The 2012 FIA WTCC kicked off just like the 2011 season had ended, and the opening weekend of was dominated by the Chevrolet team. A 1-2 in the first race was bettered in the second with one of the blue Cruze cars occupying every one of the podium places. It was the reigning Drivers‘ Champion, Yvan Muller, who left Monza with the biggest smile – the Frenchman won both races and so already has a healthy lead in the series.
However the first two races made clear that between Muller and his team-mates Rob Huff and Alain Menu the fight for the championship will be tough, no hold barred.
For a while, it seemed Chevrolet would not have things completely their own way. SEAT’s new turbocharged petrol engine arrived literally a few days beforehand and it immediately proved to be competitive. Gabriele Tarquini, in front of his home fans, qualified on pole position for the first race with Pepe Oriola qualifying as the leading Yokohama Trophy driver with an identical engine in his León. Thoughts of a Spanish giant-killing were short-lived, however; Tarquini’s engine was changed as a precaution after Qualifying and he eventually finished Race 1 in third place before retiring from Race 2 after a collision. Oriola was the highest-placed Yokohama Trophy driver in Race 1 but then finished Race 2 outside the top 10.
Team Aon were among several WTCC debutantes in Monza; the team’s two Ford Focus cars qualified just outside the top 12 that went through to the second stage of qualifying (also new for 2012). Despite that fact that both drivers were involved in incidents during the races, Tom Chilton (13th in race 1 and 16th in Race 2) and James Nash (16th and 13th) gave the team a promising start to its WTCC campaign.
Among the Yokohama Trophy entrants, Stefano D’Aste was the winner in race 2 while Norbert Michelisz was able to lead Race 2 overall until lap 7 when the Hungarian driver hit something on the the track and allowed the charging Muller to snatch the lead. In both races, Oriola, D’Aste, Michelisz, Franz Engstler, Albert Cerqui and Alex MacDowall (another newcomer) were all impressive, which suggests a terrific battle is in store this year.
Results of the second race remain provisional pending technical checks on the brake calipers of cars 18 and 40.
The championship will resume at Valencia, Spain, on April 1 for rounds 3 and 4.
ETCC – MONJE WINS BOTH OPENING RACES
The first two races of the 2012 FIA ETCC were both won by Spain’s Fernando Monje driving a SEAT León TDI, but with Monje planning to move to the WTCC for the next rounds in Valencia, it seems the fight for the ETCC title will be anything but predictable this year.
After qualifying on pole position, it was obvious that Monje would be the man to beat in Monza, but the only driver able to get anywhere near him – Petr Fulín in a BMW 320 – lost any chance of a useful points haul when he was judged to have made a false start in Race 1, was given a drive-through penalty and then was black-flagged after appearing to ignore the penalty. When he finished Race 1 by crossing the timing beam in the pit lane, the Stewards prevented him from starting Race 2 and so Fulín only took 2 points from Qualifying back to the Czech Republic.
It was Peter Rikli who left Monza in second place in the S2000 category after finishing second in both races, while the 15 year old Hungarian driver Ferenc Ficza must be delighted to be in third place after the biggest race weekend of his life.
In the trophy for single-make cars, it was Stian Paulsen from Norway who took maximum points from both races and qualifying, although both Andreas Pfister and Urs Sonderegger battled with Paulsen in the races and so the category will be one to watch this year.
Only two cars ran in the category for Super Production cars, with Fabio Fabiani’s BMW judged to have a non-compliant fuel tank and so not allowed to start. Nikolay Karamyshev and Aleksandar Tosic took one win apiece, but a non-finish for Tosic in race 2 means that it’s the Russian driver who has an early lead.
In the S1600 battle of the Ford Fiestas, it was Germany’s Kevin Krammes who took a perfect 23 points home from Monza. Gilles Bruckner from Luxembourg is in second place with Paulo Necchi third.
The Nations‘ Cup was awarded to Spain, thanks in no small part to Monje’s domination of the two races.
WTCC Race of Italy – Autodromo di Monza – 10 / 11 March 2012
www.fiawtcc.com – www.monzanet.it