Seventeen podiums delivered Rob Huff a deserved maiden World Touring Car title, but only after marshals had swept up the last fragments of debris from a destructive Macau finale did the British racer appreciate the knife-edge his championship had teetered on.
Following Huff's opening-race crash on the streets of the Chinese enclave, mechanics usually allotted to his RML Chevrolet team-mates (and title rivals) Alain Menu and Yvan Muller had leapt into action to assist his regular support personnel in frantic repairs.
The mass team effort was successful in allowing the championship leader out for race two, and keeping Huff's wobbling title aspirations on track. But, alarmingly, a broken wheel bearing was overlooked during the necessarily hasty repairs.
"I have to thank the team so, so much for their incredible efforts, as there was only 15 minutes between the races," says Huff.
"However, that broken wheel bearing meant the toe and camber were constantly changing with every revolution. The even greater concern was that the wheel could have seized up and locked solid at any moment..."
Crews from the other side of the garage helped fix Huff's car between Macau races
Ignoring his apprehensions, Huff stormed from 10th on the reversed grid to second - comfortably exceeding the fifth place required to claim the title.
It was just one incident in an absorbing World Touring Car Championship, in which the stakes for the factory Chevrolet drivers was raised by the shock announcement in July that the manufacturer's WTCC programme would cease at the end of the season.
How it was won
Well, in an RML-run factory Chevrolet - that prerequisite was probably clear to any Monza resident who had broken off from walking the dog or playing with their bambini at the city's royal park in April to watch the disorderly on-track action in round one.
Huff claimed to have been slightly "rusty" after limited winter testing, but even so, it was decidedly unfortunate that over the course of the Italian opener he should make contact with both Chevrolet team-mates.
A 50/50 clash of doors had fired Menu into the gravel trap at the first Lesmo in race one, and was a prelude to modest contact with Muller as the three Chevys tore through the pack in close formation during the reversed-grid second race.
The light bump had spectacular consequences, as the defending champion was sent into a long, looping, spin across Turn 1's grass run-off area.
Although Muller conjured the unlikeliest of recoveries to lead home a team 1-2-3, Chevrolet Motorsport boss Eric Neve had understandable misgivings regarding his drivers' conduct.
Amazingly, Muller still won this race, despite being turned around by his team-mate...
"We didn't put in place any new rules after Monza, but we needed to remind the drivers of our existing expectations," said Neve at the next round at Valencia, where the rules of engagement were elucidated.
The message appeared to hit home. Subsequent races featured almost subdued intra-team action between the Chevrolet men, who frequently appeared consigned to running line astern.
The spectacle reached a low point in Marrakech, as the Chevrolet drivers crushed the opposition, seemingly passing cars at will. Great for Chevy's manufacturers' points account, dispiriting to some onlookers.
Next time out in Slovakia, Chevrolet's superiority appeared to have vanished, and Lukoil SEAT driver Gabriele Tarquini achieved the only race-one win of the year in a car other than a factory Cruze.
At the Algarve circuit, the Italian expressed provocative views over what he interpreted as the fluctuating relative performance of his Leon to the Chevrolets, but suggestions of manipulation were uncompromisingly rebuked by the RML men in the most spirited press conference of the season.
Unshaven, pepper-grey Alsace ace Muller had started the season as the in-form Chevrolet racer. But despite an initial qualifying superiority, it was tough for the Frenchman to stage a break in the points fight.
Muller regularly expressed his belief that the reversed-grid race should not offer equal points.
...but copped a penalty for spinning Engstler out of the lead at Sonoma
The emerging deadlock at the top of the drivers' classification was disrupted by freakish events on the series' maiden visit to the super-fast Salzburgring, when the leading front-wheel-drive cars became alarmingly susceptible to front-left punctures.
Huff came out of the tyre lottery on top to move into the championship lead, and for the remainder of the season the Briton stuck to a game-plan of consistent, error-free motoring.
In contrast, Muller's season was blighted by what he called "brain fail". The three-time WTCC champion received a drive-through penalty for knocking Norbert Michelisz into a spin in Slovakia.
A similar moment resulted in an identical penalty at Sonoma, when leader Franz Engstler was tapped into a pirouette. Unfathomably, the hat-trick was completed by another lapse at Shanghai.
Muller had entered the penultimate round of the series leading the drivers' standings, only to be clouted into retirement by Michelisz in a congested opening race.
Agitated at the loss of his points advantage, which was unlikely to be clawed back, Muller made another unforced error in clouting Menu out of the lead in race two.
Huff, running third, stole through to take victory and set up his Macau coronation.
A new race engineer in ex-WSR man Albert Lau helped revitalise Menu's form and offer stiffer competition to Muller and Huff.
Tarquini took a well-earned victory at the Slovakia Ring
Numerous incidents blunted the Swiss driver's championship challenge, including a power-steering failure when leading at Sonoma, and a broken wheel rim after contact passing a clumsy BMW in Slovakia.
However, the Chevrolet drivers' most feared opponent was 50-year-old Tarquini. The 2009 WTCC champion was a particularly effective performer in qualifying with the new ORECA engine in his Leon.
Something to remember
Tyre chaos at the Salzburgring produced an insane last lap. Leader Muller punctured three corners from home, promoting Huff into a tenuous lead as a pair of chasing BMWs scented an opportunity.
Huff's lead lasted just two corners, when his front-left Yokohama cruelly burst approaching the final chicane.
Veteran Stefano d'Aste in third seized his chance, boxed in Tom Coronel and stole an incredible maiden series victory.
Something to forget
The arrival of Arena Motorsport from the BTCC was a coup for the series, but the British squad endured a tough development year for its new WTCC-spec Ford Focus.
The season was not without promise. Both drivers had the potential to achieve strong results in Marrakech, where James Nash briefly led before recording a top-six finish.
Long-haul races in the second half of the year restricted progress, required after an early disagreement with the FIA over rules interpretation.
Arena team-mates Chilton and Nash had a tough debut year in the WTCC
Despite the understandable trials, the team should be applauded for its efforts and is geared up to make strides in 2013.
The anaemic look of the series in the wake of Chevrolet's exit was brief. Almost seamlessly, Honda and Lada made part-season forays into the championship ahead of full assaults next year.
Both developments were rivalled by news at the Mondial de l'Automobile in Paris that Citroen was seriously evaluating a WTCC entry in 2014, an announcement subsequently bolstered by WRC legend Sebastien Loeb's repeated enthusiasm for the project.
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