Robert Huff has given Chevrolet the perfect start to its championship defence – and the debut of its new 1.6-litre turbo engine – by heading a team washout of the podium at the opening race of the 2011 World Touring Car Championship in Brazil.
After locking out the first three places on the grid in qualifying on Saturday, Huff ran in formation with team-mates Yvan Muller and guest driver Carlos Bueno to take an emphatic 1-2-3, heading Muller by 0.8 seconds.
Muller was unable to create an opportunity to pass his British team-mate, and so consolidated his championship defence with second place, while Bueno’s fortunes greatly improved in his second outing with the team (his first, at Brands Hatch last year, had seen him retire with a spectacular engine fire) to finish in third place, much to the delight of his home crowd who flocked to Curitiba to support him.
The battle for fourth place was probably the most interesting. Kristian Poulsen made a great getaway and briefly challenged Bueno for third place on the run into Turn 1, but as the race progressed, the Dane found himself under attack from the similar-spec BMW driven by Tom Coronel.
It took a small mistake from Poulsen – running slightly through the Esses – for Coronel to seize the initiative and take fourth.
But Poulsen wasn’t about to be undone, and he launched a counter-attack with three laps to go, diving up the inside of the ROAL Motorsport driver under braking for the Entada do Miolo corner, a long right-hander. Coronel resisted, but gave Poulsen enough room, and the pair ran side-by-side through the next sequence of corners, with Poulsen easing ahead.
Not to be outdone, Coronel retook the place from Poulsen’s Engstler BMW on the final lap to end a great wheel-to-wheel battle.
Finishing in sixth place was Alain Menu, who gained four places from his tenth-placed grid slot by using his Chevrolet’s clear performance advantage to climb up the field. He passed the SUNRED pairing of Gabriele Tarquini and Michel Nykjær at mid-distance, and had he more laps left in the race, he could well have gotten in the mix in the Coronel-Poulsen battle.
Tarquini and Nykjær – along with the rest of the six-car SEAT fleet – wouldn’t really feature and the pair finished seventh and eighth respectively, no doubt looking forward to the carmaker’s release of its own turbocharged engine to replace the turbodiesel currently in use.
Rounding out the points-finishing places were Franz Engstler and Mehdi Bennani.
The second race gets underway shortly, with Alain Menu starting his Chevrolet from pole position.
2011 FIA WTCC Race of Brazil Final Classification (Race 1 – 14 laps):
|1.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||19:29.481|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.873|
|3.||Carlos ‘Cacá’ Bueno||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 3.924|
|4.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 12.714|
|5.||Kristian Poulsen||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 13.004|
|6.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 13.402|
|7.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil-SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 14.214|
|8.||Michel Nykjær||SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 14.716|
|9.||Franz Engstler||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 19.100|
|10.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 19.591|
|11.||Tiago Monteiro||SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 20.001|
|12.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Volvo C30||+ 20.343|
|13.||Pepe Oriola||SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 25.098|
|14.||Javier Villa García||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 25.527|
|15.||Fredy Barth||Swiss SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 28.285|
|16.||Marchy Lee Ying Kin||KK Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 41.400|
|17.||Aleksei Dudukalo||Lukoil-SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI||+ 41.820|
|18.||Yukinori Taniguchi||Bamboo Chevrolet Lacetti 2.0||+ 45.265|
|19.||Fabio Fabiani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si||1 lap behind|
|NF.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Lacetti 2.0||4 laps|
[Original images via FIA WTCC Media]