The tally of World Touring Car Championship race wins for Chevrolet continues, with Yvan Muller and Michel Nykjær – the season’s only multiple winners so far – notching up another win apiece in the series’ first ever visit to Russia.
For Muller, it was a near-perfect weekend to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to almost double the tally of his nearest rival, Gabriele Tarquini. The Frenchman won pole position in Saturday’s rain-hit qualifying session, and backed up his Race 1 win with second place to Nykjær in Race 2.
Muller’s Race 1 win was his fourth victory of 2013, and he resisted race-long pressure from Tom Coronel, who was unable to thread his ROAL BMW past the triple champion. Muller’s cause was helped by the race being red-flagged at the end of the fourth lap, with the pause allowing him to cool his front tyres.
The safety car had been deployed at the end of the first lap after a first-corner tangle between Fredy Barth and Charles Ng, with the former running into the back of the latter, possibly with some assistance from Stefano D’Aste. Ng was spun around into Barth’s path, ensuring a heavy shunt for both and the end of Barth’s weekend, with his Weichers Sport team unable to repair his BMW in time for Race 2.
The incident also caused damage for Darryl O’Young and local boy Nikolay Karamyshev, who both had to pit for repairs.
Barth’s car was freighted out of harm’s way, but when the recovery vehicle returned for Ng’s wreck, it broke down – an embarrassing run for the Moscow Raceway’s first appearance on the WTCC stage.
That being said, the job was hardly perfect, which meant that the restarted eleven-lap race ran with double-waved yellow flags at Turn 1 for the remainder of its duration, depriving the field of an important overtaking point around the twisty circuit.
The restarted race saw Muller forced to vigorously defend himself against Coronel’s advances through the opening two sectors of the lap, before he could stretch his legs down the circuit’s long back straight to give himself a breather. The pair crossed the finish line just half a second apart.
Norbert Michelisz finished in third place in his Zengõ Motorsport Honda, having managed to overtake Rob Huff’s SEAT at the first start of the race. While Huff clearly had the quicker car, the double-waved yellows at Turn 1 meant he was unable to get by the Hungarian.
Much to the delight of the Russian crowd in attendance, James Thompson secured LADA’s best ever finish with fifth place, just managing to keep Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda at bay.
Michel Nykjær finished seventh to claim the Yokohama Independent Trophy win, ahead of fellow Chevrolet runners James Nash and Tom Chilton.
2013 FIA WTCC Race of Russia – Race 1 Final Classification (15 laps):
|1.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||51:37.955|
|2.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 0.511|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 5.327|
|4.||Robert Huff||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 6.685|
|5.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta||+ 10.549|
|6.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 10.718|
|7.||Michel Nykjær||NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 11.053||Y|
|8.||James Nash||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 15.047||Y|
|9.||Tom Chilton||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 15.420|
|10.||Stefano D’Aste||PB Sport BMW 320TC||+ 15.571||Y|
|11.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 16.111||Y|
|12.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 18.257|
|13.||Alex MacDowall||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 20.716||Y|
|14.||Mikhail Kozlowskiy||LADA Sport Granta||+ 29.113|
|15.||Fernando Monje||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 29.269||Y|
|16.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 31.673||Y|
|17.||Pepe Oriola*||Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 44.252||Y|
|18.||Marc Basseng*||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 49.996|
|19.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 3 laps||Y|
|20.||Darryl O’Young||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 3 laps||Y|
|21.||Nikolai Karamyshev*||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 3 laps||Y|
|DNF.||Fredy Barth||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||0 laps||Y|
|DNF.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||0 laps||Y|
“Y” denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor.
* Oriola, Basseng and Karamyshev were each with 30-second time penalties for jumping the start.
Nykjær added to his points and win tally with victory in Race 2, a race that saw plenty of drama and panel damage to entertain the fans.
Before the race began, however, there was drama. After sustaining heavy damage in Race 1 and having to undergo frantic repairs on his Liqui Moly Engstler BMW, Charles Ng wasn’t looking like a good prospect of making the Race 2 grid, where he would start from the front row.
But his mechanics performed a miracle to get him out of the pit lane with just twenty seconds to spare, only to find their joy short-lived when the FIA stewards ruled that the Hong Kong ex-drifter would have to start from the back of the grid anyway, because some of the repairwork took place before parc ferme conditions had been declared.
That elevated Nykjær to second place on the grid, although he was hardly going to challenge polesitter Mehdi Bennani for first-corner honours, given the Moroccan was blessed with great traction in the standing starts.
And so it proved to be, with the Moroccan blasting clear of Nykjær off the line, while Pepe Oriola and Gabriele Tarquini duked it out for third place. The pair made contact, with Tarquini knocking the young Spaniard wide to claim the position, while the teenager slipped to seventh.
Bennani had a healthy 1.3-second lead from Nykjær at the end of the opening lap, but the Dane had destroyed that gap by the end of the following tour as he set his sights on his third win of the 2013 season.
Behind them came an entertaining four-way scrap for third place, with Tarquini being closely pursued by Tom Coronel, James Thompson and Rob Huff. As the quartet crossed the line to start the fourth lap, they were four-abreast, but all hell broke loose when Coronel chopped across Tarquini’s nosed and was speared into Thompson.
Thompson was out on the spot, while a furious Coronel rejoined at the back of the field. All the chaos promoted Huff into third place, while Tarquini slipped down the order behind the recovering Oriola, along with Norbert Michelisz and Tom Chilton.
Up at the front on the same lap, Nykjær had his first crack at taking the lead from Bennani, using the Chevrolet’s superior straight-line speed to ease by the Moroccan’s BMW along the back straight. But Bennani left his braking – conveniently – just a few inches too late at they braked for the final turn, tapping Nykjær wide enough to be able to reclaim the lead as he sought his first WTCC race win.
On Lap 7, Nykjær was close enough to have another stab, and managed to pull away enough to avoid a repeat of the bumper tap that unseated him last time around. The Dane quickly pulled away, while Bennani started to slip into the clutches of Rob Huff and Yvan Muller, who had staged one of his customary charges through the field from tenth on the grid.
Two laps later and it was Huff’s turn to have a go on Bennani. He dived into the final corner, but outbraked himself and ran wide, allowing Bennani to cut back. The opportunistic Muller slipped into second place, and used his momentum to pass the BMW into Turn 1 to claim second.
While Muller set about on an ultimately – but narrowly – fruitless attempt to close down Nykjær, Huff rallied himself for another go at Bennani. On Lap 11, he had another crack at the final corner, managing to panic Bennani into a clumsy spin that dropped him out of the points and a well-deserved podium up to that point.
That mistake allowed Huff to cruise to another podium finish ahead of fellow-SEAT runner Pepe Oriola, who secured the Independent Trophy win.
The young Spaniard was closely followed over the line by Norbert Michelisz, Tom Chilton and Gabriele Tarquini, while Stefano D’Aste, Darryl O’Young and James Nash completed the top-ten points paying positions.
2013 FIA WTCC Race of Russia – Race 2 Final Classification (13 laps):
|1.||Michel Nykjær||NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||22:53.698||Y|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.379|
|3.||Robert Huff||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 6.418|
|4.||Pepe Oriola||Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 7.494||Y|
|5.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 8.075|
|6.||Tom Chilton||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 8.682|
|7.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 9.537|
|8.||Stefano D’Aste||PB Sport BMW 320TC||+ 10.306||Y|
|9.||Darryl O’Young||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 13.427||Y|
|10.||James Nash||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 14.223||Y|
|11.||Alex MacDowall||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 16.581||Y|
|12.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 17.560|
|13.||Marc Basseng||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 18.776|
|14.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 20.716|
|15.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 21.031||Y|
|16.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 22.834||Y|
|17.||Nikolai Karamyshev||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 23.852||Y|
|18.||Fernando Monje||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 24.400||Y|
|19.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 2 laps||Y|
|DNF.||Mikhail Kozlowskiy||LADA Sport Granta||7 laps|
|DNF.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta||4 laps|
|DNF.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||1 lap||Y|
|DNS.||Fredy Barth||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||Y|
“Y” denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor.