Chevrolet Cruze driver Alex MacDowall enjoyed his most competitive and successful FIA World Touring Car Championship outing since the opening event of the season two months ago during rounds nine and 10 of the season at the Hungaroring near Budapest on Sunday, 6th May.
Securing an overall top 10 finish in the first of the weekend’s races, his first main championship points score since the opening two rounds of the campaign at Monza in Italy, the Carlisle racer also took a best Yokohama Independents Trophy finish of fourth to climb into equal sixth place in the class driver standings.
“I don’t think the weekend went too badly to be honest”, commented Alex, “We didn’t get the sort of results we wanted, we should have been fighting for a couple of top three Independents finishes at least, but it was a lot better than the last round so we’ve got to be fairly happy about that. Our race pace is good, we weren’t far away at all with that, but qualifying is where we need to improve.”
Hot on the heels of the WTCC visit to Slovakia a week prior, the 21-year-old made a good start to his first ever visit to the Hungaroring, an event attended by more than 50,000 spectators, with a smooth run in practice on Saturday, 5th May, which netted him the eighth best time overall in session two.
Progressing through the first qualifying session as one of the fastest 12 drivers, in the all-important second period the Bamboo Engineering racer ended up 11th quickest overall and so on the sixth row of the grid for both of the weekend’s races. In the Independents Trophy class he was sixth fastest.
Bright, sunny conditions greeted competitors on raceday morning and after a promising run during the 15-minute warm-up, where he was eighth fastest overall and third in class, Alex had high hopes of a good points finish in the opening encounter.
Starting 11th for round nine, the WTCC rookie held the inside line for turn one and as a few cars tangled ahead he was able to move up into eighth overall and third in class. Piling on the pressure to the Ford Focus of James Nash, just 0.3 seconds separated the pair into the third tour and with good drive out of the first corner Alex had a look to try and pass on the outside at turn two.
As Nash defended heavily, it enabled the recovering Norbert Michelisz to latch onto the tail of Alex’s car hastening the need for the Cumbrian to try and get ahead of his countryman. Edging up the inside at the penultimate corner, Nash’s continued defence meant Alex was then on the outside for the final hairpin and so Michelisz was able to get past for eighth place.
Into turn one on the next lap though, Alex cut back to the inside of Nash – who had just been passed by the BMW of Michelisz – and the pair ran side-by-side into turn two. With the Ford on the inside, Nash was favourite to hold ninth position but Alex produced a superb move around the outside of the tricky left-hander to claim the place where he remained to the flag, fourth in class.
In round 10, although shuffled back to 12th overall through the first couple of turns the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star tagged on to the BMW of fellow Independents competitor Stefano D’Aste and following a mistake by Darryl O’Young at the chicane both D’Aste and Alex got ahead.
From that point on the race was uneventful for the Carlisle driver and he remained in 11th overall, sixth in class, to the flag on lap 12. His best lap time meanwhile, 1m57.659 seconds, was just 0.2 seconds shy of the pace of works Chevrolet drivers Yvan Muller, who finished 10th, and Robert Huff.
“Qualifying is what we need to work on, we need to put a lot of focus on sorting out a better set-up for that as it’s our main problem”, he added, “On the Yokohamas you’ve got one real shot at your quick lap, you have to be very slow on the warm-up lap to look after the tyres – there’s such a small window of performance. If we can get our qualifying set-up sorted for the next one, we’ll be ok.”
Next on the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar will be a visit to the Salzburgring in Austria on 19th/20th May for the 11th and 12th rounds of the season. The event will mark yet another first for the WTCC – the only time a world championship car race meeting will have been held at the 4.2-kilometre track.
2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship Driver Standings (after Rd10):1st Yvan Muller, 180pts; 15th Alex MacDowall, 12pts
2012 FIA WTCC ‘Yokohama Independents Trophy’ Driver Standings (after Rd10):1st Pepe Oriola, 74pts; =6th Alex MacDowall & Alberto Cerqui, 27pts