At Race Sonoma a good crowd watched Chevrolet sweep both of the World Touring Car Championship races in the first-ever FIA World Touring Car Championship event at the raceway. Chevrolet Cruze driver and series champion Yvan Muller won the first race, and teammate Robert Huff won the second. This marked the first-ever race in North America for the WTCC, which races in other locales as Brazil, Italy, Japan, China, Portugal and Macau.
Muller posted his eighth victory of the season and the 29th of his WTCC career with the win in the first race. He overtook pole-sitter Alain Menu (Chevrolet) to post the win in the 13-lap feature. Huff (Chevrolet) was second and Hungary’s Norbert Michelisz (BMW) third. “I had a great start to the race and my car was fantastic,” said Muller. “My team gave me the opportunity to be at the lead, and I kept the lead until the end.”
In race two, which took place less than an hour after race one had ended, Huff was able to take the lead on lap nine after a not-happy Muller was issued a penalty and required to perform a pit-lane drive-through penalty for spinning out then-leader Franz Engstler’s BMW 320 TC. Huff held off a hard-charging Michelisz for the win, his fourth of the season and 22nd of his career. Michelisz was unable to stage a passing attempt, but hung on to Huff’s bumper to finish 0.32sec back at the chequered flag, taking second place, while Italy’s Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT Leon) was third.
“I’m very happy; it was a good weekend for me,” Huff said. “It did not start that great as I struggled with the setup of the car. But certainly in the warm up and the race I was very happy with the pace of the car. I’m pleased to win the second race and continue the battle with Yvan in Japan.”
The thrilling day of racing has certainly set-up a showdown between Muller and Huff for the championship with 315 points each as the series next visits Japan, Oct. 19-21. Muller is looking for his third consecutive championship and Huff his first. Just three races remain in the series’ 2012 season.
Chevrolet, Seat, BMW and Ford are the central manufacturers participating in the series, though Chevrolet is leaving after the end of the season, and Honda will begin fielding Civics in the final race of this year, in preparation for a larger effort next year.
The WTCC shared the track with the club-level United States Touring Car Championships, sanctioned by NASA, and two other series that made their first trip to the U.S.: The Maserati Trofeo series, and the Auto GP series. The Trofeo series uses spec Maserati GTs in an arrive-and-drive series that competes around the world. The Sonoma stop featured guest drives by actor Patrick Dempsey and stuntman Greg Tracy.
In other racing on Sunday, Sergey Sirotkin, from Russia, won the Auto GP Championship. Auto GP cars are similar to F1 cars, but are powered by a 550-horespower Zytek V-8. IndyCar driver Pippa Mann competed, and led several laps in the Sunday series finale before dropping to eighth. The Auto GP series is credited to giving a career boost to current F1 driver Romain Grosjean. while Renaud Kuppens (Belgium) won both Maserati features. Brandon Kraus posted his second win of the weekend in the United States Touring Car Championship main event.