Yvan Muller has continued his dominant title defence with his third victory in as many races after claiming a dominant win at the opening leg of the World Touring Car Championship at Valencia. The Frenchman won by almost seven seconds from Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Coronel, who ensured three different manufacturers were represented on the podium.
On the back of his double-win effort at the season-opening round at Monza, Muller becomes the first driver in the championship’s history to win the first three races of a season.
“I am not here to look at the records,” he said after the race. “I think I have the best car, and the advantage of taking age is experience. I was careful not to repeat my little mistakes at Valencia last year, where I pushed too hard too soon and created some flat-spots on my tyres.”
As the race got underway with its rolling start, Muller converted his pole position into the lead of the race at Turn 1, with Tarquini and Coronel behind.
The opening lap had some drama, with Proteam driver Mehdi Bennani getting spun around at Turn 5. After rejoining at the rear of the field, he would recover to fourteenth.
While Muller quickly eased away into the lead, the main focus of the race was the battle for second between Tarquini and Coronel. The Italian used plenty of guile to make his SEAT as wide as possible, while Coronel was furious when officials warned him for unsporting driving after his repeated Morse Code efforts on Tarquini’s back bumper.
The Dutchman eased off for a few laps, but resumed his attack in the closing stages – he was unable to find a way past the wily Tarquini, and chased him over the line just a quarter of a second behind.
Muller’s Chevrolet team-mates Rob Huff and Alain Menu would finish fourth and fifth respectively, the pair improving on their grid slots by one and four places respectively. Neither was quite able to keep pace with the Tarquini-Coronel battle ahead.
Sixth place (and the Independent Trophy win) went to local driver Pepe Oriola, who drove a sensible race in his SEAT León WTCC, whose class win over Norbert Michelisz and Franz Engstler was never threatened; the pair finished seventh and eight on the road behind him.
Tiago Monteiro and Darryl O’Young both saw the chequered flag for the first time this season, with Monteiro coming home ninth in his SUNRED-powered entry; O’Young finished tenth in his first proper race for Special Tune Racing SEAT.
Race two takes place at 17:20 CET, with Stefano D’Aste set to start on pole ahead of Alain Menu on the reversed grid.
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Spain – Race 1 Final Classification (13 laps):