FIA World Touring Car Championship driver, GABRIELE TARQUINI, proved the adage that old age and treachery can beat out youth and good looks, with his decisive victory in WTCC Race Two at Sonoma Raceway. His No.3 Castrol Honda WTC Team Honda Civic WTCC had a 2.434 second Margin of Victory ahead of MEHDI BENNANI No.25 Proteam Racing BMW 320. The 51-year old got past Bennani immediately after the start, in Turn Two, and never looked back.
Tarquini said “It was a very hot race, so I worried about front tires. I am extremely happy for the weekend. The key to my victory was the start. It’s quite unbelievable and a masterpiece because to beat a rear-wheel drive car under acceleration is very, very nice. It was very tough, quite unbelievable. Here you have to really drive, with the elevation. It’s very nice, the characteristic of the track. I can play with it”
Pole sitter Bennani joked about his ‘big arms’ after running the 13-lap race with power-steering problems, which made the car hard to handle. “I was really glad for the last lap.” With good reason. Points leader YVAN MULLER No.12 RML Chevrolet Cruze was pushing hard near the end. Bennani watched his mirrors for Muller. Fortunately winning free practice and warm-up, I learned things. Sonoma is not a circuit when you can overtake easily. Yvan, multiple world champion, you know he knows the place. A lot of things were going through my mind.
Finishing third and turning the fastest race lap of 1:47.869/83.61mph/134.56kph was NORBERT MICHELISZ No.5 Zengo Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC. Making up for lost time after an engine change placed him at the back of the grid for Race One? Young Michelisz started P4 in Race Two.
Michelisz said “We lost the opportunity to fight for points in the first race because of the engine change. From fourth I managed to get a good start, racing side by side with Rob (ROB HUFF). Then I passed him. I tried to maintain a pace. Yvan was closing the gap so at the end my mentality was just to keep him back.”
For Race Two, the ambient temperature was a mere 80 degrees F/27C, with the track temperature 120 F/47C. For the first race, the temps were 91 F/33C and 112F/44C. Definitely not the near triple digit forecast promised the day before.
There was some moments of angst at the start of the race, with the black billows of smoke from a structure fire a few miles away, but it was extinguished.
Fourth and fifth finishers were Muller and TIEGO MONTEIRO No.18 Castrol Honda WTC Team Honda Civic WTCC.
Race One winner, TOM CHILTON No.23 RML Chevrolet Cruze, started tenth for Race Two, fell back to P14 and worked back up to finish eleventh. On the penultimate lap he went wide in Turn Two, but made the save.
Nineteen drivers finished on the lead lap. 2012 WTCC Champion, ROBERT HUFF No.1 SEAT Leon WTTC finished P20, one lap down. He pitted for a tire change after spinning out in Turn 2 on Lap Two. Non-classified drivers were Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW teammates, CHARLES NG No.7 and FRANZ ENGSTLER No.6.
The WTCC Drivers’ Championship standings are: YVAN MULLER-343; Tarquini-199; MICHELE NYKJAER-180, and tied for fourth/fifth are JAMES NASH and TOM CHILTON with 160 points. Muller was wise not to worry about clinching the championship this weekend – he said it was ‘premature.’ He’s way ahead, but the math still allows for a challenge. A victory garners 25 points.
Tarquini joked that It is a small ambition of this Italian to stretch out Yvan’s championship.”
Nykjaer remains the leader of the Yokohama Trophy standings, for independent drivers, with 134 points, but he is tied with Nash. Still third is ALEX MacDOWALL No.9 bamboo-engineering Chevrolet Cruze with 103 points. “My target is to win a race and I have three weekends left.”
With three Hondas finishing in the top five, Honda clinched the Manufacturers’ Championship with 756 points, ahead of LADA with 456 points. In its first full year, Honda already has two victories, two poles, and 12 other podiums. That’s good street cred for the next race in Japan.
Tarquini said it was important to have a good season for Honda. “My goal was to score a lot of points and win the manufacturer title. Crazy weekend for us.”
WTCC Race Two had a standing start and there were no incidents. Once the drivers got sorted out, they stayed in position, despite jockeying for place.
PEPE ORIOLA No.74 Tuenti Racing Team Chevrolet Cruze was observed by the FIA Stewards for his team members not respecting the 15-second board, he didn’t start his engine and the crew pushed him into Formation.
After the fact for Race One, The FIA Stewards assessed a 30-second time penalty to TOM BOARDMAN No.22 Special Tuning Racing SEAT Leon WTCC and FERNANDO MONJE No.19 Campos Racing SEAT Leon WTC for speeding during the Race One rolling start. This penalty replaced a drive through, and added to the elapsed time for Race One. The Provisional Results had Boardman at P12 and Monje at P16. In the Official Results for WTCC Race One, Boardman was relegated to P21 and Monje finished P23.
An amazing thing, for me at least, was the complete lack of Cautions. There were none, the racing was safe and relatively sane, and no accidents.
Chilton’s father, GRAHAME CHILTON, tries to attend races of both sons, Max and Tom, but sometimes has conflicts. This weekend he chose California for Tom over Monza for Max, so Tom views Dad as his lucky charm. In Italy, son Max finished P20 in the Formula One race. In addition to following his sons’ races, Dad runs a race team which won the Macau Championship last year. And to show it’s a small world, WTCC Driver, Monteiro, manages the Chilton driver.
The next WTCC rounds are at Suzuka in Japan 21-22 September 2013.