There were celebrations aplenty in the Suzuka paddock on Saturday evening after José María López clinched the FIA World Touring Car Championship title, becoming the first Argentine since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957 to win a World Championship title.
Needing a minimum fourth-placed finish in Race 1, López was never going to cruise and collect and duly romped to his ninth win of the season, with the title confirmed before the chequered flag thanks to a puncture to his sole championship rival, Citroën teammate Yvan Muller.
Race 2 finally delivered victory for the works Honda squad, with series veteran Gabriele Tarquini triumphing in a tight lights-to-flag win.
Race 1: López wins WTCC crown in style
With the Citroëns having locked out the first three grid positions, the start of Race 1 was a smooth affair with López converting pole position into the lead ahead of Muller. Once again, Sébastien Loeb had a less than stellar getaway, dropping two places to fifth behind the Chevrolets of Tom Chilton and Hugo Valente.
Chilton’s third place wouldn’t even last the first lap; the Englishman carried too much speed through the 130R left-hander and ran wide, allowing Valente through.
Chilton, Valente and Loeb staged a thrilling race-long fight, with Chilton simultaneously trying to attack Valente while keeping a hungry Loeb at bay.
Up at the front, López slowly eased away from Muller, building a three-second lead before the luckless Muller was forced to retire with a left-rear puncture. Irrespective of what happened for the remainder of the race, López was the new World Champion.
While the title result was now a fait accompli, that didn’t mean the fans would be deprived of some top shelf racing. Valente held onto what was now second place until two laps to go. Chilton launched a surprise attack on the Frenchman at the Spoon Curve, and Valente then overcooked it at 130R in his attempts to recover the position. The Campos Racing driver ran wide through the corner, triggering a series of contacts for those behind out of which Norbert Michelisz – who had been battling hard for sixth with Tarquini – emerged in third place.
Michelisz handed the position to Loeb, while a chastened Valente was now left to fend off Tarquini and Tom Coronel for fifth. Further behind, Dušan Borković managed to overtake Tiago Monteiro in their race-long battle to claim a hard-won eighth place.
While the celebrations surrounded a very emotional López, he was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of his team and the support back in his homeland.
“I am very proud to be the first Argentinian FIA World Champion since Juan Manuel Fangio 57 years ago,” he beamed. “I would like to thank everyone involved, Citroën, my family and my fans for this achievement. If I could choose a place to win the championship I would have said Suzuka, because my idol Ayrton Senna clinched two F1 titles here and it only adds to my pride.
“It’s just hard to explain. It is a big achievement for me and for Argentina, especially because I am the first champion since Fangio, who triggered our passion for motorsport back in the fifties. I have a lot of supporters and I expect to be invited to the Casa Rosada, I am very proud to wear the colours of my country and to represent it in such a high profile championship. This is not the best period for Argentina, but it adds to my joy knowing that people are celebrating for a great achievement and having a good time because of me.”
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 1 (11 laps):
|1.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||23:54.353||TC1|
|2.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 8.473||TC1|
|3.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 9.693||TC1|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 10.414||TC1|
|5.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 12.153||TC1|
|6.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 12.707||TC1|
|7.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 13.514||TC1|
|8.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 14.340||TC1|
|9.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 16.507||TC1|
|10.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 17.846||TC1|
|11.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 20.907||TC1|
|12.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 21.696||TC1|
|13.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 22.802||TC1|
|14.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 32.602||TC1|
|15.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||+ 1:16.593||TC2|
|16.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1:19.083||TC2|
|17.||Henry Kwong||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 2:15.944||TC2|
|DNF.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||7 laps||TC1|
|NC.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||7 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||2 laps||TC2|
Race 2: Tarquini delights Honda with home win
Gabriele Tarquini finally delivered the works Honda team its first victory of the 2014 World Touring Car Championship season, with the Italian claiming a dominant win at the Japanese carmaker’s home track. The Italian finished ahead of Serbian giant Dušan Borković, who claimed his first WTCC career podium. Norbert Michelisz completed the podium to add to Honda’s celebrations.
With the top-ten qualifiers’ grid positions reversed for Race 2, Tarquini bolted off the line ahead of Borković and Michelisz, and was never headed. He backed off in the closing stages to win by less than two seconds.
Borković and Michelisz, however, had their own battle to wage. The pair made contact on the opening lap at the final chicane, but Borković prevailed.
Behind them, Hugo Valente was left to try and keep the three works Citroëns – headed by Yvan Muller – at bay, but his cause came undone thanks to a wild lunge by his compatriot, who cannoned into Valente’s Chevrolet and forced his retirement.
Muller was now through ahead of López and Loeb – who’d managed to swap positions – and now the three C-Elysées began to close in on Tom Coronel’s Chevrolet. The Dutch veteran had spent many years racing in Japan, and used all of his Suzuka know-how to keep them at bay and retain a hard-fought fourth place.
The top-seven remained in that order until the end, with Gianni Morbidelli finishing eighth ahead of Tiago Monteiro’s Honda and Tom Chilton’s Chevrolet.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 2 (11 laps):
|1.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||23:55.783||TC1|
|2.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1.725||TC1|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 4.360||TC1|
|4.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 5.497||TC1|
|5.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 6.116||TC1|
|6.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 6.346||TC1|
|7.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 6.665||TC1|
|8.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 14.062||TC1|
|9.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 14.791||TC1|
|10.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 15.104||TC1|
|11.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 16.916||TC1|
|12.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 18.818||TC1|
|13.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||+ 26.036||TC1|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1:26.585||TC2|
|15.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||+ 1:50.307||TC2|
|16.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 2:21.310||TC1|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||5 laps||TC1|
|DNF.||Henry Kwong||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||5 laps||TC2|
|DNF.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||4 laps||TC2|
|DNF.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||0 laps||TC1|
Images via FIA WTCC Media