Coronel holds on for maiden win
1 January 1901
Tom Coronel took a popular victory in the second World Touring Car Championship race of the weekend at Okayama with the battle for the drivers' title now set to be decided on the streets of Macau next month.
At the wheel of his petrol-powered SEAT Leon, Coronel held off the challenge of Augusto Farfus during the closing stages of the race to snare the win, while Sergio Hernandez completed the podium finish and secured Independent honours for the Proteam Motorsport squad.
With the circuit drying out following the earlier rain, tyre choice was key ahead of the race with some drivers going for wet rubber and some electing to gamble that the track was dry enough for slicks. Coronel however went a different way, putting slick tyres on the front of his SUNRED entered Leon TFSi and putting wets on the rear.
When the lights went out to start the race, Coronel made the best start from pole while second placed Yvan Muller got bogged down somewhat off the line and dropped back down the order. However, behind Coronel and Muller, Tiago Monteiro had got away well from the second row of the grid and swept into the lead at turn one ahead of Coronel, Augusto Farfus and Stefano D'Aste.
By the end of the lap however, the diesel-powered Leons, on wet tyres, had fought back with Muller up to third ahead of Farfus and Rickard Rydell behind the BMW in fifth.
On lap two, Alex Zanardi went off heavily into the wall after contact from the BMW of Matthew Marsh back in the pack but was able to climb from his damaged car and the race continued under local yellows, while someone noticeable in their absence from the front of the field was Gabriele Tarquini – who found himself battling with the LADAs of Kirill Ladygin and Jaap van Lagen. Tarquini would ultimately retire from the race mid-way through.
Monteiro continued to lead from Coronel, Muller and Rydell, but the diesel cars were already looking for wet tarmac to keep their tyres cool, while cars behind were clearly lapping quicker.
Having got ahead of Farfus into fifth on lap two, D'Aste made a move for fourth on Rydell but then outbraked himself into the hairpin and slipped back to tenth.
Coronel was all over the rear of Monteiro and on lap five he found a way past the Portuguese racer and then set about building a lead. Further back, Farfus had got ahead of Rydell into fourth and was now chasing down Yvan Muller for third. D'Aste had also got back into the top eight ahead of Franz Engstler and Nicola Larini and was running on the rear of Proteam team-mate Hernandez.
Having lost position to Farfus, Rydell was struggling to keep his position and in the space of two laps, he lost out to Priaulx, Hernandez and D'Aste to slip to eighth place. The quickest man on the track meanwhile was James Thompson who was working his way through the field after his race one disappointment.
On lap eight, Farfus took second from Monteiro and started to chase down Coronel while Yvan Muller lost fifth to Hernandez as his chances of securing the title started to disappear. On lap nine, the Frenchman also slipped behind D'Aste as the two Independent BMWs took full advantage of the conditions.
Hernandez was harrying Priaulx for fourth place but before he was able to make a move for position, the defending champion got ahead of Monteiro into a podium place. Hernandez tried to follow him through on the following lap but Monteiro fought back as the pair headed down to the hairpin at the end of the back straight.
D'Aste however saw a chance to pass both drivers and went for the inside but went in to hot and hit Monteiro, having somehow managed to avoid Hernandez. Monteiro and D'Aste both ran wide, the latter having lost a front-wheel and they weren't the only ones to go through the gravel as Priaulx had outbraked himself into the corner and was recovering onto the track himself.
While the top two positions remained unchanged, Hernandez now found himself in third place while Thompson was suddenly fourth as, having got up into the points, he took advantage of the problems ahead of him to fourth. Rob Huff has also made the most of the incident to go fifth with Yvan Muller sixth, Monteiro seventh and Rydell eighth.
With just three laps remaining, Farfus was with Coronel and the SUNRED man did well while lapping the BMW of Masaki Kano to force the Brazilian out of a potential passing move exiting the final corner.
That gave Coronel some breathing space through the penultimate lap, but Farfus quickly closed the gap and on the final lap, the BMW was swarming all over the rear of the SEAT, Into the final corners, Farfus briefly got alongside but Coronel was able to hold on to secure the win by less than a tenth of a second.
Hernandez took third overall and a vital Independents win to leave him as firm favourite for the title heading to Macau with double points on offer, while Thompson, Huff, Muller, Monteiro and Felix Porteiro rounded out the points scorers.
It means Muller heads to Macau with a 14 point lead over team-mate Tarquini with the two SEAT men the only ones now able to lift the title.