Chevrolet started off the defence of their World Championships in the best possible fashion at Monza, with Yvan Muller securing a double victory while the team secured five out of the six podium finishes.
Team-mate Rob Huff secured a double Monza podium while Alain Menu completed the race two podium, giving the team a 1, 2 finish in race one and a 1, 2, 3 finish in the second race of the weekend.
The first race of the season was a hard fought battle between the three RML Chevrolets and the Lukoil Racing Team car of Gabriele Tarquini, who had qualified on Pole.
Muller grabbed the lead at the end of the first lap before cutting the first chicane and giving the position back to his former SEAT team-mate. Once back in front, the reigning World Champion cruised all the way to the flag.
Having qualified second for the first race, this left Muller down in ninth for the second race and despite contact with Huff and Tarquini at the first chicane on lap two, he secured his second win of the day and the early Championship advantage.
“The season couldn’t have started in a better way and I am very happy with the results. There is always a little bit of extra pressure ahead of a season opener but with age, you learn to cope with it. The first laps of Race 1 were hot; I managed to pass Tarquini but then I had to go straight in the first chicane,” explains Muller.
“Despite the fact I was leading and therefore didn’t gain any position, I preferred to let Gabriele past not to risk any penalty. Later, I retook the lead and everything went smoothly except for some oil on the track and some vibrations in the closing laps. Race 2 was very tough, and when I was hit at the back by Rob in lap 2 and sent into a complete spin, I thought it was the end of it. Luckily, I did not lose positions. It was an unexpected win.”
For Huff, he secured second in the opening race having dropped down the order to sixth after contact with Menu during the early stages. He was also caught up in the race two incident but was able to continue and finished third, to leave himself second in the Championship.
“It’s a good start of the season, with some good points. Now, we need to build on this and go forward. Race 1 was pretty crazy in the initial laps and you could feel that everyone was eager to race after four months of inactivity. After the contact with Alain, I was 6th but I regained positions and finished second,” added Huff.
“It was difficult to overtake Rydell as he was fast and pushing hard. In Race 2, there was an incident between Yvan and Gabriele in the chicane; I think both Tarquini and I braked too late, but the good thing is that I stayed on the track.”
For Menu, he made up for the race one disappointment by securing second place in the second race of the weekend and being the only Chevrolet not in the wars at the first chicane on the second lap. He was in the wars – and the gravel – during the first race which saw the Swiss driver down as low as twelfth before recovering seventh. He leaves Italy third in the drivers’ Championship.
Menu summed up his mixed Monza weekend: “I am happy with my driving and the car performance, slightly less with the results. Race 1 was clearly not very successful for me. We were all very close at the beginning and there was contact with Rob twice. I ran into the gravel at Lesmo 2 but fortunately rejoined the race.
“The car did not performing very well after that and I had another contact with Cerqui, after which, something got bent in the front. In Race 2, there was contact with Yvan in lap 1, then this incident in lap 2. Luckily, I was on the left line and avoided trouble. I even thought this was going to be my opportunity, but Yvan recovered extremely well. I closed in on him in the last lap, but he never makes mistakes. I was happy to finish second”.
Eric Neve is pleased with how the opening weekend of the season went and will sort out the intra-team problems before the second weekend of the season at Valencia, over the 31 March/1 April.
He said: “A very good start of the season with a 1-2 and a 1-2-3, which means nearly maximum points. It was a lively weekend, to say the least and the drivers may have showed too much fighting spirit, but we’ll debrief and sort it out. What matters is that everything went well and we achieved a very strong team result.”
The other Chevrolets had strong weekends – Rickard Rydell secured a fourth place finish in the first race while WTCC debutant Alex MacDowall scored points in both races to be the joint leader of the Yokohama Independents trophy for bamboo-engineering.