Termas de Rio Hondo [Argentina] - A triumphant Yvan Muller has stamped his name into the history books as the Frenchman secured the first victory in the FIA World Touring Car Championship's Race of Argentina.
Off the line from a second formation lap, the championship leader made light work of creating a safe distance from the squabbling back immediately behind, in which team-mate Tom Chilton found himself entangled with third-placed grid sitter, Norbert Michelisz.
By lap four Chilton was embroiled in enthralling door-to-door racing, Cruze v. Cruze with Oriola but the latter was unable to resist as Chilton lunged up the inside in an impressive display, upto P3 and gunning for the Honda of Michelisz ahead.
As Muller crept off into the distance, already some four seconds ahead of the rest of the field, a pack of RML built Cruzes closed in on the second place runner, led by Chilton, Oriola, Nykjaer and Nash.
Within moments the pack had reeled in the Honda, Chilton passing and eager to break away, but a slight step off the racing line allowed Michelisz to close in. Refusing to let go, Chilton again nudged ahead as Oriola took advantage and followed him through, demoting Michelisz.
As the race reached the final stages, an intriguing battle between Chilton and Oriola played out but second place would eventually fall to Oriola, with Chilton just missing out on an RML team 1-2. Nonetheless the Briton took a very well deserved 3rd place podium and demonstrated true grit from start to finish in what was ultimately a great recovery drive from a fraught opening few laps.
Yvan Muller, speaking after race one: "That actually wasn't easy. There was a bit of contact behind me and I knew I had to push as hard as I could to get some clear air and keep out of any trouble from the guys fighting behind me. From there once I built a lead I was able to focus on maintaining good pace without worrying too much about competitors behind, but this is a tough track on tyres so we couldn't just relax or become complacent.
"I like this track - it's very wide and safe and with plenty of space to overtake in several areas it makes it very exciting and it's enjoyable to race here - it's good that we come here."
Race two would prove disappointing for the team, but not first without a thrilling drive from Muller that had initially looked to be his for the taking. Lining up 8th & 9th on the reverse grid, the RML duo were clean off the line and on target for dicing through the field - Muller already progressing to sixth by the second lap.
As the Frenchman's storybook start unfolded, the championship leader powered his Lukoil Cruze ahead into third position, the car handling beautifully on the twisty, dusty track. In the sister Cruze Chilton would suffer a huge blow to his mission as he and Alex MacDowall tangled across turns 8 and 9, knocking the former into a spin and returning a lowly P21.
Up at the front local hero Jose Maria Lopez led to the delight of his home supporters, but ever mindful of the oncoming Muller who was consistently the fastest man on track, and already into P3 by only the third lap.
As Muller closed to within inches of second-placed man Tiago Monteiro, an unfortunate incident would result in contact between the two and subsequently a drive-through penalty imposed on Muller, who would rejoin back down in P19, eventually finishing 13th.
Meanwhile a determined drive back through the field from Chilton would see him running in P12 as paddock favourite, Lopez took an emphatic first victory on only his first outing in the FIA WTCC.
Tom Chilton: "It's been quite a challenging weekend but we can draw lots of positives from here and I think we've achieved a lot. Of course I'm a little disappointed not to have finished alongside Yvan for the first race - second was certainly achievable but as in race two, luck wasn't quite on side today.
That said I had some great fun out there, getting involved in several battles - I really had to concentrate, keep consistent pace and I gave it my all throughout. It was always going to be tough here - as we all saw the track was incredibly dusty and slippery, but I have really enjoyed competing on such a driveable track."
Race two was RML’s first non-points scoring result of the season.