Robert Huff has kept is very slim championship hopes alive by winning the opening race of the World Touring Car Championship round at Okayama’s TI Aida circuit.
Starting third in the race – which started with two laps behind the safety car due to the very wet conditions – the Chevrolet driver passed Augusto Farfus for second place at Turn 4 on the third lap of the race, and quickly set about chasing down pole-sitter and race leader Andy Priaulx.
He caught the three-time WTCC champion just two laps later, and after a bit of wheel-banging in the opening corners of the fifth lap, he made the move stick at Turn 7, and assumed a lead he would not surrender.
While an 18-point haul for second place would have done nicely towards his chase on championship leader Yvan Muller, Priaulx’s problem was that the Frenchman finished a fine third after an impressive climb through the field to limit the Guernseyman’s points gain to just three. With a maximum of 75 points remaining to be claimed, Priaulx now sits 22 points behind Muller.
Muller’s drive was particularly impressive. With it all to lose, he picked his moments to pass Norbert Michelisz, Colin Turkington and Augusto Farfus to perfection. It was, in many respects, a champion’s drive.
Fourth-placed Farfus was involved in a brief but exciting battle with the championship’s other contender, Gabriele Tarquini, but the Italian perhaps threw away what little hope he had of keeping in the championship hunt with a slide off-track at Turn 2 where he clipped the barrier. Rejoining without major damage in eighth place, he was gifted seventh by fellow SEAT driver Michel Nykjær on the last lap. Tarquini now lies 38 points behind Muller and has a mountain to climb to remain in the game, but at least he has a front-row start for the second race today.
Michelisz should be well-pleased with his career-best finish of fifth, holding off Turkington for the position as the Briton made his WTCC return.
Further down the order, Tiago Monteiro was the race’s first retiree, failing to make it past the first corner after the Safety Car pulled in when he and Franz Engstler engaged in some synchronised spinning into the kitty litter. Later in the same lap, Fredy Barth and Kristian Poulsen made contact at Turn 7, with the latter spinning into the path of the luckless Stefano D’Aste, who retired after clouting the wall.
All of that gifted local hero Yukinori Taniguchi his first Independent Trophy class win, and shadowing him home was his Bamboo Engineering team-mate Darryl O’Young, scoring the team’s first class 1-2.
Special mention also to Robert Dahlgren, who put in a charging drive from 24th on the grid to take tenth at the chequered flag, finishing just a second behind Alain Menu.
UPDATE: The hearing for the appeals lodged by Chevrolet, the International Court of Appeal annulled decisions taken by the Panel of Stewards on 30 October 2010 at the FIA WTCC event in Okayama that authorised the BMW cars of Augusto Farfus and Andy Priaulx to use sequential gearboxes. The Court excluded both cars from the results of the event, awarding Yvan Muller a second-placed finish and Norbert Michelisz a third-placed finish.
WTCC Okayama Race 1 Final Classification (16 laps):
* Classification results amended due to the International Court of Appeal annulling the race finishing results of the RBM Team BMW cars following the successful appeal lodged by RML Chevrolet over the team’s use of sequential gearboxes for the Okayama round.
[Original images via FIA WTCC official site]