Alain Menu has claimed victory in the first World Touring Car Championship race at Suzuka today. The Chevrolet driver won by three seconds, while behind him there was chaos on the opening lap…
The Swiss driver led home team-mate Robert Huff to claim another one-two for Chevrolet, helped by the team’s main rival, Volvo’s Robert Dahlgren, being pitched into the barriers before he even made it to the first corner.
Elsewhere in the midfield, separate accidents saw Tiago Monteiro (SUNRED) out of the race, while Tom Coronel (ROAL BMW) and WTCC debutant Hiroki Yoshimoto (SUNRED) were also sidelined. Gabriele Tarquini headed for the pits with badly flat-spotted tyres after he was also caught up in the first-lap melee.
But when racing got underway, a circumspect Muller – the championship leader over his team-mates – elected not to defend his position when Menu attempted to reclaim the lead.
Muller appeared to be battling with the handling of his car, and it wasn’t long before he made a seemingly inevitable mistake when he ran wide on the tenth lap; this saw him rejoin behind Huff and SUNRED’s Michel Nykjær.
Muller brought the car home fourth, fending off the attentions of Independent Trophy points leader Kristian Poulsen (Engstler BMW).
Sixth place went to WTCC returnee Colin Turkington, who was making his second appearance in the Wiechers-Sport BMW; he was followed home by local hero Yukinori Taniguchi (Bamboo Chevrolet), who earned his best finish of the season.
The points places were completed by Mehdi Bennani (Proteam BMW), Gabriele Tarquini – who had a storming drive through the field after his pit stop – and Norbert Michelisz (Zengõ-Dension BMW).
However, Michelisz and four other drivers (Javier Villa, Aleksei Dudukalo, Pepe Oriola and Fredy Barth) were each awarded with 30-second time penalties post-race for exceeding the 90km/h prescribed speed limit for the race’s rolling start. The stewards’ decision had the biggest effect on Michelisz, who lost the Drivers’ Championship point he earned by crossing the line tenth – it instead went to Franz Engstler.
This afternoon’s second race will see Bamboo Engineering driver Darryl O’Young start from pole alongside Coronel.
2011 FIA WTCC Race of Japan Final Classification (Race 1 – 25 laps):
|1.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||25:50.919|
|2.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 3.133|
|3.||Michel Nykjær||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 3.766|
|4.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 4.441|
|5.||Kristian Poulsen||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 4.851|
|6.||Colin Turkington||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||+ 8.601|
|7.||Yukinori Taniguchi||Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 13.472|
|8.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 13.730|
|9.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 14.045|
|10.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 15.950|
|11.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 20.833|
|12.||Masaki Kano||DeTeam KK Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 25.889|
|13.||Toshihiro Arai||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 26.767|
|14.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320si||+ 39.298|
|15.||Norbert Michelisz*||Zengõ-Dension Team BMW 320TC||+ 44.478|
|16.||Javier Villa García*||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 50.554|
|17.||Aleksei Dudukalo*||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||+ 1:16.031|
|18.||Pepe Oriola*||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||5 laps behind|
|DNF.||Hiroki Yoshimoto||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||11 laps|
|NCF.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||20 laps behind|
|DNF.||Fredy Barth||Swiss Racing SR León 1.6T||2 laps|
|DNF.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Volvo C30 1.6T ‘Drive’||0 laps|
|DNF.||Tiago Monteiro||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||0 laps|
|DNQ.||Fabio Fabiani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si||did not qualify|
|Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||54.521|
* Denotes 30-second time penalty applied post-race for exceeding the 90km/h speed limit during the race’s rolling start
[Original images via FIA WTCC Media]