Robert Huff has claimed a lights-to-flag victory in the opening World Touring Car Championship race at the Salzburgring, leading home a Chevrolet 1-2-3 ahead of team-mates Yvan Muller and Alain Menu. The Englishman withstood race-long pressure from Muller, narrowly avoiding losing the lead in an epic slipstreaming battle for the lead.
Conditions were baking hot in the Alpine circuit, and after securing a 1-2-3 lockout in qualifying, the RML drivers quickly pulled away from the chasing pack as the race got underway with a rolling start.
Unable to break away from his team-mates, Huff was lucky to keep his lead when he locked up at the first corner on Lap 3. Muller tried to capitalise on the circuit’s long back straight, drawing along Huff on the outside as the pair swept into the long Turn 8 right-hander, but Huff doggedly held the inside line into the following corner and kept his advantage.
Concerns over tyre life were given a brief reprieve when the Safety Car was brought out following a heavy accident for Darryl O’Young, with the Hong Kong driver destroying his Special Tune Racing SEAT against the barriers after an earlier collision with Stefano D’Aste’s Wiechers Sport BMW. O’Young was been tipped into the barrier by Engstler BMW driver Charles Ng, and the damage would prove too great for him to take the start for Race 2.
After three laps behind the Safety Car, the race resumed in earnest once again. Muller continued to attack Huff to no avail, while Menu kept a watching brief in third place, ready to inherit extra places should his team-mates strike trouble.
There was more late-race drama when Lukoil SEAT’s Aleksei Dudukalo and Proteam BMW’s Mehdi Bennani tangled at Turn 1 as they disputed the lower points positions. The Russian would retire with bent steering – which would need urgent repair so he could start from pole for Race 2 – while Bennani continued to finish last of the runners in seventeenth position.
Huff crossed the line just 0.3 seconds clear of Muller, while Menu completed the podium. Gabriele Tarquini finished as the best non-Chevrolet runner, holding off SEAT runner Tiago Monteiro, who showed remarkable pace given his less-powerful SUNRED engine.
Sixth place went to Bamboo Chevrolet runner Alex MacDowell, who claimed his first Independent Trophy win ahead of SEAT teenager Pepe Oriola.
Tom Coronel finished eighth in his ROAL BMW, benefitting from the Dudukalo-Bennani collision to gain a few extra points, while the top ten was completed by Norbert Michelisz (Zengõ Motorsport BMW) and James Nash (AON Ford).
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Austria – Race 1 Final Classification (14 laps):
* Race distance extended by two laps due to Safety Car interruption