WTCC Race of Japan

After another lengthy break, the World Touring Car Championship season is reignited with the series heading off to the Far East for its final three-round leg of the championship season.

This weekend’s action will see the championship make its first visit to the Suzuka circuit for the popular Race of Japan, although sadly the drivers won’t be tackling the full Grand Prix circuit.

The RichardsF1.com team previews this weekend’s action and takes a close look at many of the talking points that will lay ahead…

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The Circuit

2011 FIA WTCC RACE OF JAPAN
Suzuka Circuit Map
Date: 21-23 October 2011 Lap Length: 2.248km
Race Lap Record: Not yet established
Event Schedule: Free Test Session Fri 14:00-14:30
  Free Practice Session 1 Sat 09:30-10:00
  Free Practice Session 2 Sat 11:45-12:15
  Qualifying Q1 Sat 15:30-15:50
  Qualifying Q2 Sat 15:55-16:05
  Warm-Up Sun 08:50-09:05
  Race 1 (23 laps, 52km) Sun 14:35-15:00
  Race 2 (23 laps, 52km) Sun 15:50-16:15
Past Winners: 2008 Race 1: Rickard Rydell (SEAT León TDI) Held at Okayama Circuit
  Race 2: Tom Coronel (SEAT León TFSI) Held at Okayama Circuit
2009 Race 1: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) Held at Okayama Circuit
  Race 2: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320si) Held at Okayama Circuit
2010 Race 1: Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze) Held at Okayama Circuit
  Race 2: Colin Turkington (BMW 320si) Held at Okayama Circuit

As was confirmed back in February, FIA WTCC organisers announced the switch in venue for the Race of Japan from its traditional home at Okayama to the more-accessible Suzuka International Circuit, although sadly for fans, the race would be run on a shortened version of the original circuit layout.

The reason is one of pure practicality: using the full 5.8-kilometre version of the circuit would limit each race to just nine laps apiece, and a lap-time would be well over 2 minutes a pop.

Instead, we’ll see two 23-lap races (by far the most laps per race we’ve seen all season) on a shortened 2.2-kilometre configuration. For those familiar with the circuit’s Grand Prix layout, drivers will run on the opening third of the normal layout, before feeding back onto the track’s final corner via a shortcut placed midway through the long Dunlop left-hander.

Being purists of the full Suzuka layout, it will be a great shame not to see pukka touring cars slamming through the 130R corner at full tilt.

 

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The Players

This weekend will see one of the biggest grids of the 2011 season greet fans at the Suzuka International Circuit, with the Race of Japan proving a popular addition to the championship calendar.

And it’s little surprise to see several Japanese additions to the grid, with no less than three local drivers (two of them being WTCC debutants) gracing the starting grid for the first time.

Toshihiro Arai The RML Chevrolet team has brought a fourth car to the event, marking the first time that it has done so since the season-opening Race of Brazil, where it provided a Cruze 1.6T for local stock car ace Carlos ‘Cacá’ Bueno. This time, it’s on offer for World Rally Championship veteran Toshihiro Arai, who has already had a test outing to get familiar with his new car (pictured).

The SUNRED team will also be providing a seventh SR León 1.6T, which it’s giving to former GP2 runner Hiroki Yoshimoto.

And occasional WTCC peddler Masaki Kano is back with the Engstler Team for the first time this season. He’ll be taking over the DeTeam KK branded BMW 320TC that has been previously piloted by Marchy Lee and David Sigacev over the course of four rounds of the 2011 season.

Another driver making his WTCC debut is Hong Kong-born drifting expert Charles Ka-Ki Ng, who will be driving with the Liqui Moly Engstler outfit, in one of the older-spec BMW 320si models.

And the series also welcomes back Colin Turkington – winner of the second race at Okayama last year when the factory BMWs of Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus were disqualified – who will have his second outing in the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC. The Northern Irishman previously races the car during the Race of UK at Donington Park, and will be hoping he can put in some decent performances here and at the next round, the Race of China at Tianma.

 

2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship Entry List (Race of Japan):

No. Entrant Car Driver
1. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Yvan Muller FRA
2. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Robert Huff GBR
3. Lukoil-SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Gabriele Tarquini ITA
4. Lukoil-SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Aleksei Dudukalo RUS
5. Zengõ-Dension Team BMW BMW 320 TC Norbert Michelisz HUN
7. SEAT Swiss Racing by SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Fredy Barth SUI
8. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Alain Menu SUI
9. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Darryl O’Young HKG
10. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Yukinori Taniguchi JPN
11. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Kristian Poulsen DEN
12. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Franz Engstler DEU
15. ROAL Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Tom Coronel NED
17. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Michel Nykjær DEN
18. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Tiago Monteiro POR
20. Scuderia Proteam Racing BMW BMW 320 TC Javier Villa García ESP
21. Scuderia Proteam Racing BMW BMW 320si Fabio Fabiani ITA
25. Scuderia Proteam Racing BMW BMW 320 TC Mehdi Bennani MOR
29. Aviva-Cofco Wiechers-Sport BMW BMW 320 TC Colin Turkington GBR
30. Polestar Volvo Volvo Volvo C30 1.6T Robert Dahlgren SWE
31. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Toshihiro Arai JPN
51. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320si Charles Ka-Ki Ng HKG
68. DeTeam KK Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Masaki Kano JPN
74. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Pepe Oriola ESP
88. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Hiroki Yoshimoto JPN

 * Subject to final FIA confirmation

 

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The Form Guide

With two-thirds of the season now complete, the teams now pack up their kit and cars to head to the season’s three flyaway races in the Far East.

Mere inches have often separated Huff and Muller in 2011... But we’re now seeing a noticeable shift in the title race. Early season leader Robert Huff has seen his championship lead steadily whittled away by Chevrolet team-mate Yvan Muller, with the Frenchman having now overtaken the Brit in the points race after claiming a victory double at the last round in Spain. Muller has enjoyed a sensational run of form, while Huff has seen misfortune hit him on too many occasions of late…

Having outscored Muller for the first three rounds of the championship, Huff has only managed to outscore the Frenchman on one further occasion over the following six races.

Only Huff, Muller and Menu remain in contention for the title Unless Huff – who hasn’t won a race since his contentious Race 2 win at Portugal in July – can start to reverse his slide, the Brit will see an almost-assured championship slip from his grasp. Muller sits sixteen points clear of Huff on 333 points, while their team-mate Alain Menu is still a factor (albeit an outside chance) on 253 points.

Exactly how a six-week break and a new circuit will affect things remains to be seen.

Certainly the likes of the improving form of BMW could play a factor this weekend, while the twisty nature of the circuit could also play into the SUNRED outfit’s hands and make them a more competitive prospect. And if Robert Dahlgren could (1) qualify up the front and (2) stay out of trouble, then this hugely impressive WTCC rookie could snatch a well-deserved podium (and possibly a win?) in his bright blue Volvo.

It’s not unreasonable to assume, however, that all eyes will be on the battle between the three Chevrolet drivers. And there’s an important statistic to note: Muller has gone to the season finale at Macau on three occasions with a crack at claiming the Drivers’ Championship. Barring a seemingly-innocuous failure in 2008, he has emerged the winner.

But Huff has also proven that a driver as experienced and talented as Muller can be beaten. Here’s hoping he can take the fight to his crafty team-mate this weekend.

Make sure you stay tuned to the Richard’s F1 website this weekend for the latest news and results in this championship series!

[Original images via FIA WTCC Media]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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