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Rydell wins Okayama opener, SEAT crowned

1 January 1901

Rickard Rydell has taken victory in the opening World Touring Car Championship race of the weekend at Okayama, helping SEAT to clinch the manufacturers' crown in the process.

The Swede emerged as a comfortable winner following 14 laps in tricky conditions after rain earlier in the day left the field with a damp track, with long-time race leader Jorg Muller taking second for BMW and Andy Priaulx rounding out the podium.

At the rolling start, Jorg Muller moved into the lead after pole-man Augusto Farfus tangled with Alain Menu going into the right-hander, with both cars forced to take a trip across the gravel and Menu ultimately forced to retire. Also in trouble at turn one was title hopeful Gabriele Tarquini who made a brave move to go around the outside and found himself hung out to dry; going through the gravel and slipping down the order. Muller therefore led the race ahead of Tiago Monteiro, Rydell, Rob Huff, Stefano D'Aste and James Thompson – the latter having stormed into the top six off the start. Points leader Yvan Muller and Priaulx rounded out the points scorers.

Tarquini's error dropped him well down outside the top ten and gave Yvan Muller the chance to try and extend his points advantage, but the Frenchman was under pressure from Priaulx behind as the BMW ace attempted to keep his slim hopes of retaining the crown alive. The pair followed Thompson in getting ahead of D'Aste on lap three while out front, Jorg Muller was pulling away as Monteiro held up team-mate Rydell in second and third.

On lap four, Thompson moved into fourth past Rob Huff and when Priaulx got ahead of Muller on the following lap, it left the three Britons running line astern on track. Rydell meanwhile was desperately trying to find a way past Monteiro and having made his move on lap six, he then set about chasing down the BMW out front.

At the end of lap six, Muller led from Rydell and Monteiro, with Thompson, Huff and Priaulx rounding out the top six. Yvan Muller was seventh from Augusto Farfus, with D'Aste and Sergio Hernandez rounding out the top ten as they battled for the Independent win.

Priaulx was all over the rear of Huff in the fight for fifth place but it became the fight for fourth on lap eight when Thompson was a little too late on the brakes and ran wide turning onto the back straight, dropping the Honda down to sixth place. Out front, Rydell was rapidly closing on Jorg Muller for the lead of the race with Monteiro behind holding up the chasing pack. For a brief moment it looked like the field could be closed up by a Safety Car after Ibrahim Okyay slammed into the wall in his Borusan Otomotiv BMW, but the car came to rest out of harms way and racing continued.

On lap ten, Priaulx was able to battle his way ahead of Huff to take fourth place and closed onto the rear of Monteiro, with the front two now well clear down the road. Having closed onto the rear of Muller, Rydell duly went down the inside into the hairpin on lap eleven to take the lead and held the place despite Muller's best efforts to fight back. Quickly pulling away, Rydell wasn't to be caught during the closing laps as he pulled out a lead of more than five seconds by the chequered flag.

With the front two places decided, the focus turned to the fight for third place onwards, with Priaulx taking third away from Monteiro on lap twelve. On the final lap however, it would all change within the points…

Monteiro was defending to try and keep fourth from Huff but lost out at the hairpin, with Thompson trying to follow him through but tagging the rear of the SEAT. Monteiro was able to keep the position but both cars being delayed backed up the following pack somewhat coming into the closing corners. Suddenly Yvan Muller, who had been trying to keep eighth ahead of D'Aste, found himself right in the mix and tagged Thompson, who had run wide and lost out to Farfus. The result was Thompson spinning off onto the grass and plummeting down the order, while Muller was able to continue without losing places and took the flag seventh to secure a place on the front row for race two. From nowhere, Tom Coronel came through on the final lap to take eighth and the race two pole, with D'Aste and Tarquini rounding out the top ten.

While SEAT has now taken the manufacturers' title, the drivers' fight remains a five horse race – albeit only in a mathematical sense.

Yvan Muller now leads Tarquini by eleven points and Rydell by 25, while Huff is 28 points back and Priaulx 30 – with 30 remaining. As a result, Muller could secure the title with a race two win if results go his way.


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