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…
|2011 FIA WTCC RACE OF JAPAN
|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|
|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.
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.
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):
|1.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yvan Muller|
|2.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Robert Huff|
|3.||Lukoil-SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Gabriele Tarquini|
|4.||Lukoil-SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Aleksei Dudukalo|
|5.||Zengõ-Dension Team||BMW 320 TC||Norbert Michelisz|
|7.||SEAT Swiss Racing by SUNRED||SR León 1.6T||Fredy Barth|
|8.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alain Menu|
|9.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Darryl O’Young|
|10.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yukinori Taniguchi|
|11.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Kristian Poulsen|
|12.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Franz Engstler|
|15.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Tom Coronel|
|17.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Michel Nykjær|
|18.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Tiago Monteiro|
|20.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Javier Villa García|
|21.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320si||Fabio Fabiani|
|25.||Scuderia Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Mehdi Bennani|
|29.||Aviva-Cofco Wiechers-Sport||BMW 320 TC||Colin Turkington|
|30.||Polestar Volvo||Volvo C30 1.6T||Robert Dahlgren|
|31.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Toshihiro Arai|
|51.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320si||Charles Ka-Ki Ng|
|68.||DeTeam KK Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Masaki Kano|
|74.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Pepe Oriola|
|88.||SUNRED Engineering||SR León 1.6T||Hiroki Yoshimoto|
* Subject to final FIA confirmation
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.
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.
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]