Alain Menu claimed victory in the opening WTCC race at Japan

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):

Driver Team Result YIT
1. Alain Menu SUI RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 26 laps  
2. Yvan Muller FRA RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 0.812  
3. Robert Huff GBR RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 1.419  
4. Gabriele Tarquini ITA Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 13.828  
5. Alex MacDowell GBR Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 14.273 Y
6. Tom Coronel NED ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW + 19.870  
7. Pepe Oriola ESP Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 20.415 Y
8. Stefano D’Aste ITA Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC BMW + 20.677 Y
9. Tiago Monteiro POR JAS Honda Civic S2000 TC Honda + 21.284  
10. Franz Engstler DEU Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC BMW + 21.490 Y
11. Darryl O’Young HKG Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet + 23.724 Y
12. Tom Boardman GBR Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 32.605 Y
13. Norbert Michelisz HUN Zengõ Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW + 32.767 Y
14. Fernando Monje ESP SUNRED Engineering SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 34.151 Y
15. Tom Chilton GBR Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC Ford + 34.615  
16. Hiroki Yoshimoto JPN Tuenti Racing SR León 1.6T Sunred + 40.965 Y
17. René Münnich DEU Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 48.733 Y
18. Aleksei Dudukalo* RUS Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT + 49.644 Y
19. James Nash* GBR Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC Ford + 1:03.894  
20. Masaki Kano JPN Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320si BMW + 1 lap Y
21. Mehdi Bennani MOR Proteam Racing BMW 320TC BMW + 1 lap Y
22. Charles Ka-Ki Ng HKG Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC BMW + 3 laps Y
NF. Alberto Cerqui ITA ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW 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.

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.