Race preview: WTCC title battles too close to call as Japan prepares for a perfect 10
Nine years since the FIA World Touring Car Championship made its first visit to Japan, the thrilling wide-open race for the 2017 title continues on Japanese asphalt next week (27-29 October) when Twin Ring Motegi north of Tokyo hosts the action.
With 14 races run, Volvo Polestar’sThed Björkheads to enemy territory in front of factory Honda driversTiago MonteiroandNorbert Michelisz. But with a slender half-point advantage over Monteiro and a two-point gap on Michelisz, the Swede won’t be taking his foot off the throttle at the Japanese firm’s home track, where Michelisz and Monteiro won in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
After missing out in China on the advice of doctors following a testing accident in Spain last month, Monteiro’s participation at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan remains subject to medical clearance with an update from the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team expected next week.
It’s not just the Drivers’ title battle that remains finely balanced with three race weekends of the season remaining. There’s five points between leader Honda and Volvo Polestar in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers, while seven points blanket the top four in the WTCC Trophy for independent racers withTom ChiltonleadingRob Huff,Mehdi BennaniandEsteban Guerrieri, who claimed his second outright victory last time out in China.
New to the WTCC schedule for 2015, Twin Ring Motegi’s long straights and lengthy braking zones promote passing in abundance, as 2012 world champion Huff can testify. After making up three positions in the first race two years ago, Huff gained 10 places in the second counter to climb from P13 to the final step of the podium.
And Huff isn’t alone in pulling off multiple overtakes on the 4.801-kilometre layout. Monteiro made up eight places in race one in 2015 withTom Coroneland Stefano D’Aste also moving up the same number of positions in the second race. Coronel climbed five places in the Main Race in 2016, while José María López charged through from P10 to fourth in the Opening Race in his efforts to put his third world title beyond doubt.
JVCKENWOOD, a long-term Official Series Partner of the WTCC, has been named as the Event Presenting Partner of WTCC Race of Japan, which also serves as the home event for Yokohama, the WTCC’s official tyre supplier. Meanwhile, DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, is overseeing movement of cars and equipment from China to Japan.
*Néstor Girolamireturns to the scene of his debut for Volvo Polestar fired up by his maiden WTCC victory in China recently. However, with his success achieved behind the safety car, the Argentine will be gunning to win for real at Twin Ring Motegi.
*J SPORTS,thechannel for motorsport in Japan, will increase its season commitment to the WTCC by broadcasting qualifying and WTCC MAC3 live as well as the Opening Race and Main Race.
*Event Presenting Partner JVCKENWOOD has two significant milestones to celebrate. JVC turns 90 in 2017, while KENWOOD marked 70 years of operation last December. Meanwhile, Twin Ring Motegi opened for business in 1997, 20 years ago.
*WTCC Race of Japan marks the completion of a busy period of FIA events in the country. Starting with Rally Hokkaido, a round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in mid-September, the FIA Mobility Conference took place in Tokyo from 25-29 September. Suzuka hosted the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix from 6-8 October, which was followed one week later by the FIA World Endurance Championship-counting Fuji 6 Hours.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017
*Revamped and compact calendar (10 events only to reduce costs) features return to iconic venues Monza and Macau, a new track in China, plus a mid-July date for WTCC Race of Argentina.
*More points are on offer to the top 10 in the Main Race as follows: 1=30 points; 2=23; 3=19; 4=16; 5=13; 6=10; 7=7; 8=4; 9=2; 10=1).
*WTCC MAC3, the Tour de France-inspired time trial, continues with two more points for winning.
*FIA World Rallycross-style ‘joker’ lap got its world premiere at WTCC Race of Portugal in late June.
*Use of 360-degree camera to give viewer the impression they are in-car with the driver.
LATEST DRIVER NEWS
*Japan’s only full-time WTCC driver,Ryo Michigami, scored a career-best ninth in the Opening Race in China and then repeated the feat in the Main Race.
*John Filippi(sixth),Kevin Gleason(seventh),Dániel Nagy(eighth) and Main Race winner Néstor Girolami all celebrated personal-best finishes at the all-new Ningbo International Speedpark.
*Sweden’s Thed Björk leads the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Drivers for the first time, while Briton Tom Chilton moves from joint leader to outright pacesetter in the WTCC Trophy following the visit to China.
*Filipe De Souzacompletes his two-event WTCC bid in a third RC Motorsport entry and arrives in Japan on the back of scoring his first world championship point after 21 attempts.
*WTCC Race of Japan is something of a home event for Tom Coronel. The Dutchman lived in Japan for five years, winning the county’s Formula 3 and Formula Nippon titles. Indeed, he wrapped up the former at Twin Ring Motegi 20 years ago.
*Zsolt Dávid Szabócontinued his WTCC transition in China following his category debut at the previous event in Argentina. He partners Dániel Nagy at leading privateer outfit Zengő Motorsport.
*Yann Ehrlacherwas a WTCC podium visitor for the second time in China, the 21-year-old Frenchman trailing winner Esteban Guerrieri in the Opening Race, having led initially.
*Ehrlacher is the nephew of four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller, who claimed a record-extending and final career win number 48 at Twin Ring Motegi last season.
*While an Opening Race podium in China putNicky Catsburgback into title contention, two non-scores hit Mehdi Bennani’s hopes. The Sébastien Loeb Racing driver will look to hit back in Japan.
WTCC HONDAS WILL BE HEAVY AT HOME
Honda’s Civic WTCC will continue to carry the maximum 80 kilograms of compensation weight at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. Designed to equalise car performance in the WTCC, the FIA’s weight ruling uses a lap time-based calculation made following the last two events in Argentina and China. As in China, Honda’s rival for the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers, Polestar Cyan Racing, will benefit from its fleet of Volvo S60s running 10 kilograms lighter than the Civics. The four Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs racing in Japan will carry 40 kilograms, 10 less than in China, while the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s are 10 kilograms heavier. The LADA Vesta WTCCs will carry zero compensation weight. The full compensation weight listing follows:
Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 10kg (+10kg from previous race)
Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 40kg (-10kg)
Honda Civic WTCC: 80kg (no change)
LADA Vesta WTCC: 0kg (no change)
Volvo S60 Polestar: 70kg (no change)