2012 World Touring Car Championship Season Review

Looking back at the 2011 World Touring Car Championship season, this had a rather transitory feeling to it, particularly when one considers the additional manufacturers (Ford, LADA, and possibly Honda and Subaru) that are set to join the Chevrolet-BMW-SEAT scrap.

While this year’s championship was thin on proper manufacturer support, it was perhaps little surprise to see the best-funded ‘works’ team, RML Chevrolet, romp to the championship. It claimed a 1-2-3 in the Drivers’ title, won every outright pole position and claimed victory in 21 of the 24 races.

Such was Chevrolet’s dominance, it became pretty clear from the outset that it would only be one of their three drivers who would claim the championship crown, and the Chevrolet allowed its three drivers to race without the fear of team ordersfocus quickly shifts as to whom would claim the spoils.

Kudos then to Chevrolet for allowing their drivers to race hard among themselves all season, when the temptation to impose team orders (such as the ‘friendly fire’ demonstration they gave us at Monza) might have been all too apparent.

The likes of Tom Coronel, Gabriele Tarquini and Robert Dahlgren were occasionally able to throw a car among the pigeons, but their respective BMW, SUNRED and Volvo outfits were too busy trying to close the gap and develop their brand new cars to mount a continued challenge.

So who do we feel were the ten strongest performers over the course of the 2011 WTCC season, and what hopes do we hold out for next year’s championship? Let’s have a look…

 

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1. Yvan Muller

Chevrolet’s utter dominance of proceedings should not detract from a fine third World Championship crown for the Frenchman. He’s beaten all comers in the past, and he proved again in 2011 that he’s never to be discounted.

Yvan Muller Interestingly, his championship kicked off in an uncharacteristically slow fashion, and it took until the fourth round of the championship before he stood on the top step of the rostrum. His next ten races saw six further wins and three second-placed finishes, giving him the momentum to sweep by team-mate Huff in the final rounds and claim the crown by the barest of margins.

With Chevrolet having plenty of testing mileage and a well-sorted package that was clearly the benchmark for the rest of the field, Muller will be a strong candidate to claim the title honours once again in 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T
Races: 24 Wins: 8 Podiums: 19
Pole Positions: 4 Points: 433 C’ship Position: 1st
OUR RATING: A

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2. Robert Huff

On the basis of how strongly he started the 2011 season – claiming four wins in the first six races – the popular Englishman might have had the title wrapped up before the final flyaway races even began.

Robert Huff But the cracks in his armour began to appear when Muller hit his stride at the midpoint of the season, and being beaten by the Frenchman in both races on his home turf sapped quite a bit of his oomph. Minor slips from Huff were roundly punished by Muller, and despite a strong finish to the championship (including two excellent wins at Macau), it just wasn’t enough.

It’s still his best season in years, and he’ll return hungrier than ever in 2012. Previous seasons have seen Huff finish fourth (2009), third (2010), and second (2011), so the pattern is looking good…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T
Races: 24 Wins: 8 Podiums: 18
Pole Positions: 4 Points: 430 C’ship Position: 2nd
OUR RATING: A

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3. Alain Menu

Rocked by the death of his father late last year, the Swiss veteran returned with new motivation in 2012 and had one of his most consistent seasons in recent years.

He started strong in the championship, picking up a win and two second-placed finishes in the first four races to lie a single point behind Huff in the championship race.

Alain Menu But as sometimes seems to be the case with Menu, one mishap generally breeds more, and he seemed to lose his way in the mid-season after Muller barged him off the road on the final lap at Monza. That put Menu behind the eight-ball, and he struggled to recover his momentum, despite some excellent drives to claim four more wins before the year was out.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T
Races: 23 Wins: 5 Podiums: 13
Pole Positions: 4 Points: 323 C’ship Position: 3rd
OUR RATING: A-

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4. Tom Coronel

After several years of loyal (and largely unsuccessful) service with SEAT, the popular Dutchman made the decision to spearhead ROAL’s return to the championship after a one-year absence, piloting an all-new turbocharged BMW.

Having never driven a rear-wheel-drive car before, Coronel quickly settled in and found the car generally to his liking, although he (like almost all the BMW runners) struggled with the car’s light-switch turbo.

Quickly realising that he was rarely going to be able to challenge the works Chevrolets for top honours, Coronel set himself the goal of being best of the rest: a marker he achieved by the end of the year.

Tom Coronel Consistently running just behind the leading Cruzes, Coronel was the master of the lightning getaway, which enabled him to get in the mix at the front and occasionally frustrate the light blue cars. While his win at Suzuka was well-deserved, he still displayed the occasional wild moment, and will regret throwing away the chance of a certain win with a rash defence of his position against Javier Villa at Valencia.

More off-season testing will help iron out the car’s problems, and Coronel could well be a dark horse in 2011.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC
Races: 23 Wins: 1 Podiums: 5
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 233 C’ship Position: 4th
OUR RATING: B+

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5. Gabriele Tarquini

The field’s second-oldest driver might be a veteran in the championship, but his age belies the fact that the Italian is still very capable of mixing it with the best when the cards fall his way.

That he finished as the leading SEAT / SUNRED driver was not unexpected, and he delivered brilliance and frustration in equal measures as he tried to extract more performance from the car than it was seemingly capable of delivering.

Gabriele Tarquini More often than not, he had to resort to fairly desperate measures to keep ahead of his rivals, and his win at Zolder relied upon some overly forceful defence along the way. Certainly, Tarquini had the widest car in the field, and wasn’t afraid to swap panels with rivals and team-mates alike. A more disciplined approach might have netted him ‘best of the rest’ status instead of Coronel.

Clearly unhappy at SUNRED, he’s a key player in the off-season driver market, and with the chance of a berth at Volvo seemingly gone, he’s a leading candidate to join the AON Ford project as it makes its WTCC debut in 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Lukoil SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI / SR León 1.6T
Races: 24 Wins: 1 Podiums: 6
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 204 C’ship Position: 5th
OUR RATING: B

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6. Kristian Poulsen

A regular frontrunner in the series’ Independent Trophy category, Poulsen made the smart move to merge his operation with Franz Engstler’s Liqui Moly concern. Granted, the Dane still controlled his half of the garage, but it helped take some of the pressure off the everyday wheeling and dealing needed as an owner/driver.

Kristian Poulsen He claimed an outright podium at Monza, and racked up six class wins in a very consistent season to claim a long-awaited Independent title.

In the main game, he finished in the points on fifteen occasions and claimed comfortable runners-up honours among the BMW drivers, ahead of the more fancied drivers like Norbert Michelisz, for example.

After clinching his coveted crown, he made the sad announcement that he would retire from the championship. He will be sorely missed.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC
Races: 24 Wins: 0 Podiums: 1
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 112 C’ship Position: 7th
OUR RATING: B

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7. Tiago Monteiro

After starting the year very well with very good performances at Monza and on his home turf at Porto, Monteiro’s championship season collapsed spectacularly with a sequence of incidents over the rest of the season.

By the mid-point of the season, Monteiro had amassed over 100 points, but the rest of the season saw him earn a quartet of eighth-placed finishes and a string of retirements, often brought upon by being caught up in someone else’s first-lap accident.Tiago Monteiro

The expected departure of team-mate Tarquini (who rarely drove like Monteiro’s team-mate, judging by the number of times they came together in 2011) will vault Monteiro into the role of the lead León driver in 2012, and we hope he’ll be able to improve his form if the team can get its troublesome car sorted in the off-season.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI / SR León 1.6T
Races: 23 Wins: 0 Podiums: 3
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 117 C’ship Position: 6th
OUR RATING: B-

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8. Robert Dahlgren

Volvo’s decision to bring in an established and extremely quick driver like Dahlgren – the 2010 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship runner-up – was a smart move as it set about embarking on a full-time programme in the WTCC.

However, the outfit’s decision to redeploy Dahlgren back to the Scandinavian scene after a single, an extremely impressive, season is possibly one of the daftest the championship has seen in a long time.

Robert Dahlgren That Dahlgren was able to perform so impressively in a single-car operation, despite having never driven on virtually any of the circuits he found himself competing, spoke volumes for his talent and the innate speed of the pretty and powerful C30.

The team’s switch to turbo power brought a quick upswing in form, and Dahlgren could regularly be relied upon to be running as quickly as the leading Chevrolets.

But poor strategic decisions (and the occasional bit of impulsiveness from Dahlgren) meant that he often started further down the grid than he should have, leaving him with too much to do in too little time on race day.

A much-deserved podium never eventuated, and when he broke his thumb in a heavy qualifying smash, his (and possibly Volvo’s) WTCC adventure was over, and that saddens us greatly.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Polestar Evaluation Team Volvo C30 2.0 / C30 ‘Drive’
Races: 22 Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 72 C’ship Position: 11th
OUR RATING: B-

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9. Colin Turkington

Why on earth this affable Northern Irishman doesn’t have a full-time works drive in the WTCC remains a complete mystery to all of us. On the basis of his sublime skills that he’s demonstrated in two part-time campaigns in 2010 and 2011, he most certainly Colin Turkingtondeserves one.

Called in as a short-notice stand-in for Stefano D’Aste at Donington, ‘Turks’ finished in the points in both races, although should have finished higher up the order were it not for the efforts of the ‘Tarquini Torpedo’ during the race.

Support from his Far East backers helped get him back in the cockpit for the Japanese and Chinese races later in the season, and it was at the latter where he was blindingly quick, and almost certainly deserved to win the opening race at Tianma.

Unfortunately Wiechers Sport opted to take the cash stumped up by Canadian racer Gary Kwok for the Macau finale, who succeeded in wrecking the 320TC against the barriers when he wasn’t trundling around at a snail’s pace. Colin was left to twiddle his thumbs on the sidelines – let’s hope this isn’t the case in 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Wiechers Sport BMW 320TC
Races: 6 Wins: 0 Podiums: 1
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 46 C’ship Position: 13th
OUR RATING: B-

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10. Michel Nykjær

Michel NykjaerWhile SUNRED team-mates Tarquini and Monteiro may have finished ahead of him in the points’ standings, the Dane should be applauded for his more consistent performance over the course of 2012, where an ability to keep his nose clean (rather than outright pace) helped him rack up points’ finishes.

By season’s end, Nykjær seemed much happier in the smoky León, and his outright podium at Suzuka was richly-deserved after he’d been quick there all weekend.

The record books will show that he lost out on the Independent Trophy title to Poulsen by just two points. Had he got the car sorted a little earlier in the season, there’s every possibility that he would have claimed the honour instead of his compatriot. Onwards and upwards for 2012…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: SUNRED SEAT León 2.0 TDI / SR León 1.6T
Races: 24 Wins: 0 Podiums: 1
Pole Positions: 0 Points: 86 C’ship Position: 10th
OUR RATING: B-

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The 2012 season is set to deliver plenty of thrills and spills

While the 2011 championship season might not be regarded as one for competitive parity between the manufacturers, the next championship season should improve matters, particularly with the injection of two carmakers, Ford and LADA.

Subaru’s rumoured involvement could be just that, while Volvo has not yet confirmed whether it will remain in the championship or throw all of its eggs in propping up Scandinavia’s wobbly touring car scene. It would be a great shame not to see the C30s blasting their way around the circuits next season.

The championship will head to new environments in Argentina, Austria and the United States, but it’s also a great shame that traditional WTCC venues like the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic have been shelved as a result. It remains to be seen if this will be a success, or if it will backfire in the series organisers’ faces.

In any respect, March’s opening round at Monza cannot come soon enough!

[Images via FIA WTCC Media]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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