After much anticipation and off-season driver changes, the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship season kicks off this weekend with the Race of Italy at the historic Monza circuit.
RichardsF1.com will be right here in the thick of it, and we’ll bring you all of the action and gossip from Milan as the tin-tops go racing. Let’s take a look at our bumper race preview…
|2012 HYFLEX RACE OF ITALY
|Date:||10-11 March 2012|
|Race Lap Record:||1:59.058, Jörg Müller (BMW 320i) (BMW 320i) – 2005|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-09:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:45-11:15|
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 14:30-14:50|
|Qualifying Session 2||Sat 14:55-15:05|
|Sunday Warm-Up||Sun 09:00-09:15|
|Race 1 (9 laps, 50km)||Sun 13:20-13:50|
|Race 2 (9 laps, 50km)||Sun 17:05-17:35|
|Past Winners:||Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2011 (Race 1)|
|Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2011 (Race 2)|
|Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si)||2010 (Race 1)|
|Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2010 (Race 2)|
|Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León TDI)*||2009 (Race 1)|
|Yvan Muller (SEAT León TDi)*||2009 (Race 2)|
|Yvan Muller (SEAT León TDI)||2008 (Race 1)|
|Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León TDI)||2008 (Race 2)|
|Yvan Muller (SEAT León TDI)||2007 (Race 1)|
|Jordi Gené (SEAT León TDI)||2007 (Race 2)|
|Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si)||2006 (Race 1)|
|Augusto Farfus (Alfa Romeo 156)||2006 (Race 2)|
|Dirk Müller (BMW 320i)||2005 (Race 1)|
|James Thompson (Alfa Romeo 156)||2005 (Race 2)|
* Held at Imola
The opening round at Monza – known as Italy’s ‘Temple of Speed’ – is always one of the most anticipated on the WTCC calendar (not least of which is due to its season-opener billing this year), along with one of its most traditional.
The high-speed circuit has played host to the championship for its inaugural race when the series was re-formed in 2005, and has remained on the calendar every year, with the exception of 2009 when the Race of Italy occurred at the Imola circuit.
The event is widely popular with fans, who flock to the circuit to support local heroes Gabriele Tarquini, Alberto Cerqui, Pasquale di Sabatino and Stefano D’Aste, while Swiss fans will also make the trip south over the border to support front-running drivers Alain Menu.
The major manufacturers have all enjoyed success at this circuit, which will reward a car with a good aerodynamic profile, a strong engine and a set-up that doesn’t punish its tyres too much.
The two races in 2010 both features several spectacular tyre failures in the closing laps, creating some surprise results, with Andy Priaulx winning in his BMW in the opening race, while Yvan Muller repeated the feat for Chevrolet in the second race.
Last year’s two races again saw some tyres struggling under the massive cornering loads, but Robert Huff came through to win two gripping races in his Chevrolet, hounded all the way to the line by team-mate Yvan Muller.
Having wrapped up the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championship titles for the past two seasons, Chevrolet will be clear favourites to claim a hat trick this year. Notwithstanding their being the only fully-backed manufacturer entry in the field, they have a crack line-up and clearly the best overall package.
Last year, Yvan Muller and Robert Huff staged a thrilling season-long battle for the championship, with the Frenchman overhauling Huff in the closing rounds to claim his third World Championship title. There’s no reason to suggest that fourth wouldn’t be on the cards, but Huff will be hungry to go one better in 2012.
And one should never discount the team’s third driver, Alain Menu, who proved last year that he could be as quick as anyone on his day.
This round will see six Chevrolets in the field, with Bamboo Engineering fielding two rookies – Alex MacDowell and Pasquale di Sabatino – in their line-up, while Chevrolet Motorsport Sweden is running Scandinavian Touring Car champion Rickard Rydell this weekend, with the Swede making his championship return after a two-year absence.
SEAT has done an about-face on its decision two years ago to quit the series, and has now re-entered the WTCC in a semi-works capacity, fronting four two-car teams, although Special Tune Racing and SUNRED will only field one car apiece this weekend. Retaining the services of Gabriele Tarquini, Aleksei Dudukalo (Lukoil Racing), Tiago Monteiro and Pepe Oriola (Tuenti Racing), the manufacturer has also got Darryl O’Young and Tom Boardman in the new Special Tune Racing outfit.
The major change for the Spanish carmaker is what lies under the bonnet, with SEAT having developed a completely new 1.6-litre turbocharged engine to run this season. By all accounts, the new powerplant is pretty good, and it should help propel the outfit to the sharper end of the field on a more regular basis.
Once again, BMW has the largest contingent of cars in the field, and it’s widely expected that ROAL Motorsport’s expanded two-car line-up should lead the way. Tom Coronel stays on for a second season, and he’ll be joined by Alberto Cerqui who makes his WTCC debut. Cerqui was a sensation in last year’s Italian Superstars championship, and he should push the veteran Coronel to deliver even more in the 320TC.
Another BMW team expanding its operation is Zengõ Motorsport, which adds its Eastern European flavour to the field with an expanded all-Hungarian line-up. Norbert Michelisz will be joined by former SEAT EuroCup champion Gábor Wéber, who will race in the first half of the season.
Independent Trophy winner Engstler Motorsport is back with its two-car line-up, with owner/driver Franz Engstler signing Charles Ng as his team-mate. The Hong Kong driver had a few outings with the team last year, impressively finishing in the points at Shanghai.
Proteam Racing had a last-minute change in its driver line-up after Javier Villa’s sponsors fell through, and in comes fellow Spaniard Isaac Tutumlu, who makes his WTCC debut alongside more established team-mate Mehdi Bennani.
Stefano D’Aste returned to the series full-time with Wiechers-Sport. A strong performer in the WTCC, he should feature prominently in the battle for Independent Trophy honours.
And we would be remiss to mention the return of carmaker Ford, which is fielding a two-car all-British line-up with Arena International Motorsports, which has enjoyed much success in the British Touring Car Championship.
Driving for the team will be Tom Chilton and James Nash, who will compete for outright and Independent Trophy honours respectively.
The team is treating this season as a learning year, and will be hoping to iron out early-season niggles with its purpose-built S2000 Focus 1.6T as quickly as possible.
2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship Entry List (Hyflex Race of Italy):
|1.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yvan Muller|
|2.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Robert Huff|
|3.||Lukoil Racing Team||SEAT León 1.6T||Gabriele Tarquini|
|4.||Lukoil Racing Team||SEAT León 1.6T||Aleksei Dudukalo*|
|5.||Zengõ Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Norbert Michelisz*|
|6.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Franz Engstler*|
|7.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Charles Ka-Ki Ng*|
|8.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alain Menu|
|9.||Chevrolet Motorsport Sweden||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Rickard Rydell|
|11.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alex MacDowell*|
|12.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Pasquale di Sabatino*|
|14.||Team Aon||Ford Focus S2000 TC||James Nash*|
|15.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Tom Coronel|
|16.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Alberto Cerqui*|
|18.||Tuenti Racing Team||SEAT León 1.6T||Tiago Monteiro|
|20.||Special Tune Racing||SEAT León 1.6T||Darryl O’Young*|
|23.||Team Aon||Ford Focus S2000 TC||Tom Chilton|
|24.||Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Isaac Tutumlu*|
|25.||Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Mehdi Bennani*|
|26.||Wiechers-Sport||BMW 320 TC||Stefano D’Aste*|
|27.||Zengõ Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Gábor Wéber*|
|40.||SUNRED Engineering||SEAT León 1.6T||Andrea Barlesi*|
|74.||Tuenti Racing Team||SEAT León 1.6T||Pepe Oriola*|
* Denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor. Entry list is subject to final FIA confirmation.
Facts, Stats & Predictions
The form car heading into this weekend is undoubtedly Chevrolet’s dominant Cruze 1.6T model, which won all but three of the races last year. Yesterday, all teams conducted a major test session at the circuit, with Cruzes claiming a 1-2-3-4-5 on the timesheets, with Huff on top of Muller by just 0.013 seconds!
On this basis, expect this weekend to see Chevrolet dictate the pace at the front of the field, but certainly expect to see Tarquini, Monteiro and Coronel jostling for early-season honours at what should be a fascinating, action-packed opening round.
As always, make sure you visit RichardsF1.com for all of the latest news and analysis from Monza!