Michelisz is WTCC rainmaster for Honda in Japan
Norbert Michelisz bagged a vital home win for Honda at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan today to remain firmly in contention for the FIA World Touring Car Championship crown.
With four races left and a maximum of 120 points up for grabs, the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team driver trails Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk by 16.5 points with Nicky Catsburg, Björk’s Volvo team-mate just 2.5 points behind Michelisz in third after two rain-hit races at Twin Ring Motegi.
Tom Chilton maintained his advantage at the top of the WTCC Trophy table – plus an outside shot at the overall crown – by winning the Opening Race outright for Sébastien Loeb’s team. Yann Ehrlacher and Esteban Guerrieri – Tiago Monteiro’s stand-in at Honda – completed the Opening Race podium, as Catsburg and Néstor Girolami joined Michelisz in the Main Race top three.
While the rain made for difficult driving conditions, it contributed to an action-packed Opening Race, which marked Kevin Gleason’s first reverse-grid pole. Although the American led away from the front, he couldn’t make it stick, sliding wide at the first turn and allowing Chilton into a lead he wouldn’t lose as Björk and Guerrieri engaged in a thrilling battle for third.
Catsburg and Girolami were penalised with drive-through penalties for contact with Ryo Michgiami and Michelisz respectively and finished down the order as a result. But having started at the back of the grid due to a pre-event engine change, Michigami’s capture of the final Opening Race point was the least he deserved.
And although the Main Race ended in retirement for the Japanese driver when he skated into a gravel trap following a brake issue, he was at least able to celebrate a career-high fifth in qualifying, as well as joining team-mates Guerrieri and Michelisz in giving Honda victory in WTCC MAC3 for the second time in 2017 earlier in the day.
Mehdi Bennani hit back from a frustrating WTCC Race of China weekend by winning the WTCC Trophy in the Main Race ahead of Ehrlacher and Gleason. The Moroccan had earlier claimed third in class in fifth overall in the Opening Race. Ex-WTCC champion Rob Huff, had to settle for a best result of eighth in the Opening Race after he was eliminated in the first phase of qualifying. John Filippi was ninth in the Opening Race while Tom Coronel, Filipe de Souza, Dániel Nagy and Zsolt Dávid Szabó finished both counters. Kris Richard, competing as his prize for winning the 2016 FIA European Touring Car Cup, impressed on his debut by scoring twice in the WTCC Trophy.
While the Opening Race ran to its scheduled 11 laps, worsening weather and track conditions meant part of the Main Race ran behind the Volvo V60 Polestar safety car with the race stopped after the leader had completed 10 laps, the amount required for full points to be awarded.
Race winner quotes
Tom Chilton(Opening Race winner):“The Opening Race was fantastic. We did a couple of tweaks to the car after qualifying and the circuit came to us perfectly. I was saying on the radio to the boys what a great job we’ve done with the chassis because I was so consistent, I can do the same tenth of a second every single lap because it’s so easy to drive and that's all credit to the team and the engineer. I really enjoyed driving the car. I kept thinking I should start lifting a bit but then I though I quite fancied a watch [for winning the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy]!”
Norbert Michelisz(Main Race winner):“It was quite tough. The intensity of the rain increased for the Main Race and there was some aquaplaning. But to be honest it was not that bad. Of course if you are sitting in a good car, maybe the best car for these conditions, you underrate the problems others are having. For me, of course, I’m happy because I scored the maximum points possible. I would have loved to have the race continue [without the safety car] because I was able to manage the gap to Nicky. There were some tricky places on the circuit but I was happy with the points. Of course you always want to see the chequered flag but it is how it is sometimes.”
WTCC Trophy Teams’ success for Sébastien Loeb Racing
Sébastien Loeb Racing, the team co-owned by the multiple World Rally champion and WTCC race winner, cannot be caught in the battle for the WTCC Teams’ Trophy title for the second successive season. Maximum points from Tom Chilton and Mehdi Bennani in Japan has put the title beyond doubt with four races remaining. OSCARO-backed John Filippi is also French team’s attack in 2017.