Britain’s Alex MacDowall raced to his third Yokohama Independents Trophy victory of the FIA World Touring Car Championship season at Suzuka in Japan, Sunday, 22nd September, after finishing a superb second overall in round 19 of the season – all off the back of a season-best qualifying.
Building up his pace and working closely with his race engineer on set-up during free practice on Saturday, 21st September, Alex lapped second fastest in session two and confirmed his potential in qualifying by lapping within a mere 0.1 seconds of his first outright pole position.
Progressing through an unbelievably closely contested opening qualifying period, in which the top 12 were split by less than 0.5 seconds, Alex went on to lap second quickest in session two, the fastest of the Chevrolet Cruze drivers, to importantly secure the Independents Trophy pole for race one.
At the start of round 19 on Sunday, the Carlisle 22-year-old made a near-perfect getaway and was almost able to edge alongside pole-starter Norbert Michelisz into Turn One but sensibly tucked back into second place behind the Honda driver.
Remaining within roughly one second of Michelisz into lap two, Alex had to keep a close eye on his mirrors with the ex-works Chevrolet of multiple WTCC champion Yvan Muller close behind. While the Honda was able to pull away at the front, Alex had his hands full with the Frenchman but despite intense pressure for the entire 26 laps, the Bamboo Engineering driver didn’t put a wheel wrong.
With never more than around 0.6 seconds splitting the Cruzes, into the final couple of laps Muller had edged to within just 0.2 seconds and his team-mate Tom Chilton had also latched onto the back of the battle. Alex drove faultlessly, though, and took the flag 0.3 seconds clear of Muller. He also set the fastest Yokohama Independents Trophy lap and second best lap time of the race overall.
“It was really hard work”, said the Cumbrian reflecting on the opening encounter, “Norbert got a good lead so then I thought I’d settle for second, but I had to defend hard from Yvan – it wasn’t easy at all and he was really putting the pressure on. It’s great to be back on the main podium, that’s where we always want to be, and fantastic to get another Independents win.”
Round 20 wasn’t as fruitful for Alex unfortunately and although making a decent getaway from ninth overall on the ‘reverse’ grid, he was nudged back to 10th place through the first corner by last year’s champion Rob Huff.
Remaining there until lap 13, Alex moved back up into ninth – and fourth in the Independents Trophy – at the expense of Pepe Oriola but an opportunity to try and claim eighth went begging when he had to back out of a move on Charles Ng’s BMW due to yellow flags being waved at the second corner.
Staying there until three laps from the finish, as the grip from his tyres dropped away markedly a resulting excursion on the outside of Turn One at the start of lap 24 led to a trip through the gravel trap. Thankfully managing to recover, Alex was able to claim 13th overall and sixth in class.
There is now a lengthy six week break in the FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar with rounds 21 and 22 taking place on 2nd/3rd November at Shanghai International Circuit in China. Alex goes into the penultimate event of the season third in the Independents Trophy title battle with three class wins and a total of nine Independents podiums to his credit.
Provisional 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship Driver Standings (after Rd20)
11th Alex MacDowall, 108pts
Provisional 2013 FIA WTCC Yokohama Independents Trophy Driver Standings (after Rd20)
3rd Alex MacDowall, 118pts