2 March 2008
Curitiba 2008: Worn out Muller clings on.
Yvan Muller got his 2008 World Touring Car Championship title offensive off to an ideal start by leading a SEAT 1-2 in the first round of the season at Curitiba.
Putting behind him the agony of missing out on the 2007 title in Macau just three months ago, Muller and team-mate Rickard Rydell resisted a late effort from BMW's Augusto Farfus to claim a good win around the Brazilian circuit.
Not that the result, which mirrored qualifying, came about easily, with Muller's victory having probably more to do with the staunch defence from both Rydell and Gabriele Tarquini in the latter stages of the race as the tyre wear woes, as predicted by Frenchman, came into effect.
Indeed, towards the end of the races, BMW comfortably had the faster machine, something that should put them in good stead for the sprint race.
Arguably, much of the race was won at the start for SEAT, the sheer strength of the TDI engine at the rolling start seeing all five Leons surge forward and swamp both Farfus and Jorg Muller as they threaded into the tight first corner chicane.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone made it through the first bend unscathed, most notably Tiago Monteiro, whose safe inside line was ruined when the front-right suspension was battered by a more leery rival. Almost destroying the front flank of his car as he made his way to the pit lane, Monteiro re-entered the race but would finish several laps down. Also getting caught up was Alex Zanardi, the Italian amongst several to enjoy a trip across the gravel trap. He would also pit to go a lap down.
Nonetheless, despite Monteiro's problems, SEAT still looked remarkably good out front, with Muller leading Rydell and Tarquini, while Jorg Muller and Farfus disputed fourth with the Chevrolets of Rob Huff and Nicola Larini.
Chevrolets race would take a dramatic turn for the worse though on lap three when all three of their cars were involved in incidents that would eventually lead to retirements. Firstly, Alain Menu's collision with Jordi Gene into the first corner saw him limp into retirement, only to be followed just seconds later by Larini tipping Huff into a spin at turn three.
Although Larini's defence from Gene arguably prompted his rather desperate move on the Brit, it was still enough to force the Italian into retirement on the spot. Huff continued for a few more laps before his rear suspension eventually gave up, leaving him crabbing towards the pit lane and out of the race.
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