Yvan Muller, Rob Huff and Alain Menu - Photo Credit: WTCC Media

Muller has led all season but Huff and Menu haven't let him get away - Photo Credit: WTCC Media

The European leg of the 2012 World Touring Car Championship season has been completed, with five long-haul weekends remaining. And the title race is still wide open between the three Chevrolet drivers, with just 35 points separating Yvan Muller, Rob Huff and Alain Menu.

As the sole proper factory-backed effort on the grid, the trio of RML-run Chevrolet Cruzes have again been the cars to beat in 2012. But they haven't had everything their way.

In 2011 the Chevrolet topped qualifying at all 12 race weekends, but seven meetings into the current campaign and they have been denied pole position on three occasions. Twice, at the season opener at Monza and the most recent round in Portimao, this was down to Gabriele Tarquini.

The Italian has benefited from a new factory-developed engine in his ageing SEAT Leon, while his Lukoil Racing Team is now run mostly by engineers from the Spanish manufacturer. On both occasions he started at the front he was beaten to the checkered flag by Chevrolet, and a lack of reliability and consistency has prevented him from mounting a title challenge.

To continue the comparisons with last season, Chevrolet had only dropped one win at this stage last year, but have been beaten on three occasions in 2012. In the standings, Chevrolet's reduced dominance has meant that their leading two drivers Muller and Huff have failed to match their totals from this point last year.

WTCC Drivers' Championship after seven rounds

2011

 

2012

Pos

Driver

Points

Pos

Driver

Points

1 Rob Huff 263 1 Yvan Muller 245
2 Yvan Muller 248 2 Rob Huff 227
3 Alain Menu 192 3 Alain Menu 210

Muller comes close, but he has benefited greatly from the new points system that rewards a top five qualifying result. Excluding qualifying results, he would have 221 points this year against 248 at this point last year. Although Chevrolet have not done as well, Menu has had a better season. While in 2011 he had 71 fewer points than Huff and 56 fewer than Muller, this year he is only 35 away from Muller and 17 away from Huff.

This means that while last year it was fairly clear that it would only be a two horse race, this year Menu is well in the mix. However, it remains to be seen whether Menu can outscore Muller in the remaining rounds by 35 points.

Muller had looked dominant early on, claiming double victory in Italy and adding further wins in Valencia and Marrakech. Huff meanwhile had to wait until race two at the fourth meeting in Slovakia before claiming the top step of the podium. Muller had a 27 point lead at that point, but the sixth round of the season at the Salzburgring would see that reduced by Huff to just eight.

Chevrolet had dominated the timesheets all weekend, with Huff, Muller and Menu finishing 1-2-3 in the first race. Muller and Huff had worked their way into first and second in race two when Muller suffered a puncture just a few corners from the end of the race. Huff also had his tyre let go, but dragged his car across the line in second place when Muller could only manage eighth. The weekend's results meant that Huff had brought a 30 point deficit to Muller before the weekend down to just eight.

Victory in the first of the two races in Portugal last weekend while Huff could only manage third meant that Muller extended his advantage again to 18 points, but the Austrian weekend only proved how quickly things can swing one way or the other and that Muller is anything but home and dry.

Huff should know – he saw his healthy mid-season 2011 advantage over Muller destroyed in the second half of the year.

Chevrolet 2012 graph

Muller took an early lead but Huff and Menu have remained close.