Unpredictable is a word not often used in motor racing but for anyone who watched the previous round of the World Touring Car Championship, there was barely a moment where some action was having an effect on the overall result.

From bad weather, to controversial penalties, to a truly surprising winner - albeit only briefly - there was little doubt that the notorious Spa-Francorchamps circuit threw up one of the most action packed touring car races of all time.

With exceptionally close racing and an even tighter title race it is little surprise that in the three week break between Belgium and the latest round at the flowing but tight Oschersleben in Germany, there have been persistent rumours that the WTCC grid could be expanding next year courtesy of possibly Toyota, Mazda and Volvo. For the moment though, the championship still looks in the hands of BMW and Alfa Romeo, although the competition between the two manufacturers remains as tight as ever.

Having spent a few races in the doldrums, BMW struck back with vigour in Belgium, with a measured but nonetheless hard-fought one-two-three finish, with Dirk M?ller, leading home Andy Priaulx and J?rg M?ller. It was an upturn in form for the Germans in their Team Deutschland 320is, with Dirk having his best meeting since Imola, securing a win and a fifth place. The result has extended, although only slightly, his championship lead over Fabrizio Giovanardi to four points, while the excessive bumping and barging at Spa means that the duo are gradually pulling a lead over the rest of the pack. The Oschersleben circuit is expected to be a happy hunting ground for the German too having shown peerless form there last year to take two crucial podium positions on home ground.

Still, he will be under pressure from a number of drivers, not least from his team mate J?rg, who put his four race non-scoring streak behind him with a battling but strained third place in the race on at Spa. Indeed, the collision with Augusto Farfus Jr was brought before the FIA officials, with the Brazilian being excluded, while M?ller was also penalised for causing an avoidable collision. Controversy aside, M?ller is still in contention and like his team mate will be performing on home ground, although the German needs a solid double points finish if he has any hopes of claiming the title that looked so promising in the early season.

It is a sentiment that can be shared by Andy Priaulx who remains winless so far this year, despite coming very close in the first race at Spa. Having led much of the way, Priaulx was overtaken by M?ller after a slight mistake and despite a committed final few laps was unable to find his way through. Together with a retirement in the second race, Priaulx has slipped further out of contention for the title, with M?ller some eleven points out of reach. Still, Priaulx remains one of the favourites to triumph at the Oschersleben having dominated one of the races there last year, winning by seven seconds - a margin of victory not seen for sometime. Indeed, despite being on maximum 60kg of ballast along with Dirk M?ller, the lack of fast straights should play more into the hands of BMW - with just eight races left this could make all the difference.

Still, in touch with the leaders, Antonio Garc?a saw a potentially fruitful Spa round turn into a disappointment, particularly in the second race when a second place become eighth following a collision with Dirk M?ller in the fiasco that was the Bus Stop chicane on the final lap. Still, it was another points finish in both races for the Spaniard who has been a constant presence at the top of the results sheet for much of the year. BMW Team Italy-Spain team mate, Alessandro Zanardi was less fortunate in the Ardennes although both drivers will be looking for the strong form that the manufacturer is expected to show at the coming round in Germany.

Although they were often unable to make the most of the melee that befell many in both races at Spa - indeed they were often the cause of the said melees -, Alfa Romeo came away from Belgium clutching some useful points despite their arch-rivals podium whitewash in the first race. Once again Fabrizio Giovanardi proved the man on the move with another double-points finish, making it an impressive nine consecutive races in the top eight for the Italian. This sheer consistency has been the prime reason as to why the Alfa Romeo Racing Team driver is biting at the heels of Dirk M?ller and although he has slipped slightly behind after Spa, he is still poised to pounce should his rival hit a problem.

However, Alfa Romeo have not proved as successful as the Munich marque on BMWs home soil, although last year Augusto Farfus Jr did manage to secure two podiums. The Brazilian himself has been the focus of much attention in the recent weeks following his exclusion for almost forcing Jorg M?ller into the barriers as the pair crossed the line together in Belgium. Although he recovered to take a fourth place in the second race, Farfus Jr has found his driving standards under review yet again and his progress in Germany will be monitored very closely.

As well as Giovanardi and Farfus, Gabriele Tarquini and James Thompson were also both on the pace at Spa, with the former proving the best of the rest in the first race at Spa after his team mates demise, while the latter managed another strong double points finish to keep him in sixth in the standings. The Oschersleben is also one of the few tracks that Thompson has driven the 156 Saloon, managing two fifth places there last year. Such a result means the Brit must be chasing his second win of the year, although for Alfa Romeo any way of halting BMWs points drive will be much appreciated.

Despite the seemingly two-horse race up front, many eyes will also be on SEAT who return to the sight of their first major touring car triumph armed with a new weapon against their rivals. Having taken a well deserved first win last year with the Toledo, SEAT Sport have used Oschersleben to launch the rakish new Le?n hatchback, albeit with just Jordi Gen? at the wheel. Intended to replace the saloon completely by the end of the year, the Leon has been launched early so the team can judge it against both the Toledo and also their rivals.

Honoured to be driving the new car before anyone else, Gen? is nonetheless cautious about the debut of a vehicle SEAT have committed to before the year is out.

"I'm quietly confident," the Spaniard enthused ahead of his outing. "I don't think we should be going to Oschersleben with thoughts of winning with the Le?n, although at the same time the car may well surprise a few people."

Indeed, the circuit has always been a track of firsts for SEAT having managed their debut podium the year before and another triumph is forecast here, particularly for either last years winner Rickard Rydell, or even Peter Terting who is returning to the country where he was a strong national motorsport figure.

"I think that all three drivers have a good chance of winning," the Swede said. "It is a circuit that we know is good for the Toledo, because the chassis works well there and theoretically it should be good for the Le?n."

SEAT need a good result in Germany too after their terrible luck in Belgium, which saw not one of their four driver's even score a point. Despite having decent pace through the weekend, a number of incidents left the Spanish team with plenty of repair work to do ahead of a return to Oschersleben. Indeed, Rydell's disappointment has dented his chances of a championship challenge, although with 33 points he is still in contention for a finish higher than the ninth he currently occupies.

Expected to struggle at Spa after their Mexico joy, Chevrolet indeed looked less likely to upset the form book in Belgium with the tough straights taking their toll on the Lacettis underpowered engine. Nonetheless, with all of the incidents that played havoc with the final results, Chevrolet once again found themselves on the points sheets with Alain Menu joining his team mates in the drivers standings, courtesy of a strong, if inherited, sixth place finish.

Oschersleben is anticipated to play on the Chevrolets strong points of handling over power too, with the twisty sections bearing some resemblance to those of the Puebla track where all three drivers starred, in particular Rob Huff.

"This track should suit our car better than any other track on the calendar, so I'm really hoping to score some more points here," the Brit said. "I haven't raced there yet, so I will do my usual recce in the first half of the session and then start work on the cars set-up."

Although Chevrolet are not expecting to on the pace of their rivals just yet, Spa showed that no race can be considered a foregone conclusion, so Huff, Menu and Nicola Larini will be hoping to potentially capitalise on this following their fair share of bad luck this season.

Having kept a low profile at the rear of the field for much of the year, Ford Hotfiel Sport certainly garnered some airtime in Spa following two heavy shunts that left the team working furiously in the three-week break to get them back out onto a circuit that will act as the outfit's home race. Having rolled at the fearsome Eau Rouge, Michael Funke's WTCC initiation was certainly a baptism of fire for the German, but together with Thomas Klenke, both drivers are expecting to see an upturn in pace having tested at Oschersleben for the past two years.

"Oschersleben is a very special track," Klenke claims. "You have to shift a lot of load to the front and the set-up must cope with a slight oversteer. We managed some encouraging times in out last test there, both on new and on used tyres. We are hoping we can reproduce these times on race weekend."

With no top ten result on the board as of yet, Ford are running out of time to make an impression ahead of what could become a fully fledged works effort next year and for the team, Oschersleben is seen as their best chance to prove more competitive than they have at any other time of the year.

After the excitement of Mexico, the JAS Motorsport team did not reach quite the same heights in Spa as they did at Puebla. Nonetheless, the single Accord of Roberto Colciago proved the best of the rest behind the Alfa Romeo and BMW lockout, with a single point to the Italians name in the first race following Farfus' exclusion. Unfortunately the late announcement of this meant Colciago was not able to take his place as pole sitter for the second race.

Still, Colciago's pace in Mexico could act as a prelude to a good run at the equally tricky Oschersleben. If the team can even come close to the speed that the Accord Euro R showed in that weekend, then Colciago could be a figure at the head of the timesheets again.

Restricted by a lack of development, Peugeots debut at Spa was a quiet one in which driver Soheil Ayari was not able to unleash the 407 Saloons potential in difficult conditions. Like their main semi-works rival Honda though, Peugeot Sport Denmark should be better placed at Oschersleben, as the lack of power will be less damaging on the cars pace in either qualifying or the race. Adhering to the team's policy of swapping drivers, Eric H?lary will be making his WTCC debut at the wheel of the 407, with hope of improving on the 24th managed by his compatriot in Belgium.

They may lack the big budget of their works rivals, but the Independent runners proved their competitive spirit at Spa with history very nearly being made courtesy of a superb drive by Stefano D'Aste. Although the Italian has been a mere bit-player in the Michelin Independents Trophy so far this year with just one victory, he benefited from the clash on the final corner in Spa to slip past and take a shock overall win. Unfortunately for those who support the underdog, D'Aste's joy was short lived courtesy of a three second penalty due to his cutting a corner when trying to avoid the clashes in front of him.

Nonetheless, the result was a remarkable achievement and one that was not a fluke either, since standing next to him on the podium was Tom Coronel who also made the most of the clashes ahead to finish a very strong third - his best finish yet in either the WTCC or its European predecessor. In the Independents trophy itself, Coronel's win in the opening Spa race meant he again closed the gap to long-time leader Marc Hennerici, the German managing a fourth and third in class to keep the Dutchman at bay.

Elsewhere, the trophy will herald a newcomer in the shape of coveted sports car driver St?phane Ortelli, who takes to the wheel of a SEAT Toledo Cupra run by the equally successful Team Oreca. Having made their name in sports cars a few years ago, Team Oreca will contest the final rounds of the year ahead of a full assault next year, possibly with the Leon. Although they have entered too late to make an impression on the championship, Ortelli is expected to be in the hunt for wins straight away.

While the unpredictability of Belgium may have seemed pivotal for the championship, there remains little to choose between up to ten drivers at the current moment and for that reason Germany could prove to be the indicator as to whom the series will fall too.

Still, Spa showed that no guarantees can be made when the racing is so tight and the championship is still anyone's. If you are betting person then predicting the result of this one could be more of a challenge than most...

 

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