MacDowall lucky to escape frightening exit from Macau finale
Alex MacDowall was incredibly lucky to emerge unscathed from a horrifying, high-speed impact with the barriers at Circuito da Guia in Macau on Sunday, 18th November, after contact from outgoing FIA World Touring Car Champion Yvan Muller during the final round of the 2012 season.
Bringing a bitter conclusion to an otherwise highly promising Macau debut for Carlisle 21-year-old Alex, the heavy collision at Mandarin Bend – the fastest corner on the 3.8-mile street circuit – also resulted in him missing out on a top three finish in the Yokohama Independents Trophy title race.
“Everything was going really well in race two, we definitely had the chance of an overall podium as well as an Independents one”, explained Alex, “[Yvan] Muller just completely misjudged it, I had to be careful not to hit Pepe [Oriola] in front of me as he defended but Muller just carried on flat-out behind, closed-in too quickly and just turned me round – it was definitely his fault.
“I was feeling pretty hot-headed afterwards but OK thankfully, it was a big hit with the barrier. It’s really disappointing, I’d had the lead just before and we were still on for a podium. It’s the hardest street circuit in the world and the kind of place where knowledge is everything, so to go there for the first time and be so fast was great. I definitely exceeded my expectations despite the collision.”
Alex had begun round 24 on the outright ‘reverse grid’ pole position, as well as the Independents Trophy pole, and although losing out to the expectedly fast-starting rear-wheel drive BMW of class points leader Norbert Michelisz off the line, the Briton hit back on lap two with a fantastic pass along the pit-straight to regain the lead.
Driving sensationally, the Macau rookie held an advantage of 0.9 seconds going into lap three, now over the works Chevrolet of Alain Menu, but the slightest brush of the barriers at the previous corner cost him significant momentum up the straight – enabling the Swiss driver to slingshot past into San Francisco.
The delay ended up costing the Bamboo Engineering driver another couple of positions as well, so dropped him to fourth overall and third in the Independents Trophy, but he quickly re-challenged third placed Pepe Oriola ahead.
On the run through the 235km/h Mandarin Bend though on lap four, as Alex was sensibly careful not to make contact with the defensive Oriola as the train of cars ran nose-to-tail, the pursuing works Chevrolet of Muller carried full speed through the turn and tagged the right-rear of Alex’s car which dramatically speared his Cruze head-on into the unforgiving barriers on the inside.
Sending his car into a series of worrying spins, with the front-end of the Chevrolet destroyed, the WTCC rookie was thankfully avoided by the oncoming train of cars streaming through the turn and he was eventually able to extricate himself safely.
“After I got the lead I was pulling away comfortably, as soon as I saw [Alain] Menu in my mirrors though I knew I needed to push harder”, said Alex, “Unfortunately, I just caught the barrier at the last corner after checking the mirrors again and that cost me momentum all the way up the straight. When Menu went by, I lost momentum again and that’s how the others got past.”
During the earlier 23rd round, Alex finished fourth in the Independents Trophy and ninth overall in a race which was compromised for all bar the top six due to a first lap tangle at Lisboa which led to the track being blocked.
As cars dueling for seventh collided, Alex was in the pursuing group and was badly delayed. When the track was cleared and the queue of stationary cars was released, the Briton posted consistently strong lap times and managed to climb into ninth and fourth in class – having started 10th overall.
After the final weekend of the season, Alex retains 11th position in the main WTCC driver standings, an impressive result in his maiden season in the World Championship, tied on points with 10th placed Mehdi Bennani. In the Yokohama Independents Trophy he rounded-out the year fifth in the table, just 17 points shy of the top three, during a season in which he claimed two wins and eight podiums.
Final 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship Driver Standings:
CHAMPION: Robert Huff, 413pts; 11th Alex MacDowall, 68pts
Final 2012 FIA WTCC ‘Yokohama Independents Trophy’ Driver Standings:
CHAMPION: Norbert Michelisz, 139pts; 5th Alex MacDowall, 105pts