impressive as the Cruze was 40 kilos heavier due to the success ballast applied to the car, having won the 2011 title. MacDowall also had to adapt to a new team, a new car – he had raced a normally aspirated version of the Cruze in the BTCC for the last two seasons – as well as the Yokohama tyres, compared to the Dunlops in the British series.
“Qualifying was OK, we tagged on to the works Chevrolets in Q2 and it worked well”, said MacDowall, “The rear of the car was quite tricky during practice but we made changes to the set-up for qualifying and it felt better. The balance of the turbo Cruze is different to the car I raced last year in the BTCC, the front is heavier. The main thing to adjust to though is the lack of engine braking on a turbo.”
Lining up eighth for race one after qualifying, MacDowall was caught up in a multi-car tangle and thus dropped back down the order to 11th, before working his way back up the order to cross the line eighth overall and second in the Independents, having allowed the works Chevrolet of Alain Menu to move ahead of him.
Round two of the season saw the top ten from qualifying reversed; MacDowall lined up third on the grid, and he held his position until the fourth tour when he was squeezed out at the first chicane.
As in the first race, he allowed the three works Chevrolets to pass him, with his focus instead being on the Yokohama Independents trophy battle. He ran seventh and moved into the top six and second in the Independents class, before being pushed out over the kerbs at Ascari. He secured seventh overall and second in class to share the Championship lead heading to Valencia in three weeks time.
Both races saw MacDowall finish as the second-best British driver, behind the works Chevrolet of Robert Huff.
“It’s been a good first weekend”, concluded Macdowall. “We’re in a three-way tie at the top of the Independents Trophy and we get maximum prize money as well I think, so I’m happy with that. We’re here to try and win the Independents title, there’s no point looking at the main championship, so to have come away from Monza with a share of the lead is a good way to start the season.”