The penultimate round of the 2010 World Touring Car Championship season will take place at Okayama’s TI Aida Circuit in Japan this weekend, and we’ll be bringing you the latest news and highlights from the world’s best touring car championship this weekend.
This is the third – and possibly final, with the event switching to Suzuka next season – that the rural circuit will play host to the World Touring Car Championship series, and the event presents a huge challenge to drivers as it winds its way between the green hills of the Honshu island circuit.
The TI Aida circuit twice played host to Formula 1 in the mid-1990s – dubbed the ‘Pacific Grand Prix’ – but the event was shelved after 1995 after two fairly uninteresting events.
By contrast, the circuit has proven to be a great event for the WTCC, and the last two events held here have both been hit by wet weather, which has done nothing to dampen the attendance figures or the quality of the racing.
The 2008 round saw Rickard Rydell and Tom Coronel (taking the only outright victory by an Independent Trophy driver) take wins in their SEATs, while Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus claimed a BMW double last year in teeming conditions.
With the championship now heading to its climax, a bad result this weekend could effectively rule out and of the four drivers still in mathematical contention – Yvan Muller, Andy Priaulx, Gabriele Tarquini and Robert Huff – out of the reckoning.
Championship leader Muller holds a nice 25-point advantage over Priaulx in the title race, while Tarquini sits a further four points behind the Guernseyman. Muller might at least be able to count on the assistance of Huff, who – while still mathematically in contention not to discount his own championship ambitions – sits far enough behind that a supporting role is almost assumed.
Sponsorship of the WTCC from the Far East typically sees much larger fields than at the series’ traditional European base, and this year’s event is no exception, with a 27-car field being entered for the two 14-lap races.
The event will see several drivers making their first WTCC appearance of the season. Frenchman Michaël Rossi replaces Jordi Gené at SR Sport SEAT, and three more Japanese drivers will contest their home event in the Independents’ Trophy championship, including Nobuteru Taniguchi (Scuderia Proteam), Masataka Yanagida (Wiechers Sport) and Yoshihiro Ito (Team Engstler).
Also making their first runs this year are Taipei-based Kevin Chen Nai Chia (Scuderia Proteam) and Macau-based Henry Ho, who will drive a privately-entered BMW 320si.
The event also sees the return of a couple of faces who have graced the WTCC stage already in 2010. Colin Turkington (above left) makes a much-anticipated return in the Dick Bennetts-run BMW and will almost certainly prove a factor at the front of the field this weekend.
And Robert Dahlgren (above right) makes another appearance in the Olsbergs Volvo C30 as the marque continues to investigate a full tilt at next year’s championship, although the Norwegian won’t be eligible to score points as his car has not be homologated to the current S2000 regulations.
[Original images via the FIA WTCC official site]