James Thompson became the fifth different winner in five World Touring Car races after romping to a resounding victory from pole position in the latest round of the championship at Valencia.

Taking the N.Technology Alfa Romeo 156 back to the top of the podium to join main rivals BMW, SEAT and Chevrolet as featuring on the winner's list this season, the victory is the first for Thompson since he made his debut with the team back at the first round of the 2005 season at Monza.

Defying the age of a car that, by his own admission, 'is not being developed', Thompson simply drove away from the pack in the early stages of the race, maintaining his advantage to the chequered flag to run out 2.8secs winner from Nicola Larini and Yvan Muller.

The big news of the race however occurred at the very start with a pile-up that managed to wipe out six of the leading runners, including Tiago Monteiro, Gabriele Tarquini, Alex Zanardi, Felix Porteiro, Roberto Colciago and Rob Huff.

With the crowded rolling start of 28 cars all leading into a sweeping left-hander, the prospect of a crash at the first-corner - as has occurred in other years - was arguably high, the mid-field not disappointing when team-mates Monteiro and Tarquini rather controversially came together, sending each other sideways in opposite directions.

Monteiro went on to clip Olivier Tielemans, who in turn hit the pit-lane wall, even if he was able to collect it and continue. Tarquini though came together with Porteiro, pushing the Spaniard onto the grass before the BMW slid back across the circuit, tagging Colciago and slamming hard into team-mate Zanardi. Huff meanwhile had also been turned round by Tarquini and was then hit again by Monteiro as they slid off. What emerged from the dust was an expensive wreckers yard, the two Team Italy-Spain BMWs particularly badly damaged by their collisions, even if all six failed to get away unscathed.

Unsurprisingly, the safety car was deployed to bunch up the field, revealing Thompson as the leader from pole position, ahead of Nicola Larini, who made the most of the bustle to jump from sixth to second by the end of the first lap.

Yvan Muller had slipped to third ahead of SEAT team-mate Jordi Gene, while Andy Priaulx, Michel Jourdain, Stefano D'Aste - up from 21st on the grid - and Pierre-Yves Corthals rounded out the early provisional point scorers.

The melee of the first corner meanwhile had also caught championship leader Augusto Farfus out, the Brazilian attempting to sneak past Jourdain, only for the Mexican to clip the BMW when he got out of shape on the kerbs exiting turn three. Tipping him into a spin, Farfus tumbled down the order, where he was joined Alain Menu, another driver forced to the back of the field by the turn one pile-up.

From here the race began to settle down, Thompson making the most of Larini's somewhat lacklustre initial pace to pump out a two second lead early on and allowing most of the battles to rage behind him.

Even so, despite the close attentions between Larini, Muller, Gene and Priaulx in disputing second to fifth, it never seemed as though they were likely to make a concerted bid to improve their positions as they searched for much needed consistent points.

Instead, the spectators took their attention to the latter half of the top eight, with D'Aste initially holding steady in his Wiechers-Sport BMW before eventually falling into the clutches of quicker opposition behind.

That opposition came in the shape of Luca Rangoni, the Italian once again ignoring his 'independent' status to battle with the works BMWs. Indeed, despite considerable success ballast, the Proteam car moved up to seventh by lap six and although he took Jorg Muller with him, the German recovering from a disappointing qualifying position, he never looked like succeeding that position.

Further back, D'Aste was in the midst of the battles again, this time with Sergio Hernandez, Tom Coronel and the recovering Farfus. Although the Italian held his rivals at bay for much of the race, former GP2 racer Hernandez eventually executed a confident move on lap twelve to move into ninth.

However, his sparring partners fared no better when D'Aste slowed slightly to avoid a tail-happy Hernandez up ahead, prompting Coronel to dive up the inside. However, Farfus had an eye on claiming back two more positions and also positioned his car alongside the Dutchman, causing all three to bunch together and spear off the circuit. Putting Farfus into retirement and heavily delaying D'Aste and Coronel, the BMW driver has it all to do from the back of the grid in race two.

Thompson was victorious though, the former British Touring Car Champion easing back in the latter stages but nonetheless crossing the line well up on Larini to give team owners Mauro and Monica Sipsz a perfect result on the weekend when their latest endeavour, the International Formula Master Series, has also been launched.

Larini found some pace towards the end of the race to pull away from Muller to bolster his championship position, while the Frenchman too is now better placed in the standings thanks to a third place finish. Gene scores his first points of the season in fourth, ahead of Priaulx, who in turn moves up to second in the championship after finishing fifth.

Jourdain gets his WTCC tally off the mark with a lonely sixth, ahead of leading independent runner Rangoni, with Muller in eighth and therefore pole position for the second race.

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment