Drivers target multiple overtakes at ‘great racing’ venue
Home hero Michigami joins expanded factory Honda line-up
Champion elect López watch out! Former nemesis Girolami is back
Points won’t be the only incentive on offer when the all-action FIA World Touring Car Championship season powers back on track at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan next week (2-4 September). With overtaking opportunities aplenty at Twin Ring Motegi, the unofficial title of WTCC ‘pass-master’ will be up for grabs at the exciting venue north of capital city Tokyo.
New to the WTCC schedule in 2015, the 4.801-kilometre layout’s tight turns and long straights promote passing in abundance, as 2012 world champion Rob Huffcan testify. “It’s not just a fantastic circuit but the best track we go to throughout the year for the racing,” said the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team driver. “It’s a real racing track with lots of overtaking.”
After making up three positions in the first race at Twin Ring Motegi last season, Huff gained 10 places in the second race to climb from P13 to the final step of the podium in dramatic fashion. And Huff wasn’t alone in pulling off multiple overtakes. Works Honda star Tiago Monteiro made up eight places in race one with Tom Coronel and Stefano D’Aste also moving up the same number of positions in the second race. Tom Chilton and John Filippi were also on the rise in race two, overtaking six and five times respectively.
José María López, vying for a third consecutive World Touring Car title with Citroën Total WTCC, also knows a thing or two about overtaking having charged through from P18 to fifth in the Opening Race in his native Argentina last time out. If he leaves Twin Ring Motegi, where he was a race winner in 2015, with a 110-point advantage, then he’ll be provisional champion for 2016.
Four-time champion Yvan Muller, who completes the works Citroën line-up, was also in passing mode in Argentina, starting seventh and finishing third in the Opening Race. Having yet to register a win in 2016, the Frenchman will by vying to pull off as many overtaking moves as possible, although landing the DHL pole position – claimed in spectacular fashion last year by Honda privateer turned official driver Norbert Michelisz – will make his task a lot more straightforward.
HONDA EXPANDS FACTORY WTCC EFFORT TO FOUR CARS
Honda will increase its factory attack on the FIA World Touring Car Championship to four cars with Japanese driver Ryo Michigami joining its line-up for WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. Michigami has been part of the Honda Racing family since 1998, while his career highlights include 11 wins, 51 podiums and 11 pole positions in major categories such as the Japanese Touring Car Championship, Super Formula and Super GT.
The WTCC races at Twin Ring Motegi will mark Michigami’s debut in the series and will make him the first driver from his homeland to race a TC1 World Touring Car. He will join Rob Huff, Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro in driving a factory Honda Civic WTCC following a test in one of the Honda Racing Team JAS-run cars at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona in July.
Fittingly, Twin Ring Motegi is owned by Honda and houses the famous Honda Collection Hall, which contains a number of classic race- and road-going Honda cars and motorbikes.
DETERMINED GIROLAMI EARNS FACTORY WTCC CHANCE IN JAPAN
Néstor Girolami’s pace and perseverance have been rewarded with a drive in a factory Volvo S60 Polestar TC1 at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. The back-to-back Súper TC2000 champion from Argentina will replace Robert Dahlgren in representing the Swedish make alongside Thed Björk.
His inclusion in the Polestar Cyan Racing line-up comes after he impressed team chiefs during a specially arranged test at Circuito Termas de Río Hondo recently, and in light of his determination to compete in the fastest pan-continental touring car series. While the agreement is currently for Japan only, the 27-year-old will be eager to impresses sufficiently and secure a long-term WTCC future.
Girolami, who narrowly lost the 2013 Súper TC2000 title to double World Touring Car champion José María López, made two appearances in last year’s WTCC, scoring a point on his debut in Slovakia and finishing eighth in Vila Real.
WILL THERE BE HOME GOLD IN WTCC MAC3?
Honda will be gunning for its fifth outright win and sixth in total when the spectacular Manufacturers Against the Clock team trial takes place on Saturday 3 September. New for 2016 and timed by TAG Heuer, the Tour de France-inspired competition will put squads from Citroën, Honda and LADA against the clock over two timed laps of Twin Ring Motegi.
The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third Volvo from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new Yokohama tyres. Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps.
Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia earlier in the season when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory. And the competition in WTCC MAC3 has been close – even too close to call.
After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals.
ALL-SQUARE AS HONDA GETS WEIGHT HIT FOR HOME WTCC RACE
Citroën and Honda will be level-pegging when it comes to the amount of compensation weight they will carry at FIA WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. The cars of both makes will carry the maximum permitted 80 kilograms under regulations designed to equalise performance in the World Touring Car Championship through a lap time difference in seconds calculation based on average lap times from the previous three race weekends.
Although the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs have run heavy all season, this is the first time the Honda Civic WTCCs have carried the full 80 kilograms of success ballast. Meanwhile, the three LADA Vestas in action at Twin Ring Motegi will continue to carry 50 kilograms of additional weight, while the Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s remain at the 1100-kilogram minimum base weight. However, the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s will run with 10 kilograms of compensation weight having been at zero in Argentina where Tom Coronel and Esteban Guerrieri were on rapid form.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2016
Hello Opening Race and Main Race!: Gone are Race 1 and Race 2 for 2016, in their place come Opening Race and Main Race with the reverse-grid now used for the first clash of the weekend and the grid for the second event based on the results of Qualifying. WTCC Premium TV: Bringing the WTCC’s video content to fans through mobile apps (iOS and Android) and online, WTCC TV Premium TV is a high-quality, interactive subscription service. Included in the package is the world feed plus a choice of 10 on-board cameras, no geo-blocking, video on demand, plus stats and facts. New partnerships: TAG Heuer and OSCARO are welcomed as Official Series Partners. JVCKENWOOD’s renewed commitment will bring team radio to TV,Polestar will provide the Official Safety Car, the Volvo V60 Polestar, while a new alliance with the Goodwood Festival of Speed brought WTCC ‘art cars’ to the annual motorsport extravaganza in late June. DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, will present the DHL Pole Position Award at every event and was responsible for transporting all cars and equipment to Japan from the previous round in Argentina. The new TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy goes to the driver setting the weekend’s fastest race lap of all.
WHO’S ON TRACK IN 2016
Citroën: World champion José María López and Yvan Muller drive the factory C-Elysée WTCCs. Privateer squad Sébastien Loeb Racing expands to three cars withTom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier joining Mehdi Bennani. Honda:Independent champion Norbert Michelisz gets his big factory break, while Rob Huff joins from LADA. Tiago Monteiro stays put, accomplished Japanese racer Ryo Michigami makes his WTCC debut at his home event, but there’s no drive forGabriele Tarquini… LADA: Gabriele Tarquini continues in the WTCC at LADA after leaving Honda. Hugo Valente is handed a dream works ride after impressing as a privateer in 2015. Nicky Catsburg gets a full season. Polestar: Volvo’s performance brand begins its long-term WTCC campaign with two S60 Polestar TC1s for multiple Scandinavian Touring Car champion Thed Björk and back-to-back Súper TC2000 title winner from Argentina, Néstor Girolami, who makes his WTCC return in Japan.WTCC Trophy: Bennani, Chilton and Demoustier aside, Tom Coronel is back for WTCC season 12 in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet. Campos Racing’s John Filippiturned 21 in February and gets Yvan Muller as a driver coach. John Bryant-Meisner crosses over from single-seater racing with Nika International, whileJames Thompson deputises for René Münnich at ALL.INK.COM Münnich Motorsport with the team founder busy at a clashing World Rallycross event. Zengo Motorsport enters two Hondas for Hungarian youngsters Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy.
A seventh win of the season for José María López in Argentina in early August has put the Citroën ace on the brink of a third consecutive FIA World Touring Car Championship title and a repeat of his Twin Ring Motegi triumph of 12 months ago will help his cause no end. Norbert Michelisz was the fastest man at the track in 2015 and was rapid in Argentina, leading the Main Race under intense pressure from López before contact dropped him back.
Honda team-mate Rob Huff was the pass-master at Twin Ring Motegi last season and heads to Japan on the back of a podium brace in Argentina. Tiago Monteiro was a winner in Japan a year ago and is making the most of an even faster works Honda in 2016. Argentina was a form-low for LADA but its Vesta was strong at Twin Ring Motegi previously.
FACTS AND STATS
Race wins 2016: López 7; Coronel/Monteiro 2; Bennani/Catsburg/Chilton/Huff/Tarquini 1
Pole positions 2016: López 4; Catsburg/Monteiro/Muller 1
Fastest laps 2016: López 6; Huff 3; Bennani/Catsburg/Chilton/Ficza/Muller/Tarquini/Valente 1
Laps led 2016: López 51; Huff 38; Coronel 28; Catsburg 24; Bennani 22; Monteiro 19; Chilton 13; Tarquini 11; Michelisz/Valente 6; Muller 4
All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 47; Huff 28; López 28; Menu 23; Tarquini 21
All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29; López 19; Tarquini 17; Menu 15; Farfus/Huff 11
All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38; Huff/López 27; Tarquini 23; Menu 20
All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 569; Huff 344; Menu 297; Tarquini 285; López 274
WTCC RACE OF JAPAN WINNERS
2015: Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic)
2014: R1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); R2: Gabriele Tarquini (Honda Civic)
2013: R1: Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic); R2: Tom Coronel (BMW 320)
2012: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Stefano D’Aste (BMW 320)
2011: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Tom Coronel (BMW 320)
2010: R1: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Colin Turkington (BMW 320)
2009: R1: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320); R2: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320)
2008: R1: Rickard Rydell (SEAT León); R2: Tom Coronel (SEAT León)
WTCC RACE OF JAPAN VENUES
2015-Present: Twin Ring Motegi
DID YOU KNOW?
The final gold medal might only have recently been won at the Rio Olympics, but Tokyo is already gearing up to host the summer games in 2020 with the Japanese capital taking centre stage for the first time since 1964 when Japan will be hoping to build on the 41 medals it won in Brazil. Japan also hosted the 1972 and 1998 Winter Olympics in Sapporo and Nagano respectively.
THE BIG NUMBER: 2
Twin Ring Motegi, commissioned by Honda to bring IndyCar racing to Japan, features two track layouts: a 2.49-kilometre oval and the 4.8-kilometre road course the WTCC aces will race on.
THREE WTCC FIRSTS
1: Having achieved significant cross-category success, Ryo Michigami gets his first shot at the WTCC, driving a factory Honda Civic at his home event.
2: Néstor Girolami will make his debut for the works Polestar Cyan Racing operation, becoming the first non-Swede to drive a Volvo S60 Polestar TC1.
3: Thed Björk, Ferenc Ficza, Dániel Nagy and James Thompson are set for their first appearances at Twin Ring Motegi.
HOW THEY STAND (after Round 16)*
Drivers: 1 López 284; 2 Monteiro 167; 3 Muller 160; 4 Huff 158; 5 Bennani 144; 6 Michelisz 143; etc. Manufacturers: 1 Citroën 702; 2 Honda 506; 3 LADA 406; 4 Volvo-Polestar 194. WTCC Trophy: 1 Bennani 140; 2 Chilton 117; 3 Coronel 92; 4 Filippi 64; 5 Demoustier 57; 6 Thompson 56; etc. WTCC Teams’ Trophy: 1 Sébastien Loeb Racing 246**; 2 ROAL Motorsport 89; 3 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 80; 4 Campos Racing 76; 5 Zengo Motorsport 35. *Full standings athttp://media.fiawtcc.com/statistics; **Provisional champion
THEY SAID WHAT?
Néstor Girolami (Polestar Cyan Racing): “It’s wonderful to be part of the WTCC again and I am very grateful to Polestar Cyan Racing for this opportunity to race in Japan when I will give all my best to have a great weekend. I shared the Argentina race weekend with the team and I learned a lot about the car before the test. I felt very comfortable during the test, the team worked hard to improve the performance and develop the car, which has great potential. The test was very, very good for me and a good opportunity to show what I can do. I did 30 laps and the conclusions were very good. My goal for Japan is to take this one step further and, above all, demonstrate that I have the speed, engineering skills and race craft to become a part of the team in the future.”
Ryo Michigami (Honda Racing Team JAS): “I had a chance to test the Civic WTCC at Barcelona and was hoping for an opportunity to race it, so I’m very excited that I’ll be able to do this so soon. I was involved in the development of the Civic Type R, which was released last year, and had been watching the Civic WTCC closely as well. I will be racing with my heart and soul at Motegi and putting all my experience to best use. Honda and JAS Motorsport have given me a wonderful opportunity; the car felt consistently fast in Spain and I’ll definitely be well-prepared for the races in Japan.”
Yvan Muller (Citroën Total WTCC): “The fight for the second place of the championship could be interesting, but I don’t really care about it, I’m only interested with first position! My target will be to bring a lot of points to Citroën for the Manufacturers’ championship. I feel that our potential is growing since the last two or three meetings, but I need three perfect sectors in qualifying to catch pole. Motegi is not a very fast track, there are a lot of corners but there are real overtaking opportunities. The search for traction is quite important and the track is hard for tyres. We can expect rain so it won’t be easy but it’s always good to go to Japan because fans are very passionate. This year I will arrive a few days earlier to take some time for visiting with my family.”
Hugo Valente (LADA Sport Rosneft): “I love Japan and I was happy to get on the podium last year because the previous year I was second but I lost the position two laps from the end. Funnily enough Japan last year was my worst weekend in terms of performance but I was making my best result because we were more consistent. Argentina was a frustrating weekend for me with two DNFs. Being the quickest LADA in qualifying was only a very small consolation so I am hoping for a better weekend in Japan when I am confident our pace will improve compared to what we saw in Argentina.”
Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport, WTCC Trophy): “I lived in Japan for five years so it’s a kind of coming back home for me. I was the Formula 3 champion, winning my title at Twin Ring Motegi, the Formula Nippon champion and in GT I won two times the All-Star race and was the only Honda driver who won in 2003 at Motegi. It’s the best circuit we have for overtaking and I know we will put on a good show. I said before Morocco, Portugal and Japan would be good for me this year and so far I have come away happy from Morocco and Portugal. I always feel power from coming to Japan and it’s easy when you have the same passion from the fans.”
Name: Twin Ring Motegi
Location: 120-1 Hiyama, Motegi-machi, Haga-gun, Tochigi Pref. 321-3597, Japan
Website: www.twinring.jp Length: 4.801 kilometres
Lap record (qualifying): Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic) 1m55.596s (149.5kph), 12/09/15
Lap record (race): Gabriele Tarquini (Honda Civic) 1m57.136s (147.6kph), 13/09/15
WTCC appearances: One (WTCC Race of Japan has taken place on eight occasions)
Time zone: GMT +9 hours Sunrise/sunset: 05h15/18h02 (Sunday 4 September)
Average temperature: 20°C-26°C (August)
The venue: Twin Ring Motegi, in the Tochigi Prefecture 145 kilometres north of the capital Tokyo, stages WTCC Race of Japan for the second time following four successful seasons at Suzuka and three at Okayama before then. Motegi also hosts the country’s MotoGP round in October and the track layout, with its long straights and heavy braking points, helped to deliver an abundance of overtaking when the WTCC visited for the first time in September 2015. As well is its oval and traditional road course, Twin Ring Motegi houses a hotel, kart track, safer driving centre plus the impressive Honda Collection Hall.
The timetable: ?Following Friday evening’s shakedown session, Saturday features two 30-minute Free Practice sessions, Qualifying and WTCC MAC3. Sunday’s Opening Race is due to begin at 14h35 over a distance of 13 laps with the Main Race following at 15h50 over 14 laps.
A LAP OF THE TRACK WITH ROB HUFF
Rob Huff delivered an overtaking masterclass when Twin Ring Motegi hosted the FIA World Touring Car Championship for the first time last season. This is the factory Honda driver’s guide to getting the 4.801-kilometre lap just right. “We go across the line in fourth gear, up to fifth before Turn 1, which along with Turn 2, is treated as one corner effectively. You tend to barrel quite fast into Turn 1, trying to carry the speed through to get as late as possible on the power out of Turn 2 because if you get on the power too early you tend to get understeer and you have to lift on the exit. The run between Turn 2 and Turn 3 is really quite important so you’re taking plenty of speed into Turn 1 to really focus on the exit of Turn 2. Into Turn 3 is quite a good overtaking opportunity, especially if you put the pressure onto somebody in Turn 1 and Turn 2. You’re really slowing the car down a lot in to Turn 3, down to second gear. Turn 3 is really setting up Turn 4 and the run down to Turn 5. We saw quite a lot of overtaking last year into Turn 3 but also on the exit of Turn 4 and up to Turn 5, one of the slowest corners on the circuit and one of the hardest corners because it’s very flat and very slippery, down to second gear with a lot of understeer. A lot of people dummy into Turn 5 to make people defend in order to get a better exit out of Turn 5 and overlap through Turn 6 and into Turn 7. Getting on the power out of Turn 5 is critical because Turn 6 is flat and if you get a poor exit from Turn 5 you are allowing people the overtaking opportunity into Turn 7 and 8. Turn 7 is really about setting the car up for Turn 8, carrying as much speed through 7 as possible, being on the power as late as possible because if you get on the power too early into 8, you set the car up into understeer and that causes you a problem on the exit of Turn 8, which opens the door for people into Turn 9. Turn 9 is a very slow corner. When you’re driving it really feels like a 180-degree hairpin. And from Turn 9 to the next three to four corners are really quite slow so again it’s about focusing on the exit as both Turn 10 and 11 provide really good overtaking opportunities. Turns 9 to 11 are all second gear so all traction-limited on the exit and if you can push someone into defending or a small mistake into any of these corners, then you’ve got a good overtaking possibility. Because of the very steep downhill braking Turn 11 is very unique. Later in the race you will see a lot of people locking up and making mistakes going deep into 11. Although that is probably one of the corners that collects the most mistakes from people, it’s very difficult to overtake into Turns 11-14 because there really is only one line and because it goes from a right to a left, to a left to a right, it’s very difficult to line your car up into a position to give yourself that opportunity. Coming out of 11 you’re downhill and there is a lot of wheelspin on the exit. Last year we had a lot of people getting laps taken away for track limits on the entry to Turn 12 from running all four wheels off the track on the entry to get more speed and less of an angle through 12 and 13. Turns 13 and 14 probably present the hardest braking zones of any track we go to because you’re turning tight left still from Turn 12. The car is fully pitched over and very unbalanced. We saw a lot of drifting going on into Turn 13 last year and again in Turn 14 where there is a little trick that not many people picked up on last year. That really sets up the speed down the start/finish straight and makes Turn 1 a potential overtaking opportunity as well but I’m keeping that secret to myself!”
WTCC FLASHBACK 2015 (11-13 SEPTEMBER)
The WTCC returned from its summer break with two 13-lap thrillers as Twin Ring Motegi hosted JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of Japan for the first time. Both races delivered action and overtaking aplenty and vindicated the switch of venues from Suzuka to encourage more on-track battles. Yokohama-shod Citroën driver José María López claimed win number seven of 2015 in the opening event before Tiago Monteiro scored a hugely popular home win for Honda in race two. While his victory in the opener enabled López to extend his championship advantage, he couldn’t add to his tally in race two when contact left the Argentine’s C-Elysée with a punctured front-left tyre, forcing the reigning world champion to retire for the first time this season. But with team-mate Yvan Muller also dropping out, López will take a 74-point title lead to China later this month and can now be beaten to the crown by Muller and fellow Citroën star Sébastien Loeb. Despite starting race one from pole, Norbert Michelisz was forced to settle for second with Gabriele Tarquini third in another Honda. Like Michelisz, Hugo Valante was also unable to hold pole in race two but the Frenchman leaves Japan with a second-place finish and Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy success. Meanwhile, Rob Huff proved just how good Twin Ring Motegi is for overtaking by charging from P13 to P3 for his and LADA Sport Rosneft’s second podium of the campaign after the Russian team worked through the night to rebuild his Vesta TC1 after mechanical problems intervened on Saturday.