Rob Huff
Rob Huff. Photo by Bob Tarvin-Tarvin Images

ROBERT HUFF/No.2 Chevrolet won Race Two of the FIA World Touring Car Championship at Sonoma. This was the first visit to the United States for the eight-year old international touring car series, known for its aggressive and enthusiastic racing, especially in the second of its two feature sprint races.

Hot on Huff’s rear bumper was privateer NORBERT MICHELISZ/No.5 Zengo Motorsport BMW 320 TC, who gave it his best shot.

Third through fifth were GABRIELE TARQUINI in No.3 Lukoil Racing Team SEAT Leon; Huff’s teammate, ALAIN MENU/No.8 Chevrolet; and TOM CORONEL/No.15 ROAL Motorsport BMW, after starting second to last in the 21-car field. Lap after lap the Flying Dutchman picked off his rivals.

Michelisz, Huff & Tarquini
Michelisz, Huff & Tarquini. Photo by Bob Tarvin-Tarvin Images

In Victory Circle it was again Sonoma President, STEVE PAGE, presenting Huff his Winner’s Trophy. NICK CRAW, President of ACCUS, presented the Manufacturer’s Trophy to VIJAY IYER, Director Communications Chevrolet Europe. Cue “God Save The Queen” and the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Chevrolet is ten points shy of winning the 2012 Manufacturer’s Championship. It has 761 points, with closest rival – BMW Customer Racing Teams with 486 points. It’s on Cruze Control.

Prior to the weekend, FIA issued its Compensation Weights for Rounds 17 & 18 at Sonoma. Chevrolet was given an extra 40 kilos/88.1 pounds. BMW, Ford and SUNRED Leon 1.6T lost twenty kilos/44.1 pounds, and SEAT Leon WTCC remained the same.

Huff’s other factory teammate, YVAN MULLER/No.1 Chevrolet had started eighth on the inverted grid, after winning Race One and was leading. It was his race to lose, and lose he did. He got a great start and was up to P5 by Turn Two of Lap One, then P3 on Lap Two. On Lap Four he hit second-place driver, FRANZ ENGSTLER of Germany in No.6 Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW. Engstler spun and Huff charged through and took the lead, before the Safety Car was dispatched for another driver who ‘abandoned’ his car – MEHDI BENNANI of Morocco in No.25 Proteam Racing BMW.

Muller continued to lead until the Stewards assessed him with a Drive Through Penalty for causing the collision with Engstler. This dropped him back to last, and he worked his way back to finish P14 of 18 cars running.

In WTCC, there is an assigned Driver’s Steward, who monitors the racers’ driving. There is a pool of such Stewards. This weekend it’s TIM SCHENKEN of Melbourne, Australia, the Formula One Clerk of the Course for the Australian Formula One GP.

Muller said “I was looking after my tires in the first race. In the second race, I was points ahead, then I touched Monje. I was stupid on the mistake.”

Before the penalty, Muller had turned the fastest race lap of 1:47.732/83.72 mph/134.73 kph on Lap Eight. The eager privateer, Michaelisz, was second fastest overall on Lap Two, at 1:47.937/83.56 mph/134.47 kph.

The Eurosport WTCC race announcer, MARTIN HAVEN, said it was the WTCC version of America’s Push To Pass. “It didn’t look too friendly.”

Another penalty was assessed to CHARLES NG KA KI of Hong Kong, driving No.7 Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW. His problem was a dragging rear bumper, caused by another aggressive driver, and for two laps Ng ignored the Mechanical Black Flag to pit for repair. Ng was the last car running at the Checkered Flag, P20 – but he was excluded from the results.

The weather had warmed up for the second race – 82 degrees F/28 C.

Sonoma the race track has a new ambassador – Tarquini. He continued to be enthusiastic and effusive in his accolades for the circuit. ” I want to thank Sonoma track for a great race; it was on our level, and a very good site for our race. I enjoyed it all.”

The track doesn’t release attendance figures, but everyone seemed to agree the turnout was better than expected for a new series with international drivers. The PA announcer apologized more than once for the long line at the beer vendors, blaming the unexpected crowd.

Robb Holland No.29 Chevrolet
Robb Holland No.29 Chevrolet. Photo by Mike Rutherford.

ROBB HOLLAND of Denver CO was running his first-ever WTCC race, in a deal put together literally hours before he sat in the car-No.29 bamboo-engineering Chevrolet. He finished thirteenth in Race One and sixteenth in Race Two

The short break between the two sprint races went quickly. The Race One winning car went to Victory Circle and then back to the grid for Race Two.

The cars all lined up on the pit lane grid. The crews circled the car, awaiting their turn. There were count-down boards, and then the buzzer rang, which is the green light for the crews to beaver away on their cars. It’s amazing what can be done in fifteen minutes – such as a whole front axle for ALEKSEI DUDUKALO/No.4 SEAT Leon WTCC. He retired on the first lap of Race One after being involved in the four-car first-lap incident in Turn One. For JAMES NASH/No.Team Aon Ford, who also suffered crash damage, permission was granted to work longer, putting Nash at the back of the grid for Race Two. Such permission is called “neutralization.” Also being “neutralized” and starting at the rear for the second race was PEPE ORIOLA/No.74 Tuenti Racing Team SEAT.

Now the race is on for the crews, to get everything packed away in the shipping containers, so they can leave Monday morning at 6am. Next race for the FIA WTCC Series is Suzuka, Japan on 21 October 2012.

The Sonoma race has a two-hour show on SPEED, airing Sunday night, with Haven’s commentary. It is scheduled for at least one repeat showing. Not to be missed.