RML Cruzes just keep ahead of the Hondas as championship battle heats up.
SLOVAKIARING (Slovakia) – Today proved to be an eventful one for the RML Group as Tom Chilton’s comments following yesterday’s qualifying session might have echoed through the garage – ‘a day of highs and lows’ – but despite a difficult start during the morning’s warm up session, in which Chilton’s Cruze suffered a big impact after contact with the tyre barrier at high speed from turn 2, race two certainly signalled a change in fortunes as Yvan Muller mastered his way to his fourth podium of the year and Chilton collected more crucial points.
From the rolling start Muller held 4th but was closing in on the tail of third-placed Honda, Norbert Michelisz – the Frenchman looking calm but quick as he threatened the duelling cars ahead. As Tiago Monteiro in the works Honda and Michelisz in the customer outfit battled for second, Muller positioned himself perfectly to take advantage as the sparring pair ahead raced to the ragged edge.
Whilst Muller’s Cruze looked to have the upper hand on pace, the moment didn’t present and he took 4th place.
Frustratingly Chilton’s race had ended by the second lap. A mistake by the young driver who had earlier admitted to struggling with the setup on the notoriously challenging circuit would see him spin wide and, unable to recover, run deep into the gravel.
As a clear line of grit and stones formed around the length of a lap, it was evident just how many competitors struggled with grip and fell victim to the tyre-eating track.
For race two Chilton started from 6th, Muller 7th and with the Honda trio behind, the RML team-mates were fully charged for an intriguing race.
Off the line Muller was up to 5th, momentarily losing out to Monteiro before the latter would run wide, narrowly missing Chilton on his recovery.
The ensuing laps were dominated by a train of champions – as race leader Tom Coronel was further down the track - Rob Huff, Muller and Gabriele Tarquini squabbled for third place. And Chilton, with renewed confidence in his car, was in the mix fighting with Monteiro.
Unable to make an earlier pass up the inside of reigning champion and former teammate Huff stick, the former Ice Champion found himself challenging three-abreast as he swept over the hill with Tarquini and Pepe.
Anxious faces in the team garage were soon replaced with smiles all round as Muller launched himself from behind in a decisive dive past Monteiro and into P3.
Never far behind Chilton was resisting the pressure from Michelisz as he fought door-to-door with Oriola over the closing laps.
An impressive and calculated drive concluded with move crucial points and, whilst the Cruze looked to have the edge on pace over the SEAT, Chilton brought the car home safely, avoiding any risks with Michelisz so close behind.
In the final stages, Huff, under pressure and struggling with grip, made an error and ran wide as Muller moved ahead to second, closely followed by Tarquini – but the Italian was unable to make further advance.
Muller claims his fourth podium of the year and equals his best result from Slovakia last year. Chilton finished in 7 th place, retaining his current championship position.
Yvan Muller: “Not a bad weekend, even if there is no victory. It’s not easy to race with the extra 40kg ballast on this track, but Honda is fast and we need to continue to work hard to maintain our current position.”
Tom Chilton: “We had a tough start to the day. I was trying a new setup for the first time but couldn’t get to grips with it. I made a mistake in both warm up and race 1, which cost me my pride and the team some hard work to put straight, but I’m happy we had a great last race with more points. And Yvan got a podium. The final fight between myself and Oriola was fantastic – side by side racing over two laps – that was good fun.”