The World Touring Car Championship has enjoyed a thrilling visit to Austria’s Salzburgring, with Stefano D’Aste becoming the fourth Independent Trophy driver in the championship’s history to win a race outright. The Wiechers Sport BMW driver claimed victory on the final lap in an exciting race that saw all of the leading Chevrolet runners afflicted by punctures.
Despite starting in the lower reaches of the top ten for this partially reverse-grid race, the RML Chevrolets of Yvan Muller, Robert Huff and Alain Menu quickly carved their way through the field. Muller in particularly was ruthless, picking off rivals with ease and claiming the lead of the race on the fourth lap.
Despite the Lukoil SEAT team working miracles to get pole-sitter Aleksei Dudukalo onto the grid after his Race 1 crash, the Russian wasn’t able to convert that into the lead when the race got underway from a standing start.
As usual, it was the rear-wheel-drive BMWs which profited, with Tom Coronel and Stefano D’Aste blasting their way into an early 1-2.
Their joy would be short-lived as the Chevrolets of Muller and Huff worked their way into what looked like an assured podium sweep for Chevrolet, with team-mate Alain Menu quickly working his way towards completing the rostrum when he moved into third place on the seventh lap.
But the race took another twist when the baking heat and high-speed corner loadings took their toll on some drivers’ tyres, triggering a spate of punctures that would completely change the outcome of the race.
Tiago Monteiro was the first to fall foul, with the Portuguese driver skidding into the gravel when his SEAT’s front left tyre suddenly deflated at Turn 9 on the fifth lap. He nursed his car back to the pits for a fresh tyre, but retired two laps later.
It was on Lap 7 that trouble began to rear its head for the Chevrolet runners, when Menu slammed into the Turn 8 barriers after his tyre burst at high speed. Fortunately the Swiss driver was uninjured in the crash, but he was joined seconds later by Bamboo Chevrolet runner Alex MacDowell, who had suffered the same fate.
Oddly, officials opted to run the race with yellow flags through that zone rather than triggering a safety car.
That didn’t stop further punctures for two more SEAT runners, with the Lukoil Racing pair of Gabriele Tarquini and Aleksei Dudukalo both peeling into the pits with punctures, followed by the second Bamboo Chevrolet of Pasquale di Sabatino.
By now things were getting serious. Muller and Huff were immediately instructed to hold station and reduce their pace by a second a lap, which led to the chasing pair of Coronel and D’Aste to quickly close up the gap as the final lap approached.
Muller and Huff would finish 1-2 if they could complete the final lap in front of Coronel and D’Aste, but disaster struck when Muller’s front left tyre failed as well at Turn 9.
This left Huff to fend off the chasing BMWs for the remaining three corners, but in shades of the WTCC races at Monza in 2010 – where all the frontrunners’ tyres blew on the final lap – his front left went down as well!
As Coronel sought to find a way by Huff on the inside of the following left-hander, the Dutchman’s path was blocked by a desperate Huff, which allowed D’Aste to capitalise, sweeping around the outside to take the lead, earning an unexpected but thoroughly popular win.
Huff served all over the pit lane to keep Coronel behind him, giving him a valuable second place to close right up to Muller in the Championship standings. Muller eventually limped across the line in eighth place
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Austria – Race 2 Final Classification (12 laps):