Alex MacDowall - Monza, WTCCBritain’s Alex MacDowall concluded his maiden weekend in the FIA World Touring Car Championship tied for the lead in the Yokohama Independents Trophy after securing second and third place results in rounds one and two of the season at Monza today, Sunday, 11th March.

Marking the Carlisle 21-year-old’s first ever visit to the legendary Italian track, the WTCC rookie was immediately on the pace during pre-event testing and remained a consistent front-runner through qualifying and both races to cap a highly impressive debut.

Having only confirmed his deal to graduate into the WTCC less than a fortnight ago, the weekend was very much one of firsts for the Bamboo Engineering driver – a new team, a new turbo powered Chevrolet Cruze to adjust to and it was his first meeting on Yokohama tyres. In addition, he also had to run the maximum 40 kilograms of ‘success ballast’ due to Chevrolet having won the 2011 title.

Taking everything in his stride Alex qualified eighth fastest overall for round one, within just 0.6 seconds of pole-sitting touring car legend Gabriele Tarquini. He went on to finish eighth in the opening encounter, runner-up in the Independents class, before taking seventh and third in class in round two to lay down an impressive marker to the established WTCC order.

“It’s been a good first weekend”, said Alex, “We’re in a three-way tie at the top of the Independents Trophy and we get maximum prize money as well I think, so I’m happy with that. We’re here to try and win the Independents title, there’s no point looking at the main championship, so to have come away from Monza with a share of the lead is a good way to start the season.”

Cumbrian star immediately on WTCC pace at Monza
Other than a brief shakedown in the UK last week, the Monza test on Thursday, 8th March, was Alex’s first true outing in his turbo-engined Cruze. He immediately shone with a sensational run to close-out the morning fourth fastest, behind only the three works Chevrolets, with a best time of 1m58.734 seconds – just 0.4 seconds shy of reigning and three-time WTCC Champion Yvan Muller.

In the afternoon, times dropped further but Alex remained within 0.4 seconds of pace-setter Muller to post a best of 1m58.415 seconds. Topping the fourth of the five sessions with that time, he rounded out the day fourth quickest overall and leading Yokohama Independents Trophy runner.

After a day’s rest on Friday the action resumed on Saturday, 10th March, and in qualifying Alex progressed through the opening 20-minute period as one of the top 12 qualifiers before securing the eighth fastest time, second best Independent, in the all-important 10-minute second session.

“Qualifying was OK, we tagged on to the works Chevrolets in Q2 and it worked well”, said Alex, “The rear of the car was quite tricky during practice but we made changes to the set-up for qualifying and it felt better. The balance of the turbo Cruze is different to the car I raced last year in the BTCC, the front is heavier. The main thing to adjust to though is the lack of engine braking on a turbo.”

This morning’s brief warm-up period was initially red-flagged after just a couple of minutes when the SEAT of Darryl O’Young suffered a major engine fire but at the resumption, Alex posted the fifth best lap and was quickest of the Independent runners.

Round one took place in bright and sunny conditions and at the rolling start, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star maintained his eighth place on the run into the first chicane but a multi-car tangle just ahead resulted in him being bumped back several positions.

Running 11th overall and fifth in the Independents class into lap three, Alex mounted a committed recovery and after a two lap Safety Car period just prior to mid-distance he made his way back into the Independents top three after passing the BMW of Norbert Michelisz.

On lap 11, having sensibly allowed the works Chevrolet of former British Touring Car Champion Alain Menu to go through, Alex took second in class and eighth overall at the expense of the slowing SEAT of Aleksei Dudukalo to secure a pleasing result for his maiden WTCC race.

For race two, with the top 10 qualifiers reversed, Alex was due to line-up third on the grid but this became second when Dudukalo was unable to take the start. Although slipping back to third, the Briton held the place until lap four when squeezed out at the first chicane.

Wisely allowing the trio of works Cruzes to then pass, so as not to hinder his Independents Trophy battle, Alex continued third in class, seventh overall. Climbing into the top six, second in class, on lap eight, he almost grabbed the Independents lead at Ascari but was pushed wide over the kerbs.

Recovering the enforced slide brilliantly, the talented Cumbrian battled back superbly to take second in the Independents Trophy and seventh place overall. He also concluded both races as the second highest placed British driver, behind only vastly experienced WTCC campaigner Robert Huff.

There is now a three-week break from action before the World Touring Car Championship resumes at Valencia in Spain over the weekend 31st March/1st April.

2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship Driver Standings (after Rd2):
8th Alex MacDowall, 10pts

2012 FIA WTCC ‘Yokohama Independents Trophy’ Driver Standings (after Rd2):
=1st Stefano D’Aste, Pepe Oriola & Alex MacDowall, 14pts

Photo by Romano Poli / www.photo-4.com