Eighth round of the WTCR season to be held on the
2.243-kilometre “East Course” in Suzuka
Iconic Japanese racetrack is one of the most demanding circuits in the world
Rob Huff (GB) won one race with the Golf GTI TCR last year
An old acquaintance in the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR), and yet a totally new challenge: the iconic racetrack in Suzuka (Japan), venue for round eight of the season from 25 to 27 October. The WTCR races will be held on the shorter “East Course” for the first time.
Despite this, Volkswagen customer team Sébastien Loeb Racing (SLR) and its four drivers at the wheel of the Golf GTI TCR – Rob Huff (GB), Mehdi Bennani (MA), Johan Kristoffersson (S) und Benjamin Leuchter (D) – are well-prepared for their trip into the unknown.
Not only can Huff draw confidence from his victory on the Grand Prix circuit last year, but the Englishman has also raced on the “East Course” in the predecessor series, the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). Bennani is also familiar with Suzuka’s shorter variant from earlier races.
In contrast, Kristoffersson and Leuchter are entering new territory – but, like their team-mates, not without first having prepared meticulously in the simulator.
“We have fond memories of Suzuka. Rob Huff showed that the Golf GTI TCR is competitive with his victory in 2018,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets. “This year, we are racing on a different layout, but I am confident that, together with Sébastien Loeb Racing, we are once again ideally prepared to back up that success.”
Suzuka: a tricky circuit with world fame
For decades, the racetrack in Suzuka has been one of the most demanding circuits in the world. This year, unlike in 2018, the shorter 2.243-kilometre “East Course” will be used for the three WTCR races, which constitute the “Race of Japan 2019”. It includes the tricky “S Curves” behind the paddock, which demand a perfect rhythm from the drivers in order to be fast. SLR driver Huff knows the shorter layout from his time in the World Touring Car Championship. “The circuit is a very intense experience for drivers and fans alike,” says last year’s winner. “We have absolutely no time to catch our breath. The fans in the grandstands can see almost the entire track.”
Preparations in the Volkswagen Motorsport simulator
Like Huff, Mehdi Bennani is also familiar with the “East Course” from earlier races. Benjamin Leuchter and Johan Kristoffersson, on the other hand, are newcomers to Suzuka. This makes the meticulous preparation ahead of the trip to Japan all the more important for them. In the run-up to the race weekend, Leuchter spent two days with Volkswagen Motorsport engineers in the simulator in Hannover. Leuchter completed dozens of virtual laps in a replica of the cockpit, in front of huge screens with detailed, computer-generated representations of the racetrack. “The simulation gives you a feel for the rhythm of the racetrack. If I only start to get that feel in practice, then it is already too late,” says Leuchter. In the WTCR, drivers only have two practice sessions, with a total duration of 75 minutes, ahead of the first qualifying session. “Without the simulator, I would probably have no chance of matching the pace of experienced colleagues from the word go on a track that is new to me,” says Leuchter.
Chassis set-up with data acquired from the simulation
The Volkswagen drivers have also been hard at work in the simulator testing a basic chassis set-up for the Golf GTI TCR. “We may only have a limited amount of data on the shorter East Course, but the simulation is so effective that the engineers can calculate the missing figures,” reveals Leuchter, who claimed his first WTCR victory at his home event on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife.