PORTO [Portugal] – Championship leader Yvan Muller has further extended his lead to a huge 282 points as the Frenchman reaffirms his intentions for title success as the European season drew to a close following today’s first race victory in the searing heat of Porto.
Starting from pole and P2 on the grid, team-mates Yvan Muller and Tom Chilton took immediate advantage of the clear track ahead and for the ensuing laps were relatively unchallenged from behind.
Race two would prove a little trickier, with the reverse grid placing Chilton and Muller 9th and 10th respectively.
With a couple of cars opting out of parc ferme conditions following earlier race incidents, the RML drivers were promoted to 7th & 8th with a tall order ahead of them to repeat their first race performance on the narrow downtown track.
A great start off the line kept Muller and Chilton in contention with the latter already passing Oriola following a slower getaway, but back up to speed and ready to attack, the Spaniard launched up the inside of Chilton in an unexpected move – forcing the Briton wide to avoid contact, and narrowly missing a swipe of the barrier.
Looking to recover, the compromised Chilton could not respond as Muller, Oriola, Coronel and Bennani all capitalised, dropping the Aon-driver back down the field.
With ambient temperatures rising outside, the desire to pass rose on the inside. As Oriola looked for the move on James Thompson, the blue Cruze skipped across the chicane under braking and, ever conscious of the lurking Muller behind, kept his eyes firmly fixed on the mirror.
With the Lada racer through, the race once victor looked hopeful of following but a cool and clever mind focussed on long-term strategy would avoid the risk and Muller tucked back in.
Up front Bamboo Engineering’s James Nash was streaks ahead with Rob Huff on the defence in P2 from Michel Nyjkaer in P3. Midway through and the train of competition spanned from second through to 12th with the pack bunching up behind the SEAT.
Just as Nykjaer was piling the pressure on Huff up front, Muller too was a keen threat to Thompson in 6th but without taking unnecessary risks, the opportunity just didn’t present itself for the move and Muller would finish P7.
In the sister Cruze Chilton forged his way back through the field to finish P9.
Yvan Muller: "That was a good weekend for us with the pole and a victory. The second race was not as we would want it, but we are still scoring more points than anybody so we can be very happy with today's results."
Tom Chilton: "I'm really happy with the first race, it was great to finish in 2nd, just 0.3s behind Yvan. For race two I got a good standing start and went around the outside of Pepe, into P6. Unfortunately he went for an optimistic lunge at turn 16 and I was forced into taking avoiding action so as not to make contact with him.
And in doing that, and narrowly missing the barrier by a fraction, I lost out on four positions. But I managed to get back ahead of Bennani into the chicane, finishing in 9th right on the tail of Tom and Yvan.
"In summary, I'm really happy with the weekend and have brought home some good points, whilst learning another great circuit."