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Monday, May 16, 2005

WTCC: BMW Struggle At Silverstone

A certain pattern has emerged in the WTCC. In each round, it seems that the first race turns out to be fairly boring and somewhat processional. Things really spice up in race 2. This is exactly what happened at Silverstone.

The Alfa Romeos simply dominated practise and qualifying. The organisers decided to give front wheel drive cars a weight advantage of 20kg and additionally, the top BMW drivers received 50kg weight penalties forllowing their domination at Magny Cours. This weight handicaps were simply too much for the BMWs to overcome.

Three Alfa Romeos of Tarquini, Thompson and Giovanardi heading the grid in Race 1. Andy Priaulx, despite a hefty 50kg penalty, still managed a respectable fourth. SEAT did well in qualifying, ending up fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth place for Terting, Plato, Rydell and Gene respectively.

Jorg Muller previously dominant at Magny Cours could only manage 11th behind Gene and behind both Priaulx and fellow BMW driver Garcia. Still the top twelve in qualifying were separated by only a second.

Now I missed the start of the first race after some ADSL connection problems. But what I did catch turned out to be a runaway race for the Alfa Romeos. Gabriele Tarquini leading James Thompson, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Augusto Farfus Jr, maintaining their qualifying order. Again, Andy Priaulx gave a good chase and were able to keep up with the Alfas, to end up in fifth position at the flag. Had Priaulx not been saddled with weight penalties, he would have walked this race I believe. The SEATs ended up sixth, seventh and eighth in the hands of Terting, Rydell and Plato. Jason Plato in a guest starring role with SEAT for this round of the WTCC.

In race 2, where the top eight in race 1, starts in reverse order at the head of the grid, the three SEATs ended up in the top three positions on the grid. Andy Priaulx started fourth. At the start of the race, Andy made an absolutely fantastic start to the race, passing all three SEAT Toledos. Rikard Rydell passed Terting and shadowed Priaulx.

The safety car period came out on lap 2 after a tangle between Antonio Garcia and Robert Huff's Chevrolet. At the restart, Andy Priaulx and former Volvo BTCC driver, Rydell, simply pulled away from the rest leaving Plato and fast starting Jorg Muller to battle it out amongst the Alfas who didn't have the best of starts.

Rikard Rydell pressured Andy Priaulx all the way but was really unable to do anything about the BMW UK driver. In the end though, Priaulx had a puncture and was forced into the pits. That must have been some heartache for him. He had an absolutely fantastic race and deserved to win the race and take the lead of the world championship.

Behind the leading two, battle royal commenced between Plato, Muller, Tarquini and Giovanardi. This was simply classic touring car stuff. Muller faded in the end was dropped down the order.

At the chequered flag it was Rikard Rydell, Jason Plato and Gabriele Tarquini who crossed the line first. Great result for SEAT.

So front wheel drive cars victorious at Silverstone. It was great to see SEAT winning and this should spice up the championship a little. With Alfas good results in this race, they will be faced with additional weight handicaps for Imola in a couple of weeks. I think this time, it should pan out. We should see a more balanced race 1 at Imola. The weight penalties and advantages between the front drive Alfas and rear drive BMWs should equalize both these teams. But I wonder how the SEATs will fare with weights added to their cars. I somehow don't think they'll handle it very well.

In conclusion, Silverstone was always going to favour the front drivers with its fast corners and sweeps. But yet again you can see that as soon as slow sections like Luffield were taken, the BMWs were visibly quicker than the front wheel drive cars. Only their enormous weight penalties hampering them in midrange and straights. They simply look fabulous in the corners and traction still remains their advantage.

Interesting to see what happens at Imola. The BMWs I believe ride the kerbs extremely well, if Magny Cours is anything to go buy. With lots of chicanes and tight turns, I think we should be able to see the BMWs back in form.

Despite the obvious advantage to the front wheel drive Alfas at Silverstone, it was a great pity about Andy Priaulx. His puncture cost him a certain victory and I should think he'll be back at Imola fighting for the lead once again. As it is, he should be heading to his Williams test on a high.

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