Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, F3 Correspondents
Race Report (Round 23):
At Macau today the WTCC was finally decided in favour of Yvan Muller (Chevrolet), the Frenchman now a triple world champion. It didn’t come easily though as he battled his team-mate Rob Huff all the way to the final round, claiming the title by just three points. Huff won both of the Safety Car interrupted races, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough to stop Muller.
The first race of the remaining two rounds of the 2011 series started a good twenty minutes late due to locals in GTs causing serious modifications to the barriers and in effect taking an hour and 47 minutes to run a ten lap race. With the championship going down to the wire as it so often seems to here, there was an air of tension not helped probably by the fact that two of the drivers were already missing. Robert Dahlgren (Polestar Racing) was sidelined after a qualifying crash left him with a thumb broken in two places, and Fredy Barth (Seat Swiss Racing) was out after a particularly nasty accident in which he was knocked unconscious and trapped in the car as it caught fire. He was hospitalised for observation given that he’d inhaled smoke though even if he had been OK, the car certainly wasn’t. At least the weather was working towards keeping everyone cool; at a pleasant 23.9C with low humidity it was so much pleasanter than it had been on Saturday. The race duly got underway behind the Safety Car which is probably wise here. As soon as it went live Huff set about trying to claim the championship by doing all he could to win and nipped through to take the lead at Lisboa. Any attempt to open up a gap was out of the question, however, as Alain Menu (Chevrolet) was clobbered by an out of control Andre Couto (Sunred Engineering), the Chevrolet Cruze effectively destroyed in the accident. Given that the Swiss driver’s qualification run had been ruined by Couto as well, he was starting to wonder if the local hero had something against him. At least this time it was genuinely a racing accident, as Couto had already hit the barriers when Menu arrived on the scene, and the Macanese simply bounced into him.
The Safety Car barely had time to stop before it was back out again picking up the pack while the marshals worked to clear the wreckage and Couto limped back to the pits. All Muller really needed to do now as to stay where he was in second, and the Safety Car meant he didn’t have to try too hard. As they settled in behind the Safety Car, the order was Huff, from Muller, Gabriele Tarquini (Lukoil-Sunred), Darryl O'Young (Bamboo Engineering), Mehdi Bennani (Proteam Racing), Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport), Tiago Monteiro (Sunred Engineering), Michel Nykjaer (Sunred Engineering), Kristian Poulsen (Liqui Moly Team Engstler) and Franz Engstler (Liqui Moly Team Engstler). 11th was Norbert Michielisz (Zengo Dension Team) ahead of Pepe Oriola (Sunred Engineering), Aleksei Dudukalo (Lukoil-Sunred), Javier Villa Garcia (Proteam Racing), Gary Kwok (Wiechers-Sport), Charles Ng (DeTeam Engstler Motorsport), Philip Ma (Proteam Racing), Jo Merszei (Liqui Moly Team Engstler), Filipe de Souza (Corsa Motorsport) and Mak Ka Lok (RPM Racing Team).
At the restart it was all going smoothly – at least until they all got to Lisboa, when Monteiro shot up the escape road, and O’Young and Bennani collided on the exit, scattering more bits of bodywork around and causing a fresh outbreak of yellows. It was getting a bit silly now, and with Kwok also charging off into the barriers first at Lisboa and again at Dona Maria before limping to the pits, it was time to get the Safety Car back out and make the hardest working man in Macau lead them around again. Once the dust had settled it was still Huff from Muller, Tarquini, Coronel, Nykjaer, Poulsen, Engstler, Michielisz, Oriola, Dudukalo and Villa Garcia, 11th was Ng, from Merszei, Ma, de Souza and Mak and that was how they stayed till lap 8 when the officials took a calculated risk and restarted the race with three laps left.
Huff controlled it well, though Muller took a long, hard look at Mandarin Bend before thinking better of it. He had another go at Lisboa but Huff closed door firmly while in the pack the Russian Dudukalo slammed into the barriers in the second sector, tearing a wheel off and causing yet another outbreak of waved yellows. It was probably as well for Huff that he did, because Muller was still trying very hard to find a way past his team-mate. Huff had to make his car very wide to keep him at bay, though what part putting the indicators on played in his plans is debatable! It wasn’t slowing him any though, and despite Muller having another go on the penultimate lap, it was Huff’s race. The championship was still undecided and it was all to play for going into the final round. In 3rd was Tarquini, from Coronel, Nykjaer, Engstler, who had been gaining places while attention was on the leaders, Poulsen, Michielisz, Bennani and Oriola. The remaining finishers were Villa, Monteiro (whose car was failing mechanically in all sorts of ways), Ng and Merszei.
Race Report (Round 24):
For the second race of a WTCC weekend the top six finishers from the previous race are reversed which put Engstler on pole for the final round and anyone who didn’t finish race 1 can join in at the back provided the team is able to repair it in time. That meant we were a bit short of runners, because Menu for one was not in possession of enough car for the team to even consider trying to fix it. Ironically perhaps Couto did make it to the grid though a massive cloud of black smoked before they even left the grid suggested he wouldn’t last the distance. At the start Coronel got away brilliantly to snatch the lead, and Huff charged through to 3rd leaving Muller back in 6th. Huff made short work of Nykjaer for 2nd on the run up to Hospital and Muller barged past Engstler for 5th as they run through R Bend, meaning his next target was Bennani. At the front Coronel was determinedly trying to hold off Huff to claim a win, but Huff was almost up his exhaust and knew that to win the title he was going to have to go for the lead. If the positions stayed as they were the championship would be Muller’s by a mere 5 points so Huff had to try something to get past the wily Dutchman. Coronel certainly wasn't about to make it easy if he could help it but the Chevy simply had more power and Huff leant on Coronel in a move that was more than a little robust. He was through and into the led, but Muller was also on the move and was all over Bennani. Engstler, meanwhile, lost a further place to Tarquini just as Kwok stuck it in the barriers again. That meant the Safety Car was once more mobilised to take control of the pack and they settled in to wait the all clear. Huff was safely in the lead from Coronel, while Nykjaer was 3rd ahead of Muller. If they finished in those positions then they would both have 230 points but Muller would beat Huff to the title by virtue of having more wins to his credit. Bennani was 5th from Tarquini, Michielisz, Engstler, Monteiro and Villa. Oriola was 11th from Poulsen, Ng, O'Young, Merszei, Ma, Mak and de Souza, while Couto was parked against the barriers surrounded by firemen. It was all a bit shambolic.
The Safety Car ground its way slowly onwards and time was fast running out for the organisers if the Motorbike Grand Prix (rescheduled from Saturday because of dangerous weather conditions was actually going to happen. The trouble was that Couto was being dragged to the Melco escape road by a tow truck and the Safety Car and its attendant train of cars couldn’t actually pass it on the narrow road leading down to the Hairpin. Once again the restart came with 3 laps left to go and very nearly ended in chaos again when de Souza disappeared up the Lisboa escape road, a popular place for some reason! Luckily he didn’t hit anything and it turned out the car had actually broken down and had to be pushed away. That left the battle for the lead to rage on, and all eyes were on Huff and Muller, the latter snatching 3rd at Mandarin Bend with two full laps left when he got the better of Nykjaer, the Dane shortly afterwards losing 4th place to Tarquini once the Italian had also disposed of Bennani for 5th.
Huff still lead the race but it was all over for the title as long as Muller finished 3rd as that would put him 3 points ahead. It might not have been a big difference but it would do nicely. It didn’t stop Muller briefly considering attempting 2nd but Coronel made it clear that that would not be a good idea and so Muller settled down to complete the race and claim his 3rd World Championship. Coronel was 2nd behind Huff, while Tarquini finished 4th, from Nykjaer, Bennani, Engstler, Monteiro, Michielisz and Villa. 11th went to Oriola, heading home O’Young, Poulsen, Ng, Merszei and Ma.
Weather: Warm, dry, cloudy.