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Menu heads Muller and Huff as Chevrolet dominates WTCC first practice in Austria

Alain Menu, Chevrolet, Salzburgring 2012Alain Menu led the opening practice times on the World Touring Car Championship's maiden visit to the 4.2km Salzburgring.

Seeking his third WTCC victory of the season, Menu's fastest lap of 1m27.008s edged out championship leader and Chevrolet team-mate Yvan Muller by just 0.077s.

Menu appeared to have a slight edge throughout, setting an early marker before Muller moved into top spot shortly after one-third distance. Menu returned to P1 just after the half way point, shading the Frenchman's time by 0.003s and gradually extending his advantage on later runs.

Muller was one of several drivers who fell foul of the right-left chicane at the Austrian venue's Turn 1. The triple-world champion was twice forced to take to the escape road and rejoin at Turn 3, while Hungaroring reversed-grid victor Norbert Michelisz (Zengo BMW) also spun at the chicane.

The third factory Cruze of Rob Huff finished almost half a second in arrears in third. The Briton was denied a final opportunity to improve his position when Alex MacDowall's privately-entered bamboo-engineering Chevrolet brought out the red flags with two minutes of track time scheduled to run.

Demonstrating the strength of the Cruze at the noted power circuit, WTCC rookie MacDowall had impressed by holding fourth for much of the session.

Dutchman Tom Coronel would eventually demote MacDowall, but the BMW racer's final deficit to Menu of 0.812s suggests the ROAL Motorsport crew have work to do in the final practice session ahead of qualifying.

The leading SEAT runner of Slovakia Ring front row qualifier Aleksei Dudukalo finished over a second behind Menu in sixth. Dudukalo's Lukoil team-mate Gabriele Tarquini, the only non-Chevrolet driver to win a feature race this season, took an unaccustomed 20th.

Franz Engstler suffered unfulfilled potential at the preceding meeting at the Hungaroring, but the Team Engstler man claimed an encouraging seventh ahead of improving single-seater convert Pasquale Di Sabatino in the second bamboo entry.

MacDowall's incident occurred when he took to the gravel at Turn 5 while avoiding a collision with the rear of team-mate Di Sabatino. The session had earlier been red-flagged when Independents' Trophy front runner Stefano D'Aste's Wiechers-Sport BMW went off at the entrance to Turn 10.

Pos  Driver                Team/Car               Time        Gap
 1.  Alain Menu            Chevrolet              1m27.008s
 2.  Yvan Muller           Chevrolet              1m27.085s   + 0.077s
 3.  Robert Huff           Chevrolet              1m27.492s   + 0.484s
 4.  Tom Coronel           ROAL BMW               1m27.820s   + 0.812s
 5.  Alex MacDowall        bamboo Chevrolet       1m27.989s   + 0.981s
 6.  Aleksei Dudukalo      Lukoil SEAT            1m28.164s   + 1.156s
 7.  Franz Engstler        Engstler BMW           1m28.245s   + 1.237s
 8.  Pasquale di Sabatino  bamboo Chevrolet       1m28.338s   + 1.330s
 9.  James Nash            Arena Ford             1m28.408s   + 1.400s
10.  Pepe Oriola           Tuenti SEAT            1m28.469s   + 1.461s
11.  Stefano D'Aste        Wiechers BMW           1m28.488s   + 1.480s
12.  Norbert Michelisz     Zengo BMW              1m28.549s   + 1.541s
13.  Tiago Monteiro        Tuenti SEAT            1m28.710s   + 1.702s
14.  Alberto Cerqui        ROAL BMW               1m28.746s   + 1.738s
15.  Mehdi Bennani         Proteam BMW            1m28.763s   + 1.755s
16.  Darryl O'Young        Special Tuning SEAT    1m28.928s   + 1.920s
17.  Charles Ng            Engstler BMW           1m29.171s   + 2.163s
18.  Tom Chilton           Arena Ford             1m29.252s   + 2.244s
19.  Gabor Weber           Zengo BMW              1m29.313s   + 2.305s
20.  Gabriele Tarquini     Lukoil SEAT            1m29.464s   + 2.456s
21.  Tom Boardman          Special Tuning SEAT    1m29.773s   + 2.765s

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