The second round of the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship takes place at the Spanish circuit of Valencia this weekend, with Chevrolet arriving as the Championship leaders after their Monza weekend.
Valencia has traditionally marked the end of the European campaign but for 2012, with the calendar jig, it has moved to earlier in the season and the cooler temperatures could play into the hands of the Chevrolet drivers.
Yvan Muller secured a double win at Valencia last season – the two wins moved him into the lead of the Championship for the first time in the 2011 campaign and he didn’t look back once in front. He arrives in 2012 as the Championship leader, having secured a double win at Monza.
Second and third in the Championship at present are Muller’s team-mates, Rob Huff and Alain Menu. Huff secured a brace of podiums at Monza but was also involved in some intra-team accidents which Menu, who could be considered the unluckiest part of the team, got caught up him. Menu was the only Chevrolet driver not to secure a double podium finish.
The amount of Chevrolet’s on the grid this weekend has been reduced by one as Rickard Rydell isn’t on the grid – his Monza weekend was a one off so that he and the Chevrolet Motorsport Sweden team could get back into the racing groove.
Bamboo engineering also run Chevrolet Cruze LT’s and the revelation of Monza was BTCC graduate Alex MacDowall, as he picked up a brace of Yokohama Independent podium finish to leave Italy as the joint Championship leader and eighth in the overall standings. His bamboo engineering team-mate, Pasquale Di Sabatino had a quiet start and secured a top eight finish in the Independents during the first race. He is facing a steep learning curve as he adapts from racing in Auto GP to a WTCC Chevrolet Cruze.
With the Chevrolet drivers expecting a tough weekend due to the additional weight they are carrying plus the nature of the circuit, SEAT could be in a position to benefit from any problems that Chevrolet run into.
Gabriele Tarquini put his Lukoil Racing Team SEAT Leon 1.6T on Pole Position at Monza, and was running with Muller throughout the race before dropping back behind Huff as the race drew to its conclusion, but he was out of luck in the second race.
Four SEAT drivers will run with the 1.6T engine at Valencia. Alongside Tarquini, his Lukoil Racing team team-mate Aleksei Dudukalo, Tuenti Racing Team Pepe Oriola and Special Tuning Racing’s Darryl O’Young.
Dudukalo proved to be the star at Monza before he hit bad luck, retiring from the first race before failing to start the second race. He could cause a surprise if his car holds up, as could Oriola. O’Young will be looking to get his campaign underway after failing to start either Monza race after he lost two engines in one weekend.
The other four SEAT drivers – Oriola’s team-mate Tiago Monteiro, Special Tuning Racing’s Tom Boardman, and the SUNRED Engineering duo of Andrea Barlesi and WTCC debutant, Fernando Monje. A shortage of SEAT Sport engines means that the TDi engine still hasn’t been retired.
BMW’s are being predicted for a strong weekend in Spain – they had a 1, 2, 3 in the second race last season before Tom Coronel and Javi Villa came together and took each other off, which allowed Muller through.
Looking strong arriving in Spain is current joint Independents Trophy leader Stefano D’Aste in the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC, and could be on for a strong weekend.
ROAL Motorsport’s Coronel had a reasonable start to his campaign in Monza, being the first BMW home in the second race and was looking good for a podium finish during the early stages. Rookie team-mate Alberto Cerqui could cause a surprise but lacks the experience of Coronel.
Another driver who looked good before hitting misfortune at Monza is Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz. He led the second race at Monza from Pole Position until he hit a pigeon and dropped back down the field. He missed out on a podium at Valencia last season after spinning at the final corner on the final lap of race two. He will be looking to make amends this weekend and to have his say in the Yokohama Independents battle.
Another BMW capable of securing a strong result is Franz Engstler. He had a quiet Monza weekend but was able to finish a strong sixth in the second race and is within striking distance of the leaders in the Yokohama Independents and his experience could prove decisive if things go wrong.
The other BMW’s in the field will be Proteam Racing’s Isaac Tutumlu, team-mate Mehdi Bennani, Engstler’s Liqui Moly Team Engstler team-mate Charles Kaki Ng and Michelisz’s team-mate Gabor Weber.
Having made their debut at Monza, Team Aon will be looking for more progress at Valencia. They tested their Ford Focus S2000 TC at the Ricardo Tormo circuit during pre season and thus arrive with some knowledge and data for the circuit. Neither James Nash nor Tom Chilton troubled the points at Monza but proved that the car is reliable and reasonably on the pace.
Can anyone beat Chevrolet this weekend or will they continue their title defence with another brace of victories? All the answers will be on Eurosport and Eurosport 2 over the weekend as well as full coverage on Touring-Cars.Net.
Qualifying on Saturday will be on Eurosport 2 at 16.10 BST while Sunday, 1 April will see the 15 minute warm up take place at 08.30 BST, live on Eurosport 2 with rounds three and four taking place on Eurosport at 13.15 BST and 16.00 BST.
Pole Position: Yvan Muller
Race 1: Yvan Muller, Rob Huff, Gabriele Tarquini
Race 2 Pole: Stefano D’Aste
Race 2: Stefano D’Aste, Norbert Michelisz, Yvan Muller