Well it wasn’t quite the way it had been scripted but nevertheless, Rob Huff, wrote himself into motorsport history yesterday morning by clinching the World Touring Car Championship crown on a debris-strewn Macau circuit.
Entering the weekend with a 35 point lead over team mate Alain Menu, Huff extended this to 37 points when he took the 5 points on offer from Friday’s mighty pole-position.
But title showdowns don’t always go the way you expect and when rival Yvan Muller stole the lead on the opening-lap of Race 1, it was clear that last year’s runner-up was never going to sit-back and let his points do the talking.
Even before the minute-hand had been stretched, the race was effectively down to just 6 cars after Mehdi Bennani caused the sort of jam normally reserved for Piccadilly Circus — the Moroccan colliding with the barrier at Lisboa and then stacking the entire rest of the grid behind him.
This left the three works Chevvies, Tiago Monteiro in his new WTCC Civic, the other 2013 Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini and lone Independent Darryl O’Young to scrap for honours.
For what happened next, only our champion knows why.
Sitting in second place, in a car easily capable of holding station, any driver with a working radio and a calculator to hand would be told to keep out of trouble, collect a bag-full of points and coast to glory. This, however, was not to be the case.
Huff pushed hard, taking his Cruze to the limit of adhesion, and on lap four came an audacious move that would see the Brit take advantage of a defenceless Muller by steaming into the braking-zone and launching himself back ahead of the Frenchman… and then he lost-it.
Still pushing, still feathering the grip, an over-exuberant exit pushed him sideways, then sideways again, the barrier wrenching at his front suspension and that was it, race over, “nil points”.
25 points for Muller, 18 for Menu, 0 for Huff.
As ever, the RML team worked relentlessly during the short break, and notably, it was crew members from all three cars who joined in the effort to make-good the repairs.
The three works Chevrolets then assembled for the reverse-grid standing start of Race 2 — line astern in P7, P8 and P9 (each gaining a place due to Bennani’s penalty for repair work carried out in parc fermé).
As the red lights went out, MacDowell’s Cruze was no match off the line for the BMW of Michelisz, but it was Menu who found his mojo, carving his way up to 4th by Lisboa.
Muller and Huff tried to follow but couldn’t pick their way through the pack, then on lap 4, Muller, by now up to 5th, gained a much better exit out of Mandarin than MacDowell ahead, taking both by surprise, with the contact projecting the young Brit hard into the barrier, gifting Huff the overtake and bringing the safety-car into play for the first of two long stints.
When the race restarted on lap 9, it didn’t take long for another incident to unfold – with Huff narrowly avoiding Oriola (SEAT) and Michelisz (BMW) after the two independent drivers came together in the closing laps.
And that’s how it ended, under safety-car, with the three blue Cruzes holding station as they have so often this year.
Menu took the flag, followed by Huff (2nd) and then Muller 3rd, with Huff’s score enough to secure his first WTCC crown and for Chevrolet, confirmation of yet another drivers’ and constructors’ double.
Huff said afterwards, “What an incredible day! I really made things difficult for myself in Race 1 when I hit a wall – I guess I wanted to ensure the entertainment until the very last moment. It was a stupid mistake that could have cost me a lot.
“The boys did a fantastic job to repair the car for Race 2 and I must thank all the mechanics, including Alain’s and Yvan’s crews who also helped out. This is proof of the fantastic team spirit.
“The time in between races was really long and horrific. I preferred to stay in the car and reflect on what not to repeat. Luckily, things went smoothly in the second race. I was 7th at the beginning, which was not enough to clinch the title. I remained calm and gained position after position, ending up in 2nd place.
“I had a scary moment two laps from the end, when Michelisz and Oriola collided in front of me at the Lisboa corner. I missed Oriola by millimeters.
“It is going to take a while before I realize I’m the new World Champion. I guess it’s something that has to sink in slowly. It’s a perfect end to a fantastic venture. Eight year ago, Chevrolet and RML took a gamble on me and I hope today I proved them right.”
The Macau race was the last for Chevrolet in the WTCC series after an extraordinary eight-year journey that produced three double WTCC titles (Manufacturers’ and Drivers’) and a staggering 68 race wins.
If ever a manufacturer has got its touring car programme right, it’s Chevrolet. From the outset in 2005, they sought to use all of GM’s global talent, first with the Lacetti, and then in 2009 with the Cruze.
Throughout this journey, ‘Huffy’ has been solid — learning his trade from seasoned team mates and elevating his stock by taking pole positions, race wins and hammering-in fastest laps.
This is a championship title that is not only well deserved, but also long overdue. It seems fitting then, that in Chevrolet’s final WTCC season, the young man they placed so much faith in has provided one of their greatest ever victories.
Image credits: Chevrolet Events, David Noels (@DavidNoels)