Double amputee and Castrol-backed motorsport legend Alex Zanardi made his BMW Team Italy-Spain boss Roberto Ravaglia a very happy man at the Istanbul Park circuit on Sunday with a first victory of the season in the latest round of the World Touring Car Championship.
Castrol-backed motorsport legend Alex Zanardi made his BMW Team Italy-Spain boss Roberto Ravaglia a very happy man at the Istanbul Park circuit on Sunday with a first victory of the season in the latest round of the World Touring Car Championship.
The Italian, who lost both legs in a Champ Car accident in 2001, was the pacesetter all weekend in his BMW 320si. He topped both free practice sessions on Saturday and the warm-up on Sunday morning, but just missed out on pole position to SEAT driver Rickard Rydell in a rain-affected qualifying session. The dark clouds would return with an even bigger impact on race day...
After a long hold at the lights, Zanardi made the perfect getaway at the start of the first race, run in the dry. He beat Rydell to the first corner and was never headed, reeling off the 10 laps of the 3.31-mile Turkish Grand Prix circuit to beat his Swedish rival by a second.
'It is a fantastic feeling and I loved watching the opposition getting smaller and smaller in my mirrors,' Zanardi smiled. It was his second win in the WTCC, following his breakthrough series victory last year. 'The difficulties are the same,' he quipped. 'It's not like my legs have grown back!'
But behind Zanardi the race was less straightforward. As the leader, Rydell and SEAT team-mate Gabriele Tarquini made their escape, the BMWs of Duncan Huisman, Dirk Müller and Jörg Muller piled enormous pressure on Yvan Müller, whose Leon was running fourth.
Yvan was carrying 50 kilos of success ballast, and it showed. The three BMWs were all over him and contact was made more than once. Huisman and Dirk Müller made it through, but Jörg's pass was far from clean. The cars banged doors and ran wide off the circuit, Jörg sustaining terminal damage to his left rear suspension.
Meanwhile, Huisman and Dirk Müller raced away to claim fifth and sixth - although they reversed the order on the final lap. Dirk is a contender for the championship and admitted his team-mate had helped him score more points. "I appreciate his help," he said.
Zanardi faired less well in the second race - which looked unlikely to happen at all. The rain returned with a vengeance as the cars left the pitlane to form up on the grid. The flood that ensued at Turn 9 threatened to swamp not only the track, but a fire truck parked behind the barriers! A full two hours passed before the lake that had appeared could be drained away.
On a still sodden track, Dirk Müller led the BMW charge from the top-eight reverse grid, chasing the Chevrolet of Nicola Larini and the SEAT of Peter Terting.
But the 320si had to play second best in the rotten conditions, as the SEATs asserted themselves at the front. Dirk dropped down the order behind eventual winner Tarquini, Larini and Rydell. To rub salt in his wounds, Muller then lost sixth place to Robert Huff's Chevrlolet.
After running as high as fifth on the first lap, Zanardi survived a clash with Tarquini's SEAT, but dropped to ninth. He finished behind Jorg Muller who gambled on a change to slick tyres before the start. The conditions never dried out enough for the strategy to truly pay off.
But BMW did have some cheer in the Independents' Trophy. Stefano D'Aste enjoyed a great battle with Tom Coronel's SEAT and claimed the victory on the last lap.
Race 1 results: 1 A. Zanardi - BMW, 2 R. Rydell - SEAT, 3 G. Tarquini - SEAT, 4 D. Müller - BMW, 5 D. Huisman - BMW, 6 P. Terting - SEAT
Race 2 results: 1 G. Tarquini - SEAT, 2 P. Terting - SEAT, 3 N. Larini - Chevrolet, 4 R. Rydell - SEAT, 5 J. Gene - SEAT, 6 R. Huff - Chevrolet
The next race is at Istanbul in Spain on October 8.