The FIA World Touring Car Championship’s latest visit to Japan delivered another exciting installment of two races in what has proven to be a fascinating 2013 season.
Norbert Michelisz claimed an important win for Honda at its home race in Sunday’s opener, while Japan specialist Tom Coronel closed out the weekend with his second victory of the year in Race 2.
But the focus was all on Yvan Muller, who did enough in the opening 26-lap race to earn his fourth WTCC title to become the most successful driver in the series’ history.
Muller’s third-placed finish in Race 1 delivered the Frenchman his most emotional crown yet, ahead of his much-vaunted move to Citroën Racing in 2014, with Sébastien Loeb as his teammate.
“This has a special taste because one month before the beginning of the season I did not have a drive,” a teary Muller said after Race 1.
“Then we managed to put a programme together without the backing of a manufacturer. Budget was low and we had to take care of everything. The whole team did a lot of sacrifices. But now we have the pay back for this. And I must thank RML and Lukoil for giving me the opportunity to clinch another world title.”
Race 1: Michelisz wins for Honda
Michelisz became the tenth different race-winner of the 2013 season with a dominant drive on Honda’s home soil. The Hungarian led from lights to flag and won with a margin of more than five seconds over fellow-front-row starter Alex MacDowall.
It was behind the leading duo where the action really was, with Muller jumping teammate Tom Chilton by virtue of a deft move around the outside of the Englishman through Turns 1 and 2 on the opening lap, only for the pair to be jumped by an even faster-starting Tiago Monteiro.
But in all his excitement, the Portuguese driver rather overdid it on the opening lap, running wide at the final corner and falling back to eighth, which created a top-five of Michelisz, MacDowall, Muller, Chilton and Gabriele Tarquini that would run in that order for the remainder of the race.
Muller’s third place was enough to ensure a fourth championship was his, and the outcome became academic when his sole championship rival, Tarquini, was hit with mechanical dramas in his Honda seven laps from home.
It was a doubly bad result for the Castrol Honda stable, with Tarquini’s teammate Monteiro coming off worse in a side-by-side scrap with Pepe Oriola’s Chevrolet. The Spaniard squeezed Monteiro into the Turn 7 apex tyre bundles towards the end of the race, which saw the Portuguese driver forced to retire his Civic. Oriola was handed a drive-through penalty for his troubles.
Despite Tarquini’s misfortunes, Muller didn’t relax. The French veteran staged a late charge on MacDowall, harrying the Bamboo Chevrolet over the line with the Englishman emerging better by a scant three-hundredths of a second in the end.
All of the drama and incident promoted MacDowall’s teammate, James Nash, into fifth place, while James Thompson equalled LADA’s best result of the season by finishing sixth.
The Englishman enjoyed a fierce battle with his compatriot and outgoing champion, Rob Huff, while Tom Coronel, Marc Basseng and Fernando Monje were also all in the mix, having been released by the Monteiro-Oriola clash.
The full broadcast of the opening race can be watched here:
2013 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 1 Final Classification (26 laps):
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||23:58.613|
|2.||Alex MacDowall||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 4.832||Y|
|3.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 5.149|
|4.||Tom Chilton||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 5.422|
|5.||James Nash||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 14.377||Y|
|6.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta||+ 25.611|
|7.||Robert Huff||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 25.786|
|8.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 25.940|
|9.||Marc Basseng||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 26.247|
|10.||Fernando Monje||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 26.534||Y|
|11.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 26.747||Y|
|12.||Takuya Izawa||JAS Honda Civic WTCC||+ 27.062||A|
|13.||Darryl O’Young||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 28.805||Y|
|14.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 34.138||Y|
|15.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta||+ 36.211|
|16.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 36.280||Y|
|17.||Yukinori Taniguchi||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||+ 36.895||Y/A|
|18.||Hiroki Yoshimoto||NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 44.883||Y/A|
|19.||Masaki Kano||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 48.667||Y/A|
|20.||Jerónimo Badaraco||Son Veng Racing Chevrolet Cruze LT||+ 52.433||Y/A|
|21.||Filipe de Souza||China Dragon Chevrolet Cruze LT||+ 1 lap||Y/A|
|22.||Ng Kin Veng||China Dragon Chevrolet Cruze LT||+ 1 lap||Y/A|
|23.||Mak Ka Lok||RPM Racing BMW 320si||+ 1 lap||Y/A|
|24.||Henry Ho Wai Kun||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320si||+ 2 laps||Y/A|
|25.||Tom Boardman||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 5 laps||Y|
|26.||Pepe Oriola||Tuenti Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 5 laps||Y|
|27.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 5 laps|
|28.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 7 laps|
|29.||Stefano D’Aste||PB Sport BMW 320TC||+ 7 laps||Y|
‘Y’ denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy entered driver
’A’ denotes Eurosport Asia Trophy entered driver
Race 2: Coronel beats Bennani in a thriller
Sunday’s second outing was a milestone for the FIA World Touring Car Championship, it being the series’ 200th race.
And perhaps it would no more fitting than for Tom Coronel – one of the series’ longest-serving exponents – to claim victory, with the Dutchman emerging victorious in a race-long dogfight with fellow BMW runner Mehdi Bennani.
With the pair starting from the front row, it was polesitter Bennani who made the better getaway, rocketing into the lead ahead of Coronel, who had to contend with the fast-starting Hondas of Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini.
But behind them there was plenty of chaos. Having celebrated his fourth WTCC crown less than an hour before, Yvan Muller found himself punted into the barriers after making contact with Race 1 winner Norbert Michelisz. The biff sent the Frenchman slithering across the track into the Armco, while Michelisz sustained a race-ending puncture.
Up at the front, Bennani and Coronel eased away from the chasing pack, despite staging an exciting battle for the lead.
For lap after lap, the Dutchman had a look down the inside of the Moroccan’s BMW as they filed towards Turn 1, only for Bennani to brave it out around the outside of the corner to keep his lead through Turn 1.
But that all changed with ten lap to go when, finally, Coronel made the move stick: this time the wily Dutchman saved his lunge until Turn 2, catching Bennani by surprise and forcing him to surrender the lead.
Coronel was then able to ease away to win by 2.2 seconds and claim the fourth victory lane celebration of his WTCC, three of which have come in Japan, where he spent many years in the 1990s as a promising junior single-seater racer before abandoning his dreams of a Formula 1 drive.
Bennani was deprived of victory again – not for the first time in a hugely impressive 2013 season, it must be said – but he earned another podium finish, with Monteiro claiming third with a formation finish with Honda teammate Tarquini.
The Italian finished ahead of Chevrolet drivers James Nash and Tom Chilton, while Charles Ng earned his best finish of the season with seventh place, nipping ahead of Rob Huff after an exciting battle.
The battle for the final two points-paying positions was even more frantic, with Alex MacDowall, James Thompson, Marc Basseng, Stefano D’Aste. Darryl O’Young and Fernando Monje all running nose-to-tail.
Thompson looked set to claim ninth, only to be bundled off the road by Basseng at the final corner on the last lap, which succeeded in dumping Thompson down to thirteenth and ensured the German copped a post-race time penalty for his troubles.
Sunday’s second race can be watched in full here:
2013 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 2 Final Classification (26 laps):
|1.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||23:56.929|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||+ 2.259||Y|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 9.935|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 10.732|
|5.||James Nash||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 11.438||Y|
|6.||Tom Chilton||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 11.802|
|7.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 13.762||Y|
|8.||Robert Huff||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 14.088|
|9.||Stefano D’Aste||PB Sport BMW 320TC||+ 23.564||Y|
|10.||Darryl O’Young||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||+ 23.753||Y|
|11.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta||+ 23.780|
|12.||Alex MacDowall||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 24.249||Y|
|13.||Fernando Monje||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 24.497||Y|
|14.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 24.739||Y|
|15.||Masaki Kano||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 26.576||Y/A|
|16.||Yukinori Taniguchi||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||+ 36.768||Y/A|
|17.||Marc Basseng||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 53.300|
|18.||Jerónimo Badaraco||Son Veng Racing Chevrolet Cruze LT||+ 54.197||Y/A|
|19.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta||+ 1 lap|
|20.||Ng Kin Veng||China Dragon Chevrolet Cruze LT||+ 1 lap||Y/A|
|21.||Henry Ho Wai Kun||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320si||+ 3 laps||Y/A|
|22.||Takuya Izawa||JAS Honda Civic WTCC||+ 7 laps||A|
|DNF.||Tom Boardman||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||16 laps||Y|
|DNF.||Hiroki Yoshimoto||NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||14 laps||Y/A|
|DNF.||Pepe Oriola||Tuenti Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||13 laps||Y|
|DNF.||Mak Ka Lok||RPM Racing BMW 320si||10 laps||Y/A|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1 lap|
|DNF.||Filipe de Souza||China Dragon Chevrolet Cruze LT||1 lap||Y/A|
|DNF.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||0 laps|
‘Y’ denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy entered driver
’A’ denotes Eurosport Asia Trophy entered driver
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