Monthly Archives: July 2011

When the gloves come off

Rounds 13 and 14 of the World Touring Car Championship at Donington Park may have been when the gloves came off in the battle for the 2011 crown.

Before he realised what he’d said, Yvan Muller told Eurosport’s reporter Louise Beckett that the collision with team-mate Rob Huff in Race 2 in Britain, which allowed him to take the lead, gave him back what had been taken from him in Porto.

It was not a statement he later repeated, preferring to insist that since we’d all seen the pictures, we should make our own decision on the incident.

The bare facts are these. It’s lap 2 of Race 2 and Menu, Huff and Muller have started 8th, 9th and 10th on the grid. Menu has made good progress and is already challenging the leaders, while Huff and Muller lie 7th and 8th.

Heading into Goddard’s, the adverse-camber 180-degree left-hander that ends the lap, Muller is behind Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet driver Darryl O’Young, who in turn tails Rob Huff, lying 6th. As Huff turns in, O’Young follows and Muller, popping over the rise into the braking area and taking advantage of the late-turn-in-lete-apex nature of the corner (and O’Young’s non-defensive line) lunges inside the Bamboo driver. Deep into the corner he brakes, passing O’Young cleanly but clattering into the left rear corner of Huff’s Cruze, knocking the Englishman into a lurid slide.

As the tail of his car heads off towards the grass, Huff applies Rule #1 of driving a front-wheel-drive car and keeps his foot hard in, using the front wheels to draw the car straight as he exits wide onto the pits straight.

Muller is faster onto the straight, draws alongside and is ahead by the line, Huff unable to gather enough momentum to attempt a counter-attack into Redgate, the first corner.

And that was that. By lap 3, the duo were third and fourth, team-mate Alain Menu – who had lain third before tangling with Javier Villa’s BMW – having already dropped back to 6th. A lap later, the Chevrolets had both passed leader Franz Engstler – whose prime concern is Yokohama Trophy points – without drama to take first and second.

Huff admitted after Race 1 that his car was simply not as quick as Muller and so it appeared in Race 2 as well. Try as he might, Muller could not escape but neither could Huff so much as attempt a pass for the lead. Yvan would pull out a small advantage and within a lap, Rob would have reeled him back in again. Barring intervention from the weather (possible,) mechanical woes (unlikely,) or a rabid last-lap lunge from the Championship leader (unthinkable) Muller only had to keep it on the island to claim his second win of the weekend.

And so he did, having halved the points gap at Donington, leaving him just 14 adrift of Huff, with 10 races remaining.

In Porto, Yvan was so incensed by the Race 2 contact between himself and Huff – and the team’s refusal to order Rob to hand the lead back – that he immediately stalked off to see the Race Director, asking whether anything was going to be done. Miloslav Bartos told him that in his opinion it was a racing incident and – as such – would not warrant subsequent investigation.

During and after the race, RML’s Project Director Ron Hartvelt conferred with the engineers and, to the dismay of Yvan’s engineer Chris Cronin, decided that the team would accept that decision and not protest the actions of one of their own drivers.

In Donington, too, Ron’s remit was to make the best decision for the team. Cue more pit-wall discussions with Cronin and Duncan Laycock, Rob Huff’s engineer. Once again, unable to accurately judge the manoeuvre from one look on the TV screens, the decision was to wait and see whether there would be an investigation.

Replays gave them more information and when the message came that the incident would be investigated, Cronin got onto the radio to Yvan suggesting that a possible 30-second penalty would drop him well out of the points and might he consider ceding the place to Huff?

His suggestion fell on deaf ears and Muller raced on in the lead to the chequered flag, determined – if not happy, perhaps – to take his chances with the Stewards.

The final decision of the enquiry was to hand Muller a 3-place grid penalty, suspended for the next two races. A reprimand, in other words, suggesting that he might take a little more care with his passing but not materially affecting the result.

Which is probably reasonable.

It’s possible that Muller knew his lunge on O’Young would result in him hitting Huff. It’s also possible that as experienced a touring car driver as Yvan could have probably judged – roughly – how hard he’d hit his team-mate and what effect it would have on both Huff’s car and his own.

It’s possible that diving inside the accomodating O’Young gave Yvan the ‘cover’ he needed to punt Huff off and pass his team-mate.

But all of that demands a very large degree of forethought and accuracy from Muller. I think it more likely that he was set on passing O’Young, so that Huff did not have any chance to escape and the contact – while not exactly unanticipated, perhaps – was not the primary intent.

I have said many times of penalties I considered too harsh that this is tourinf gace racing, not single-seater racing and that the Stewards have to let the drivers RACE, which may from time to time, involve some contact.

I do not wish to see Dodgems, nor do I wish to watch a procession. Somewhere, a happy medium must be found and in Porto and Donington, I agree with the decision not to sway the Championship battle with penalties.

Especially seeing as Gabriele Tarquini’s more-hits-than-Elvis Race 2 went entirely un-commented on!

Gabriele has clearly managed to find Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility, for none of the numerous impacts he was involved in registerd sufficiently on the Stewards’ radar to invoke a penalty.

His team-mates Tiago Monteiro and Michel Nykjaer might feel miffed at that, as Gabriele’s lung inside the former into Coppice cannoned the Portuguese into his Danish team-mate, firing Nykjaer off into the gravel, and leaving Tiago hobbling to the pits and retirement for the second time of the weekend.

WTCC returnee Colin Turkington – in the Wiechers Sport BMW – probably doesn’t feel too pleasantly disposed towards the former British and World Touring Car Champion either, having been fired off when on target for a podium on what looks likely to be his only race in the series this season, having started 4th. By the end of lap 2, Tarquini was 4th, the Ulsterman 16th.

One lap later, Gabriele was in 3rd – from 11th on the grid! – but, unable to pass leader Engstler, he fell prey to first Muller and Huff, then Tom Coronel’s ROAL BMW and eventually Menu’s Chevrolet and Robert Dahlgren’s Volvo.

Black rubber marks on both corners of his front bumper, a wheel mark in his driver’s door and more rubber marks on he right REAR wheel arch were legacy of how hard Gabriele was battling, on a track he knows better than most in the field, courtesy of his years in the BTCC.

Not many had raced at Donington Park before – former BTCC Champs Muller, Menu and Tarquini had, of course, as had Huff… and Dahlgren.

Eh? The Scandinavian touring car ace knows Donington?

Indeed. Robert started his track-racing career in single-seaters, after all and was a factory Van Diemen driver for 2 years, winning the British Formula Ford Championship in 2001. He also raced in British Formula 3 for two seasons, so he’s had a lot of time lapping Donington – most, probably, in similarly cool, damp conditions to those experienced by the WTCC visitors.

Little bit of trivia. Who gave the Swede his first drive in British Formula Ford and the Formula Ford Festival? Alain Menu Motorsport. Yes, that Alain Menu!

Despite that experience, Robert and the Polestar Racing team miscued at the very start of qualifying and the Swede found himself 29th fastest, outside the 107% rule on probably the only track he’ll visit this season that he actually knows well.

This season’s qualifying rules, of course, meant that he’d start 29th for BOTH races. Double jeopardy. But, in fact, he lined up 30th for Race 2, as he’d ridden spectacularly up the back of a rival’s BMW in Coppice in Race 1 and the C30 Drive needed remedial work between races, the team breaking parc ferme and taking the single-place grid drop to last as a result.

The C30 has shown on occasion this season that it’s got a sparkling chassis and the addition of more grunt from the 4-cylinder 1.6 turbo in place of the wonderfully sonorous 5-cylinder Super2000 unit has proved that Volvo has got a seriously effective bit of kit in its hands.

Doubly disappointing, then, that former BTCC champion – and Volvo works driver – James Thompson was at Donington only as a visitor and not a participant. The Yorkshireman has not yet driven the new engine, as he’s racing the Super2000 motor in the STC but what a boost it might have given Volvo’s development efforts to have two cars at Donington, doubling the work done – not to mention the undoubted PR value of adding Thommo to the field.

That much was realised, as the showcar C30 in the public area was actually liveried with Thompson’s name, rather than Dahlgren’s.

But what a second race the 31-year-old Swede had. Losing nothing, it seemed, to even the Chevrolet’s engine in might, the C30 provided Dahlgren with the tool he needed to slice through the field, charging from 30th to a barely-credible 6th. Although his rush from 29th to 8th in Race 1 – notwithstanding his aviating incident – should have given us warning of intent. Should Volvo not decide to bring a full effort to the WTCC in 2012, we will certainly have lost out!

For now, though, it’s to Oschersleben and that ridiculous handbrake-turn of a first corner, whrere contact, damage and penalties flying like broken bodywork are the norm. For our World Championship contenders, qualifying will be doubly crucial and avoiding contact especially vital. Especially contact from your team-mate.

The gloves really are off. The question is, will the blows be low?



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What’s so great about Silverstone?

The home of the British Grand Prix takes a kicking from just about everybody. It’s flat, featureless, a nightmare to get in and out of, run-down, always raining… Silverstone’s not Monza, is it? It hasn’t got the history. Blah blah blah.

And yet… Silverstone is still one of the greatest Grand Prix tracks in the world and has arguably got even better over the last few years.

Are we British too close to Silverstone? Do we only see the little niggles and forget the overall view, taking too much for granted?

Silverstone is my local circuit – always has been – and I love it. It was the first place at which I used to sit in the grandstands with my programme, faithfully filling in all the name changes. The first at which I learned to walk around from corner to corner during race-days, to get a different view. The first at which I learned to carry my own bodyweight in waterproof clothing. The first at which I raced. The first at which I watched a Grand Prix.

In fact, it was the first at which anyone watched a World Championship Grand Prix. Silverstone has history in spades. From that first faltering step in 1950, the World Championship has expanded to traverse the globe, yet a stop in Silverstone remains part of the annual trek.

Silverstone has always been a challenge for driver and car. It’s no Monaco, with certain retirement dogging every tiny miscalculation but it’s fast, demanding of bravery and commitment in equal measure.

Despite the presence of Monza on the calendar, for almost two decades Silverstone held the record for the outright fastest single lap, courtesy of Keke Rosberg’s legendary stub-the-fag-out-let’s-do-it last-gasp qualifying effort in 1985.

The Finn’s 160mph-average flyer was proper Boy’s Own stuff. It was the final moments of qualifying, rain had just begun to fall and Rosberg’s Williams was dancing on the very edge of disaster, as he screwed both courage and the boost on his Williams Honda up to the maximum in pursuit of the perfect lap.

Black smoke burst from the exhausts with every gear-change as he flashed across the line on his final effort. Down the Hangar Straight he tore, utterly committed through Stowe, the Williams straining to keep up with its driver’s urgent demands, the super-soft, single-lap qualifting tyres barely equal to the combination of a Honda near-1000 horsepower qualifying grenade of a motor and the 1982 World Champion on a mission.

Throw in the light drizzle plus (it was discovered later) a slow puncture and it was perhaps no surprise that the rear of the Wiliams was kicking up the grass as Keke wrestled it through Abbey towards the end of the lap, relishing the tail-happy nature of its set-up.

All eyes were fixed on the mesmeric sight, straining to catch the Williams as it flashed towards the line and I remember clearly the astonishment that greeted the pole-position lap-time – and the barely-credible 160.9mph average speed.

Rosberg was, by then, a firm favourite with the British crowd. Sure, he was Finnish but so was Ari Vatanen and he was ‘one of ours’ too, thanks to a combination of his relaxed command of English, dry sense of humour, time spent rallying in British teams, cars and championships and sheer, unadulterated flat-out pace.

So it was with Rosberg. Cool, laconic, possessed of wicked one-liners, a Williams driver and – above all – so damned fast and committed. The British fans loved him. Loved him even more, perhaps, for awarding Silverstone the tag of ‘World’s fastest Grand Prix Cicruit’.

But Silverstone is about more than speed. Copse, Stowe, Woodcote and, latterly, the Becketts Esses all provided a huge challenge for the driver. So much of finding a good lap on a track is about making the corners flow and there can be few places in Grand Prix racing where that is as true as it is at Silverstone, where brakes have an easier time of it than at any other circuit.

At Silverstone, keeping the speed onboard is crucial and drivers respond to the challenge, adoring the way the track seems to keep urging them on to greater and greater efforts.

Sure, it rains. Quite often. That’s part of the equation. Times without number, apologising to a driver for the miserable conditions, I’ve been met with a shrug and a ‘you expect that at Silverstone’ line but the capricious weather doesn’t make us see Spa as less of a challenge, the Nordschleife as a let-down, does it? So why do we think Silverstone is somehow a disappointment when it rains?

Part of it, of course, is our national predeliction with the weather. After all, when you’re exposed to whatever the Atlantic can throw at you, the weather has a major effort on life. Part of it is the wearing effect of two or three days in wet clothing and a wet tent. Part of it is our natural British reticence to accept praise.

We should be proud of Silverstone. Not just because of The Wing and the new layout but because, for 60 years, it has been and remains one of the world’s greatest race tracks.

So, let’s take a look at Silverstone through foreign eyes, as we do at other circuits. Let’s celebrate Silverstone for what it is – an absolutely essential element of any World Championship campaign and a track that so often produces great racing.

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Be careful what you wish for

Odd proverb, that – but one which springs readily to mind after the latest encounter of the World Touring Car Championship, on the streets of Porto. Particularly after the second race.

The grid for the first race of the day in Portugal’s second city featured a Chevy Cruze 1-2-3, with Alain Menu on pole, courtesy of a simply stunning qualifying lap which left his team-mates Yvan Muller and Rob Huff not only trailing by over a third of a second but also, frankly, a little open-mouthed at their Swiss colleague’s sheer pace in that most challenging and focusing of arenas, a street circuit.

The Circuito da Boavista was once home to the Portuguese Grand Prix and the cobbled, tram-line-strewn streets around the park and along the sea-front were undoubtedly a major challenge. In the days of Moss, Hawthorn, Brabham and the rest, the track was both fast and tricky. Overtaking was difficult and safety was pretty much par for the course in that era – you might have found a straw bale or two protecting you from the trunks of the trees that lined the Avenida da Boavista that formed the main straight.

Local enthusiasts revived the track in 2005, staging a historic race meeting on a new layout that followed in the traces of the earlier iteration but added length, winding further through the residential neighbourhood north-east of the park than did the original. The World Touring Car Championship made its debut the following year and returned in 2009 for more high-speed street-racing.

The track which greeted the drivers for 2011 is materially very similar but changes made in the intervening two years made the circuit both faster and – perversely, you might think – safer and less damaging.

A new chicane by the entrance to the pits dramatically cut down the damage quotient, while a reprofiled run onto the Avenida do Boavista changed what was a tight first-gear misery of a corner into a fast 3rd-gear challenge, feeding drivers onto the major artery that leads right to the heart of the city much faster than before.

Slightly disappointingly, two chicanes on the Avenida – which fed traffic contra-flow-style onto the other carriageway and then back – conspired a little against overtaking… there was simply not quite distance enough in which to complete a pass. More of which later…

How much faster was the lastest version of the track? Well, the 2009 qualifying mark left by poleman Gabriele Tarquini’s SEAT Leon TDI was 2m09.308s but Alain Menu’s effort lowered that to 2m04.946s. Fastest race lap (Augusto Farfus’ BMW) in 2009 was a 2m11.0, whereas Rob huff – truly on fire in Race 2 – left that benchmark at 2m05.8s. Parto fo the extra pace comes from the latest turbo-petrol engines but surely much of it must come from the changes to the track itself.

The extra speed did not, however, come at the expense of safety. Quite the reverse. As far as the WTCC was concerned, at least. Once Safety Car driver Bruno Correia has peeled off into the pits to release the field for the rolling start to Race 1, his services were not to be called upon again. A single red flag had been necessary all weekend and that only after the chequer has fallen to end the first session of qualifying.

How so? Kristian Poulsen was on a fast lap in the dying seconds of the session, desperate to put his Engstler BMW into the top 10, when he caught the cruising Yvan Muller on the entry to the final chicane. Muller clung to the left-hand wall as he come to enter the pits but as that’s also the racing line for the chicane, Poulsen’s lap was terminally compromised.

The Dane managed to scramble through and cross the line (at the exit to the chicane) beating the chequered flag by but 2 or 3 seconds, to start another do-or-die attempt. Through the first sector he was safely into Q2. By the end of Sector 2, he was still firmly on target. His was the last car on track, everyone else either cruising back or already in the pits but Poulsen’s progress was not interrupted this time and as he poured on the power downhill through the fast left sweeps to the final chicane, he was ekeing every last once of grip from his tyres, which had already given of their best on the previous attempt.

Through Turn 20, the total-commitment, flat-in-top-only-in-qualifying left-hander, his car twitched wickedly over the bumps and the tail was still jinking as he got onto the brakes hard at the 100m board. Or just after, perhaps.

Maybe his tyres had less to offer than he had hoped, perhaps he dared to brake even later than before; either way, Poulsen was in trouble from the first, left-hand, apex. He was launched off the large roll inside the shallow kerb and as the tried to sort out the car on landing for the right-left flick to exit, the BMW’s tail slewed wide.

In an instant Poulsen was on the brakes but the damage had been done and the car spun backwards across the line, clattering into the outside wall nose-first. His day was done; he’d just failed to make it into Q2. Ironically, if he’d stayed off the brakes, he might well have carried enough speed as he spun across the line to make it into the Top 10. The damage would have been considerably more severe, however. Poulsen was disappointed but phlegmatic, his mechanics doubtless relieved that the damage was not too bad.

Sunday in Porto dawned dull, grey and cool. This has been the trend of the summer, even Hungary and the Czech Republic failing to bring out the sunscreen in the paddock. Still, the WTCC escaped lightly – all over Europe, rain blighted race weekends at Imola, Mugello, Nurnberg and many more. Porto was, at least, dry throughout.

A little rain might have helped to enliven Race 1, though, which must go down as one of the least exciting in recent memory.

At the rolling start, it looked as though poleman Alain Menu had taken a flyer but, in fact, Yvan Muller had merely left enough room to tuck in behind his team-mate before they first turn, with Rob Huff slotting in behind the other two blue Chevys, leaving SEAT’s Gabriele Tarquini to try his luck around the outside into Turn 2.

Tarquini bumped Huff’s outside rear as he tried to tuck in, allowing his own team-mate Tiago Monteiro to shuffle the Italian back, as he squeezed into fourth. There was a little action in the increasingly close Yokohama Trophy battle amongst the Independent drivers but essentially, within 20 seconds, we had our podium. As far from unexpected as it was from thrilling.

Chevrolet Racing boss Eric Neve was nontheless happy and you can’t blame him. The team had done an exemplary job, qualifying first, second and third and sweeping the podium, with no unnecessary slip-ups. Even Rob Huff’s 11-lap attack at the rear of Yvan Muller for 2nd has been without real drama, the Frenchman holding his English team-mate at bay calmly, in a car which looked clearly less quick.

Smiles all-round on the podium then, especially from Alain Menu, who had his old sparkle back on Saturday morning and hadn’t lost it on Sunday. Hungary and Brno were clearly behind him.

It was a different story in race 2, though.

Thanks to the unique qualifying system introduced in the WTCC this season, the second grid is often a little jumbled-up. This time, we had a Wiechers Sport BMW on pole, courtesy of Stefano D’Aste, who made a welcome return to the WTCC, subbing for Swiss Urs Sonderegger.

D’Aste, a former Independent Champion, drove for both Protean and Wiechers in previous seasons and has been racing a GT4 Lotus Evora in 2011. He was delighted to receive a call mid-week to hurry to Porto and set about learning the tricks of the turbo-charged engine in the 2011-spec 320TC. Focusing, I’d say, given the… urgent nature of the unit’s power delivery. Urgent, in the way your light-switch is urgent at supplying power.

D’Aste showed his class, however, putting the car into the Top 10 in Q1, with a lap that eventually saw him finish 10th, and being rewarded for his efforts with pole position for race 2.

That must have been focusing too, given the difficulty all teams are having harnessing the rampant exponential power delivery of the turbo motors at take-off. Stefano had made three practice starts in practice (any more would really put the clutch in jeopardy) but stalled the BMW at the start of the formation lap. More pressure!

The Italian managed to re-fire the thing as others wriggled by him on the narrow grid and by the midway point of the lap was back in front, leading the train of cars around the streets. Surely, he’d have been sweating and trying to calm himself, as he paced the field back to the grid, checking out the patches of oil left by several support races that had filled the gap between the two races.

But he was probably still not as serene as you’d hope to be as poleman when he got to the number 1 grid spot. He parked his car a metre or so too far forward – out of his grid spot. A tiny but critical error.

As the lights went out, D’Aste took off like a scalded cat. It really was an epic start and he would have been delighted to see clear air between himself and the blue car in his mirrors as he turned onto the sea-front at Turn 2. The blue car was Yvan Muller, who’d been second on the grid, with Rob Huff already jammed up to his bumper, from third on the grid.

D’Aste may not have been racing in the WTCC this year but he’d have had to have been living on Mars not to know his predicament; the Chevrolet Cruze is clearly the best car this season and he had a pair of them giving chase.

The chase didn’t last long, Muller reeling him in before the end of Lap 1 and passing the increasingly-sideways BMW to take the lead on Lap 2. A lap later Rob Huff was also past D’Aste, leaving Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini bottled up behind the Wiechers Sport car, as the Chevys sprinted away.

Muller was the better part of three seconds clear of Huff, as news came of a Drive-Through penalty for D’Aste. The Stewards had also noticed he’d started out of place and it was now only a matter of biding his time before Tiago Monteiro – who lives in Porto – could claim a podium spot, without risking a move on the luridly-sliding BMW.

As the drama unfolded behind, Rob Huff unleashed his speed. Yvan Muller must have felt he was back in a SEAT, so quickly was he being reeled in, the gap coming down in 5 laps like this; 2.8s (the lap in which Huff passed D’Aste,) 2.5s, 1.9s, 0.9s, 0.3s. There were three laps left, but Huff waited only a handful of corners, such was his speed.

Out of the Turns 4,5,6 sequence (essentially one long, double-apex left) he pulled to the left of Muller, powering past as they raced up the left-hand carriageway of the Avenida de Boavista, almost entirely ahead as he got onto the brakes for the first chicane.

Almost but not quite.

The left-front of Muller’s Cruze made contact with Huff’s right-rear panel and the championship leader had to gather up a major moment, as he skated across the run-off area inside the apex of the chicane, whereas Mulller kept to the grey stuff between the kerbs.

Huff was ahead, however and stayed there.

The air turned blue in Muller’s cockpit and he lost no time in demanding that the team force Huff to cede the position, as he’d gained it by ‘straight-lining’ the chicane. Huff was in no mood to give the place back, as he saw it as a genuine racing manoeuvre and the team made no demand for him to do so. By the end, he was almost 2 seconds clear of the reigning World Champion, as he swept to win number 6 of the season, from only 12 starts. A remarkable record.

One of the key moments in the film ‘Senna’ centred around the clash between the (then) McLaren team-mates at Suzuka in 1989. Senna’s move on leader Prost at the chicane had resulted in the pair tangling and stalling in the chicane. While Prost stepped out of the car, content that Senna could no longer challenge him for the World Championship, Senna urged the marshals to push-start his McLaren and, after pitting for a new nose, he completed a remarkable comeback to win and keep the title race alive. Or so he thought. Prost was filmed stalking up to the Stewards room and post-race, Senna was penalised for missing the chicane and Prost was handed the World title.

Those images came immediately to mind after the race in Porto. As Huff celebreated in Parc Ferme, Muller strode off in a state of high dudgeon, climbing the stairs to the Race Director’s office, before disappearing inside.

It didn’t improve the Frenchman’s mood when Race Director, Miroslav Bartos, told him that he saw the clash as a racing incident and Yvan ranted in the post-race interviews that ‘if you can now pass by going across the chicane then at the next race I will pass everyone by just going straight.’

Chevrolet still had their 1-2, Tiago had a hugely well-received podium finish and the order at the flag when the audience switched off has not been changed.

What has changed, surely, is the atmosphere within the Chevrolet team.

Muller’s problems, caused, it is believed, by a diff problem, left him vulnerable to attack from Huff and it seems likely that – even had Huff handed the lead back – it would have been only a matter of time before he passed the Frenchman’s Cruze again. That much is academic however, the major problem for Chevrolet will be handling their three drivers and trying to prevent a break-down in the so-far cordial relationships within the team.

Huff, Muller and Menu are not bosom buddies yet nor is there open resentment, they rub along well enough together and all have so far focused on their own third of the garage, trying to ensure that it is they, not one fo their team-mates, who will be best-place to win this year’s drivers title.

All three are now reaping the rewards of a six-year programme from Chevrolet and RML, developing first the Lacetti and now the Cruze from also-rans into winners and potential champions.

There seems no credible scenario in which a Chevrolet driver will not win the Championship but the danger for Chevy, after so many years of hard graft, is that it could so easily be over-shadowed if an inter-team wrangle breaks out.

Eric Neve has hired three of the very best drivers available, RML has engineered the Cruze into the class of the field; all seems set fair for that long-awaited success.

Halfway through the season, with 12 more qualifying sessions and 12 more races still to go, open warfare – a la Prost and Senna – will help no-one. Eric Neve may well have to be the hardest-working member of the set-up, if he’s to preserve the team spirit that’s been so key to Chevrolet’s success.

Be careful what you wish for.

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