Race Archive 2013
WTCC Champion Huff baulked in Suzuka's high-speed freight train
Rob Huff was prevented from maximising his full potential while baulked in the pack during Rounds 19 and 20 of the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) on Japan’s twisty Suzuka circuit (21-22 September).
Huff recorded a 54.493s to go tenth fastest in FP1 around Suzuka's 2.24km 'East' configuration.
Lap times slowed as the temperatures soared to above 30 degrees Celsius during Friday’s second practice session, where tyre wear and traffic were identified as potential issues for Sunday’s two races on the unrelentingly twisty track.
Several drivers made mistakes while searching for the limits in free practice and a drama-filled qualifying session shook up the starting order for Rounds 19 and 20.
Huff, the 2012 World Touring Car Champion, dropped into 12th place on the opening lap of Round 19, behind BMW rivals Tom Coronel and Mehdi Bennani.
Works Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini in fifth place proved to be the cork in the bottle during the opening stages, heading an 11-car freight train that included Huffy’s ALL-INKL.COM Munnich Motorsport SEAT Leon.
Newmarket’s Huff continued hustling Bennani, ducking and diving in the Moroccan’s rear-view mirrors, particularly as the pack scythed into the braking zone for Turns 1 and 2.
The canny and experienced Huff kept plugging away but briefly lost touch with the rear of Bennani’s BMW after getting sideways while pushing for a slingshot out of the final turn on lap 13.
Fortunately, the outgoing World Champion lived to tell the tale and was soon back on terms with the James Thompson-Coronel-Bennani battle as tyre wear became a factor.
A feisty tussle between Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Pepe Oriola baulked the chasing pack and provided Huffy with an opportunity to depose Bennani.
The 32-year old stuck his SEAT up the inside out of the last corner, before inheriting two positions when Tarquini retired from fifth place with a left-front puncture and Oriola was served with a drive-through penalty for a misdemeanour.
Now in eighth place, Huff latched onto the tail of fellow countryman Thompson’s LADA Sport Granta and Coronel’s ROAL Motorsport BMW 320 TC.
Coronel in his rear-wheel-driven BMW began struggling for grip with only a handful of laps remaining and Huff used a tow along the pit-straight to slingshot around the outside of the Dutchman at the start of the penultimate lap.
Despite a spirited effort, Huff was unable to dispatch Thompson for sixth place before the finish. A dozen or so cars took the flag in quick succession, with Huffy crossing the line in seventh and a resurgent Coronel right alongside him.
Round 20 – the 200th WTCC race since the championship's inauguration in 2005 – began with Yvan Muller being spat out of the pack and into the barriers on the initial run to Turn 1.
The yellow flags, brought out while Muller’s stricken Chevrolet was recovered, prevented drivers from utilising the most realistic overtaking opportunity into the first corner during the opening few laps.
However, as soon as the caution flags retreated, Huff pulled off a ballsy move up the inside of Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Charles Ng.
Huff used a superb tow to pull alongside the BMW and a robust defence from the Hong Kong-based driver forced a committed Huffy onto the grass.
Fortunately, Huff’s ALL-INKL.-liveried SEAT had sufficient momentum to arrive at the Turn 1 apex before Ng, just as Pepe Oriola had a dusty moment on the outside at Turn 2 to gift the brawling pair another position.
The fight continued until Ng’s rear-wheel-driven BMW – less abrasive on its Yokohama tyres – came into its own in the latter stages and re-took track position.
“It was a pretty average weekend in terms of the results, although that just shows how high we set the bar earlier this season,” said Huff. “Everybody is aware that the tight and twisty nature of Suzuka’s East Circuit puts the emphasis on qualifying and we were restricted by being in among the mid-field pack.
“Racing at Suzuka can be quite frustrating if you’re stuck behind a train of cars, especially if you believe you have more speed underneath you. It's just so difficult to overtake here. Fortunately my SEAT really came alive in the latter stages of race one, just as frustration started setting in for some of my rivals and others struggled with tyre wear. I’m quite fulfilled by the on-track battles I had in both races, but do feel that seventh and eighth-place finishes aren’t representative of my ALL-INKL.COM Munnich Motorsport SEAT’s true race pace.”
After finishing seventh and eighth in Rounds 19 and 20 of the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) respectively, Huff lies seventh in the standings with four races remaining in China and Macau.
For more information on Rob Huff's racing activities, please visit the official www.robhuff.com website, 'like' his Facebook page or follow @Huffsport on Twitter.