Yvan Muller (centre) would claim victory in Race 1 

Yvan Muller has taken victory in an action-packed opening World Touring Car Championship race at Valencia to claim the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings for the first time this season.

The Frenchman headed a Chevrolet 1-2 from team-mate Alain Menu, and his cause was helped when team-mate Rob Huff was punted off-track on a tense opening lap of the race.

With overtaking not always the easiest prospect at the Ricardo Tormo circuit a good start is crucial, particularly with 20-odd cars funnelling down to the sharp left-hander that is Turn 1. You certainl’y dont want to find yourself on the outside line of the corner if there is a three-wide battle heading into it, as you’re invariably sent off into the kitty litter at high speed.

Knowing that the inside line often affords the best advantage, Gabriele Tarquini made a sensational start as Race 1’s rolling start got underway, shoving his SUNRED León up the inside line of polesitter Muller to stake his claim for the lead.

With two Chevrolets on the outside line of the Italian – Huff being furthest to the right and the most vulnerable – Muller was able to follow Tarquini through the corner, while Huff sensibly backed out to wait until later in the lap to try a counterattack.

Tarquini took the lead under braking for Turn 1, while Huff found himself in a position to challenge Muller for second place at Turn 4. But as the field bunch up behind him, he was nerfed from behind by team-mate Menu – who had himself been hit in the back by Tiago Monteiro.

Huff skated off into the infield and rejoined well down in 11th. Menu caught his slide with consummate skill, only to find himself hit with a drive-through penalty, which was quickly withdrawn when the stewards considered Monteiro’s involvement in the affair.

Tarquini’s heroics at the front of the field would only last for a few more laps before he was inevitably overtaken by the quicker Chevrolets of Muller and then Menu, with the latter making his move past the former champion when the Italian’s car slowed with technical maladies.

Tom Coronel would claim the final podium result, a nice confidence boost ahead of the afternoon’s second race, from which he starts on the front row. The Dutchman claimed the spot with a neat move on Monteiro, who would eventually fall down the order to finish eighth as his tyres went off.

Engstler driver Kristian Poulsen took the Independent Trophy win and the championship lead by finishing fourth, one spot ahead of Huff, who staged an excellent recover drive to claim fifth, which included a brilliant move on Monteiro and Javier Villa in one swoop at Turn 12.

Villa would shadow Huff right to the finish line, while he was also hotly pursued by Norbert Michelisz, followed by the faltering Monteiro.

Robert Dahlgren’s inherent pace was back on display after his qualifying woes yesterday, with the Swede finishing ninth after starting seventeenth, having also been quickest in the morning warm-up. Stefano D’Aste rounded our the points’ paying positions in his BMW.

The second race gets underway at 3:05PM local time, with Franz Engstler on pole, again with the chance of repeating his Oschersleben heroics at the last round when he claimed his maiden WTCC win.


2011 FIA WTCC Race of Spain Final Classification (Race 1 – 14 laps):

Driver Team Result
1. Yvan Muller FRA RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 25:39.052
2. Alain Menu SUI RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 1.103
3. Tom Coronel NED ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW + 6.345
4. Kristian Poulsen DEN Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC BMW + 9.961
5. Robert Huff GBR RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 15.404
6. Javier Villa García ESP Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC BMW + 15.630
7. Norbert Michelisz HUN Zengõ-Dension Team BMW 320TC BMW + 16.206
8. Tiago Monteiro POR SUNRED SR León 1.6T Sunred + 16.665
9. Robert Dahlgren SWE Polestar Volvo C30 1.6T ‘Drive’ Volvo + 16.777
10. Stefano D’Aste ITA Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC BMW + 17.139
11. Michel Nykjær DEN SUNRED SR León 1.6T Sunred + 18.962
12. Pepe Oriola ESP SUNRED SR León 1.6T Sunred + 23.362
13. Aleksei Dudukalo RUS Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T Sunred + 26.603
14. Yukinori Taniguchi JPN Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 28.955
15. Darryl O’Young HKG Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 44.967
16. Fabio Fabiani ITA Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si BMW + 1:37.597
17. Gabriele Tarquini ITA Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T Sunred 4 laps behind
18. David Sigacev RUS DeTeam KK Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW 4 laps behind
19. Fredy Barth SUI Swiss Racing SR León 1.6T Sunred 4 laps behind
NCF. Franz Engstler DEU Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC BMW 9 laps
DNF. Mehdi Bennani MOR Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC BMW 4 laps
  Yvan Muller FRA RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:45.130

[Original 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.