Alain Menu has controlled proceedings to lead home an RML Chevrolet 1-2-3 in the opening World Touring Car Championship race at Suzuka, leading home team-mates Yvan Muller at Rob Huff at the end of the 26-lap race.
Menu led the field away at the rolling start, and his lead was only threatened in the opening few hundred metres when Muller tried to pass the Swiss driver around the outside of the first two right-handers.
Menu wasn’t having any of that, and forced Muller to settle for the job of defending second place from Huff, his nearest championship rival.
Fourth place went to Gabriele Tarquini, who made up two places at the rolling start to leapfrog Alex MacDowell and Mehdi Bennani. Despite MacDowell having undoubtedly the quicker car, the wily Tarquini did enough to keep the Englishman behind him for the rest of the race, aided by overtaking being a near-impossible task on the shortened East Circuit layout.
Bennani had fallen behind Tarquini’s Lukoil Racing team-mate Aleksei Dudukalo, and spent a frustrating part of the race trying to find a way past the Russian, to no avail. Predictably, frustration got rather the better of the Moroccan, who tried to take advantage of a small mistake by Dudukalo at Turn 5, only to succeed in tipping himself into a spin when Dudukalo forcefully shut the door.
The mistake promoted Tom Coronel into seventh place, who finished ahead of Pepe Oriola and Stefano D’Aste, who starts today’s second race from pole position.
Tiago Monteiro managed to get his Honda Civic into the top-ten on the Japanese carmaker’s first works-supported appearance in the championship. The Honda driver came under pressure in the opening stages of the race, taking advantage of Bennani’s misjudgement to claim the final championship point.
The joy for the lower points-scorers was improved further when Dudukalo was found at fault for the collision with Bennani. The Russian was hit with a post-race thirty-second time penalty, which promoted Coronel, Oriola, D’Aste, Monteiro up a place, while Franz Engstler moved into tenth to claim the final Drivers’ Championship point in his BMW.
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 1 Final Classification (26 laps):
|1.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||26 laps|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.812|
|3.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 1.419|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 13.828|
|5.||Alex MacDowell||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 14.273||Y|
|6.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 19.870|
|7.||Pepe Oriola||Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 20.415||Y|
|8.||Stefano D’Aste||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||+ 20.677||Y|
|9.||Tiago Monteiro||JAS Honda Civic S2000 TC||+ 21.284|
|10.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 21.490||Y|
|11.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 23.724||Y|
|12.||Tom Boardman||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 32.605||Y|
|13.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 32.767||Y|
|14.||Fernando Monje||SUNRED Engineering SEAT León WTCC||+ 34.151||Y|
|15.||Tom Chilton||Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC||+ 34.615|
|16.||Hiroki Yoshimoto||Tuenti Racing SR León 1.6T||+ 40.965||Y|
|17.||René Münnich||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 48.733||Y|
|18.||Aleksei Dudukalo*||Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 49.644||Y|
|19.||James Nash*||Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC||+ 1:03.894|
|20.||Masaki Kano||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320si||+ 1 lap||Y|
|21.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing BMW 320TC||+ 1 lap||Y|
|22.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 3 laps||Y|
|NF.||Alberto Cerqui||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||12 laps||Y|
* Denotes 30-second time penalties applied post-race. Dudukalo’s penalty was for his collision with Mehdi Bennani, while James Nash’s penalty was for jumping the start.