Cruel luck robs SEAT of WTCC titles
Yvan Muller was just 8kms away from putting a firm hand on the 2007 FIA World Touring Car Championship for Drivers' when the race leading SEAT Leon TDI he was driving stopped near the end of the penultimate lap of the first of two races at Macau. A problem inside the fuel system stopped his car without warning, and the team were unable to fix it in the 30 minutes between races -- meaning Yvan could not start the final race of the 2007 season.
Moments before the car suddenly slowed, everything was looking good for SEAT in its quest to win the WTCC Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles. Yvan's main WTCC rival Andy Priaulx (BMW) was running out of the points in 11th place, and with the top eight finishes in Race 1 starting Race 2 in reserve order, Yvan looked set to take a 10 point lead into the final race and start ahead of Priaulx. But cruel luck not only robbed Yvan of race victory, it also saw Priaulx finish 8th (and then win Race 2 from pole position) after Gabriele Tarquini and Augusto Farfus (BMW) clashed on the final lap. Yvan was unable to start Race 2, and despite not scoring any points in Macau, he still finished runner-up in the series.
SEAT Sport was on superb form in Macau and it did not deserve such bad luck. In addition to Yvan, Gabriele highlighted the competitiveness of the SEAT Leon TDI by recording the fastest lap in both races. Jordi Gene drove bravely all weekend, pushing his SEAT Leon TDI flat-out over the wall-lined 6.1km Guia street circuit at phenomenal pace. He finished 4th in Race 1, but sustained damage after contact in the opening lap of Race 2 -- and the resulting oversteer saw him clip a wall and damage the steering.
The trio of petrol-engined SEAT Leons did well. Tiago Monteiro completed a fantastic debut season in the WTCC with two points scoring finishes in Macau, while the engineers found some more pace in Rickard Rydell's car for race day, which also allowed him to score points on his return to the team. Michel Jourdain Jr supported the SEAT Sport team from the pit wall on race day, having structurally damaged the safety roll cage on his SEAT Leon the day before, which put an early end to his race weekend.
Pierre-Yves Corthals hopes of winning the Independent's Trophy ended when he retired from Race 1 with accident damage on the opening lap. The class of the field and leader of the category eventually finished 3rd in the table.
Yvan took the lead at the rolling start, overtaking Alain Menu (Chevrolet) around the first corner and making it cleanly through the infamous Lisboa corner -- as did all the 29 starters. He led until the penultimate lap when, three minutes away from taking a 10 point led in the WTCC Drivers' Championship, his SEAT Leon TDI's engine cut out approaching the Melco Hairpin.
Gabriele had been 4th for much of the race behind Farfus, but was faster than the BMW driver as he set the fastest lap of the race (2:32.517 / 144.45kph). After Yvan stopped, this became a fight for 2nd position -- a battle the SEAT Sport driver won when Farfus cut across Gabriele exiting the Lisboa corner. With a concrete wall on the outside, Gabriele couldn't move over, the two cars touched and Farfus spun out of the race -- leaving Gabriele to score his first ever podium finish in Macau.
Jordi enjoyed a good race and finished 4th, Tiago made it three SEAT Leons in the top six and Rickard's Leon was working much better than it had done in qualifying, and the improved pace saw him finish 11th.
Pierre-Yves Corthals hopes of winning the Independents' Trophy took a blow when he was squeezed off line and onto a dirty part of the circuit at the rolling start and slid his SEAT Belgium SEAT Leon into the wall.
Yvan watched the final race of the 2007 WTCC from the SEAT Sport pit garage, as the team were unable to find the fuel problem in the 30 minutes between races. With the Drivers' title gone, there was still a slim chance that SEAT could win the Manufacturers' title -- and every effort was focused on that.
With the top eight starting in reverse order, Gabriele got away well -- but he was pushed wide at Lisboa corner on the opening lap. Rejoining in last position, he once again set the fastest lap of the race (2:32.840 / 144.15kph) and fought back to finish 14th.
Tiago had a fantastic race and fought hard with Thompson. He didn't have enough pace to overtake the Alfa driver, and he ended an excellent first season in the WTCC with a 4th place finish. Jordi suffered damage to his Leon TDI during a hectic opening lap, and his car oversteered after that. With nothing to lose and a possible world title to gain for SEAT, he had to keep pushing hard -- but in doing so with a damaged car he slid into a wall at the end of lap seven and retired with broke steering.
Having finished 15th in Race 1, Tom Coronel, the SEAT Netherlands powered by SEAT Sport official driver, finished an excellent 5th in Race 2 -- one place ahead of Rickard.
Yvan Muller: (SEAT Leon TDI no 12): "I was controlling the race at the front and although pushing quite hard, with Andy Priaulx in eleventh and out of the points I was not taking any risks. Then the car stopped without warning one and a half laps from the end of the race. It is a problem with the fuel system and it has never happened before. Before Anderstorp we could not have imagined that we would be at Macau challenging for the title, so the team has done a fantastic job with the Leon TDI. If you lose a championship because you are not fast enough then that is okay, but we were quick enough."
Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT Leon no 11): "It has been a really good season for SEAT, but in the last race meeting something happened that has never happened before -- Yvan's engine stopped. We came to Macau to win two titles and unfortunately we lost both, so we are very disappointed. My second place in Race One is my first podium finish in Macau, so that is some consolation."
Tiago Monteiro (SEAT Leon no 18): "It's been a very positive season for me. World Touring Cars has been a new experience and the cars and drivers are very competitive, and I'm pleased to have taken one pole and three podiums. I'm pleased to have finished fourth in the final race at Macau, because I had a really good fight with James Thompson, but I just didn't have enough speed to overtake him. I really must thank everyone in the team for making this season so good for me -- my mechanics, engineers and all the team management. I really feel for Yvan. He is a great champion and I think he really deserved to win the title this year."
Jordi Gene (SEAT Leon TDI no 9): "We don't deserve this bad luck. We've had a very good second half of the season, we did a fantastic job in Monza and everything was going well in Macau before something happened to Yvan's car that has never happened in half a season of testing and racing. We can do nothing but accept what has happened and get on with it, but if you look at everything objectively you must think that SEAT deserved at least one title this year. For me at Macau I finished fourth in the first race, but in the second I had a lot of contact with other cars and because of the damage it was oversteering a lot. I had to try and keep pushing hard, and finally I touched the wall coming out of the last corner and broke the steering rack."
Rickard Rydell (SEAT Leon no 88): "It felt great to be back in the SEAT Sport team, because I really do feel at home here. My car felt better on race day than it had done in qualifying and I had an especially good second race, but for no gain. I came to Macau to try and help SEAT and Yvan win the Manufacturers' and Drivers' Championship and we didn't do it, so I'm really disappointed for everyone."
Jaime Puig, Director of SEAT Sport: "Towards the end of the season especially we have been very competitive and with the Leon TDI we are fighting for every race victory. We came to Macau fighting for two championship and we should be very proud of that. We came very close to winning both the Manufacturers' and Drivers titles, but in life if you don't know what it feels like to lose, you don't know what it feels like to win. Of course we are extremely disappointed, but in moments like this you have to be strong. We have a fantastic team, an excellent car, the best drivers and we have to make sure we do better next time."