Norbert Michelisz has become the third ever Independent Trophy to claim outright victory in the World Touring Car Championship, with the Hungarian driver delighting local fans with an emphatic win in the second race at the Hungaroring.
It was Michelisz’s second-ever WTCC win, coming some 18 months after his maiden win at the 2010 season-ending Race of Macau, when he claimed victory in his Zengő-Dension Team SEAT.
Having driven for the Zengő Motorsport BMW team since 2011, Michelisz has proven to be a fast, if not rather erratic, performer. At last year’s Hungarian race, he delighted crowds with a thrilling run to the podium in the first race, but blotted his copybook with an overly ambitious lunge into the first corner at the start of Race 2, badly damaging his BMW.
Having claimed an unexpected pole position a week ago at the Slovakia Ring, Michelisz was not expecting to be a podium contender as he headed to his home race, figuring that the works Chevrolets would be too hard to beat.
As it was, Yvan Muller, Robert Huff and Alain Menu swept to a Chevrolet 1-2-3 in the opening race, but the trio would be starting in the lower reaches of the top-ten for Race 2, while Michelisz would start from fifth place.
With his rear-wheel-drive powertrain working to perfection, Michelisz made a lightning getaway as the lights went out and took the lead into the first corner.
He immediately broke away from the chasing pack, helped by Pepe Oriola holding up the faster Mehdi Bennani in their battle over second place, while Alain Menu had climbed to fourth place from eighth on the grid, quickly getting by Tiago Monteiro with a bold move at Turn 12.
Monteiro was the next cork in the bottle, holding off a queue of cars including Gabriele Tarquini, Robert Huff, Yvan Muller and pole-sitter Franz Engstler, who was quickly bundled down the order after a slow getaway at the start.
With the 50,000-strong crowd roaring with approval as each lap counted down, Michelisz eased out to a four-second lead while Bennani and Menu tried to find a way by the stubborn Oriola.
Bennani eventually made his move into Turn 1 on the ninth lap, but braked marginally too late, leaving a car’s width gap on the apex for an opportunistic and grateful Menu to make a profit at low cost, with the Swiss driver claiming the second place that would move him to second place in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
It was the Hungarian equivalent of ‘Mansellmania’, and the pit-lane was awash with emotion, tears and champagne at this incredibly popular win.
Menu and Bennani completed the podium with Bennani earning a career-best result and a huge morale boost for the beleaguered Proteam Motorsport team, which had parted with its second driver Isaac Tutumlu just days before the race.
Oriola was a disappointed fourth, while Monteiro managed to keep the chasing pack at bay to secure a fine fifth. Muller fell to tenth on the final lap after a mistake trying to fend off Stefano D’Aste, losing his eighth place to the Italian and Engstler, who slipped by before the Frenchman could recover.
Despite his low-scoring result in Race 2, his win earlier in the day ensures that Muller retains a lead in the championship standings, 23 points clear of Menu in second.
Oriola still leads the Independent Trophy standings, while Michelisz’s win promoted him to second overall, seven points adrift of the Spanish teenager.
The series now has a two-week break before heading to its next new venue, Austria’s Salzburgring circuit on May 20.
You can watch the entire race right here:
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Hungary – Race 2 Final Classification (12 laps):