Robert Huff has kept his World Touring Car Championship title hopes alive by winning an incident-filled first race at Macau, fending off repeated attacks from Chevrolet team-mate and championship rival Yvan Muller.
The first attempt at the rolling start was aborted when most of the field failed to line up in correct formation, but the second attempt saw Muller push ahead as the pack funnelled along the three straights making up the opening sequence of the lap.
But that was as much as the Frenchman would lead, for Huff reclaimed top position around the outside of the Mandarin right-hander to edge ahead.
Behind them there was chaos. SUNRED driver André Couto seemed to lose the back end of his car as the pack swept into the fast sweeper. The Macanese driver had a massive tank-slapper and collected the hapless Chevrolet of Alain Menu, making the second time that the pair has collided this weekend.
The safety car was called to slow the field while the mess was cleaned up, and racing got underway on the fifth lap, although the action would only last as far as the Lisboa corner before a full-course caution was called again.
This time is was triggered by Darryl O’Young (Bamboo Chevrolet), who was trying to defend his place from Mehdi Bennani (Proteam BMW). The pair made light contact at the apex, and O’Young foolishly tried to close the door on the Moroccan as they exited the corner. The Hong Kong driver was pitched nose-first into the wall, while Bennani was able to rejoin and finish in ninth place.
The second restart came with just four laps to go, and Huff had to keep his wits about him trying to keep Muller at bay. On each lap, Muller swarmed all over his team-mate on the long run into Lisboa, but he couldn’t find a way by as Huff gamely defended his position to the chequered flag.
Gabriele Tarquini took a comfortable third in his SUNRED, while Tom Coronel finished fourth in his ROAL BMW.
Fifth place went to Michel Nykjær, who took his SUNRED to an Independent class win ahead of the Engstler BMW pairing of Franz Engstler and Kristian Poulsen, whose third place in the class was enough to ensure he would claim his first Independent Trophy title with a race to spare.
The field (or at least, those without massive panel damage) will quickly regroup for the afternoon’s second race, with Huff now just 13 points adrift of Muller with a maximum of 25 points available.
Starting the second race from third place behind Engstler and Nykjær, Huff effectively needs to win and hope that Muller (who provisionally starts from eighth) finishes fifth or lower in order for him to claim the championship.
2011 FIA WTCC Race of Macau Final Classification (Race 1 – 11 laps):
|1.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||35:01.903|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 1.016|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 6.666|
|4.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 8.239|
|5.||Michel Nykjær||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 10.778|
|6.||Franz Engstler||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 11.165|
|7.||Kristian Poulsen||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 11.860|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ-Dension Team BMW 320TC||+ 12.049|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 14.149|
|10.||Pepe Oriola||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 16.940|
|11.||Javier Villa García||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 17.136|
|12.||Tiago Monteiro||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 21.775|
|13.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||DeTeam KK BMW 320TC||+ 41.256|
|14.||Jo Merszei||Team Engstler BMW 320si||+ 46.447|
|15.||Filipe de Souza||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||2 laps behind|
|16.||Gary Kwok||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Aleksei Dudukalo||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||7 laps|
|DNF.||Philip Ma||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si||7 laps|
|DNF.||Mak Ka Lok||RPM Racing Team BMW 320si||7 laps|
|DNF.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||4 laps|
|DNF.||André Couto||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||1 lap|
|DNF.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1 lap|
|DNS.||Kuok Io Keong||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||did not start|
|DNS.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Volvo C30 ‘Drive’||Injured|
|DNS.||Fredy Barth||Swiss SR León 1.6T||Injured|
[Images via FIA WTCC Media]