The World Touring Car Championship became closer than ever at the last round in the United States, and this weekend’s journey to Suzuka could prove to be a ‘make or break’ event for either Yvan Muller or Rob Huff, who are neck-a-neck in the Drivers’ Championship fight.
Many eyes, however, will also be focused on the long-awaited return of Honda, which will make its works debut with a one-car entry – driven by Tiago Monteiro – ahead of a multi-car assault in the 2013 season.
As usual, RichardsF1.com will be reporting from the sidelines, and we’ll bring you all of the action and gossip from Suzuka as the action gets underway. Let’s take a look at our mega race preview…
|2012 WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP RACE OF JAPAN
|Date:||19-21 October 2012|
Suzuka East Circuit, near Nagoya, Japan
|Event Schedule:||Free Test Session||Fri 13:30-14:00|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:30-10:00|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 12:00-12:30|
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 15:30-15:50|
|Qualifying Session 2 (Top-12 Fastest Runners)||Sat 15:55-16:05|
|Sunday Warm-Up||Sun 08:50-09:05|
|Race 1 (26 laps, 58km)||Sun 14:35-15:05|
|Race 2 (26 laps, 58km)||Sun 15:50-16:20|
The FIA World Touring Car Championship heads east this weekend to the Suzuka International Circuit, which will play host to the first of three rounds in the Far East that make up the final leg of the 2012 season.
Last year, WTCC organisers announced a switch in venue for the Race of Japan, moving it from its traditional home at the TI Aida Circuit in Okayama to the more-accessible Suzuka circuit. Sadly for fans, the race would be run on a much shorter ‘East Circuit’ version of the iconic Grand Prix circuit.
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, fans are given two races of 26 laps apiece on the shortened configuration, running around the opening third of the normal layout, before cutting back onto the final corner via an access road that starts near the Dunlop left-hander.
This weekend sees several changes in the make-up of the WTCC grid, not least of which being the return of Honda with its first ever works-supported entry. The Japanese carmaker has had a number of independent programmes over recent years – run by JAS Motorsport and N.Technology – with its Accord Euro R model.
This time around around, its ninth-generation Civic chassis makes its first appearance on the WTCC stage, with the Italian-based JAS outfit being given the honours of running the race operation. The car is witted with a bespoke S2000-spec 1.6-litre turbocharged engine to conform with the current regulations, but the car will be ineligible to score championship points this year as it has only been granted national homologation.
WTCC veteran Tiago Monteiro will give the car its maiden runs for the remainder of the season, having been granted an early release by SUNRED SEAT. Next year, he’ll be joined by former champion Gabriele Tarquini.
Elsewhere on the grid, there are a few other changes to the line-up this weekend. Darryl O’Young has left the Special Tune Racing SEAT outfit and returns to his old home, Bamboo Engineering, to pilot the Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T he drove last year (pictured left).
His seat at STR has been taken by German driver Réne Münnich, a GT Team Principal and driver in his own right, who is evaluating his own WTCC entry next year with SEAT.
Two local drivers will be making a return to the WTCC grid, with former GP2 Series driver Hiroki Yoshimoto taking over Monteiro’s SUNRED SR León. It will make his second WTCC outing, following his appearance at the same event last year with SUNRED.
Being the only normally-aspirated entry on the grid, Kano will have a significant disadvantage compared to the rest of the field running turbocharged cars.
2012 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 Racing Team||SEAT León WTCC||Gabriele Tarquini|
|4.||Lukoil Racing Team||SEAT León WTCC||Aleksei Dudukalo*|
|5.||Zengõ Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Norbert Michelisz*|
|6.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Franz Engstler*|
|7.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Charles Ka-Ki Ng*|
|8.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alain Menu|
|11.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alex MacDowell*|
|14.||Team Aon||Ford Focus S2000 TC||James Nash|
|15.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Tom Coronel|
|16.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Alberto Cerqui*|
|18.||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda Civic S2000 TC||Tiago Monteiro|
|20.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Darryl O’Young*|
|22.||Special Tune Racing||SEAT León WTCC||Tom Boardman*|
|23.||Team Aon||Ford Focus S2000 TC||Tom Chilton|
|25.||Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Mehdi Bennani*|
|26.||Wiechers-Sport||BMW 320 TC||Stefano D’Aste*|
|38.||Special Tune Racing||SEAT León WTCC||René Münnich*|
|74.||Tuenti Racing Team||SEAT León WTCC||Pepe Oriola*|
|75.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320si||Masaki Kano*|
|80.||Tuenti Racing Team||SR León 1.6T||Hirko Yoshimoto*|
|88.||Tuenti Racing Team||SEAT León WTCC||Fernando Monje*|
* Denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor. Entry list is subject to final FIA confirmation.
The Form Guide
The Drivers’ Championship battle will be all about the fight between Yvan Muller and his Chevrolet team-mate Rob Huff, who sit at level pegging on 315 points apiece. Huff came right back into the title hunt on the back of a strong run last time out at Sonoma, earning a second-placed finish and a win in the two races, while Muller claimed a win in Race 1 and copped a drive-through penalty in Race 2 that saw him finish out of the points.
The likes of Alain Menu, Gabriele Monteiro, Tom Coronel and Norbert Michelisz (positioned third to sixth in the points race) can all still claim the Drivers’ Championship over the remaining three rounds, but current form indicates it will be an all-Chevrolet affair, with Menu assuming a supporting role of rear gunner to protect Muller and Huff from rival runners. That being said, the Swiss driver won’t want to abandon his own title hopes, lying just 48 points behind the leading duo in his stable.
Chevrolet will all but certainly claim the Manufacturers’ Championship in their final year running a works-supported entry in the WTCC. The carmaker could claim the prize as early as in qualifying, needing to score just one more point than BMW to claim a hat-trick of crowns.
This promises to be another fascinating installment of World Touring Car Championship action. As always, make sure you visit RichardsF1.com for all of the latest news and analysis from Sonoma!