Citroën’s José María López and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro have shared the spoils over the two World Touring Car Championship races at the Motegi Twin Ring.
While López managed a comfortable victory in Race 1, he came undone in the second race and was forced to retire after a collision on the opening lap.
Race 1: López deprives Honda of Race 1 victory
Reigning WTCC champion López denied Honda a victory on home soil in Sunday’s opening race, finishing three seconds clear of pole-sitter Norbert Michelisz thanks to a brilliant getaway that launched him into the lead at the first corner.
The Argentine driver had an untroubled en route to scoring his seventh race win of the season, further increasing his sizable championship lead over teammate Yvan Muller to 74 points.
López managed to launch perfectly off the line to force his way up the inside of Michelisz on the short run to Turn 1, but one of the best getaways came from Tarquini, who rocketed into third place from sixth on the grid and put an aggressive move on Sébastien Loeb’s Citroën at the same corner.
An enterprising Muller moved past Loeb to snatch fourth place, while the rally ace was wrong-footed in another poor opening lap and lost out to the fourth Citroën of teammate Ma Qing Hua after the pair ran side-by-side for half of the first lap.
There was early drama at the back of the pack for the LADA of Nicky Catsburg. The Dutchman started at the tail of the field after an engine change, but his race lasted barely three corners when he spun under braking at the end of the second straight. The early diagnosis was a steering problem, but he was back on track before the end of the race to complete some running in readiness for an important front-row start in Race 2.
The top six runners ran in much the same order for the following laps. Michelisz and Tarquini briefly looked to threaten López’s lead, but couldn’t get close enough to mount a challenge, while Muller was kept busy keeping an aggressive Ma at bay. The Chinese driver eventually got the better of the four-time champion with a lunge at Turn 11 on the ninth lap to snatch fourth place.
Muller tried to fight back, but Ma covered the switchback attempt to hold onto the position, leaving Muller to defend against Loeb for the remainder of the race.
Mehdi Bennani had a quiet run to finish in seventh place, while the balance of the points’ paying positions went to the LADA of Rob Huff, the Honda of Tiago Monteiro and the Campos Chevrolet of Hugo Valente after an entertaining scrap.
Monteiro had picked his way forward after starting at the back of the pack – like Catsburg, he too had an engine change penalty – and battled hard with Huff for much of the race.
The peak of their battle came on Lap 7 when Monteiro got alongside Huff down the back straight, but the Englishman held his nerve and the track position.
The pair managed to close up to eighth-placed Valente in the final laps, with Huff passing the Frenchman at Turn 1 before Monteiro followed suit later in the lap to snatch ninth place.
Huff’s teammate Nicolas Lapierre finished eleventh in his maiden touring car race ahead of the privateer Chevrolets of Grégoire Demoustier, John Fillippi and Stefano D’Aste.
The race saw the two ROAL Motorsport Chevrolets of Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton retire on successive laps, curiously with almost identical issues. Coronel was the first to go on the fourth lap when his car suffered an apparent brake failure at Turn 5 that pitched him backwards into the gravel. Chilton had an identical spin a lap later, coming to rest just a few metres from where Coronel’s car had just been recovered by the track marshals.
The two ROAL Chevrolets of Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton hit trouble on consecutive laps, both spinning out at Turn 5 and joined Catsburg as retirements.
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 1 Final Classification (13 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||25:46.796|
|2.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||13||+ 3.081|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 4.314|
|4.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 10.421|
|5.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 11.812|
|6.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 12.108|
|7.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||13||+ 14.677|
|8.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 22.108|
|9.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 23.409|
|10.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 29.352|
|11.||Nicolas Lapierre||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 29.952|
|12.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 32.361|
|13.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 39.713|
|14.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 40.919|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||4||Spin|
|DNF.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||3||Spin|
|NC.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||3||+ 10 laps|
Race 2: Monteiro wins as title favourites hit trouble
There were plenty of cheers for Honda at its home event after Tiago Monteiro claimed victory in Sunday’s second race to notch up the Japanese carmaker’s third win of the season.
The Portuguese driver made a scintillating getaway from the second row of the grid to pass pole-sitter Hugo Valente and the LADA of Nicky Catsburg before the first corner. Yvan Muller was also quick off the line, passing a slow-starting Catsburg to slot into third place.
The first corner didn’t provide the same joy for José María López as it did in Race 1. Starting in ninth place, the Argentine found himself caught out in a melee which saw Mehdi Bennani tipped into a spin; the championship leader suffered a broken wheel in the incident and was forced to retire for just the second time in his WTCC career.
This presented a golden opportunity for Muller to make a major dent in López’s championship lead, but he would have to deal with a determined Valente before he could even think about catching Monteiro.
Right behind them, there was a tense fight for fourth place between Ma Qing Hua and Gabriele Tarquini. Tarquini managed to pass Ma by the end of the first lap, only for Ma to retake the position on Lap 3 at Turn 11 with an almost identical late lunge to that used in Race 1 on Yvan Muller.
Undaunted, Tarquini tried to wrestle the place back from the Chinese driver at Turn 1 on the next lap, but only succeeded in making contact with the Cirtoën in a clumsy braking move that turned Ma around.
Tarquini – who would later be hit with a 30-second time penalty after a post-race hearing with the stewards – lost momentum in the contact and dropped to fifth behind the LADA of Rob Huff, who’d carved his way up the field after starting in thirteenth position.
All of this was allowing Monteiro to build a healthy lead en route to his second win of the season.
The drama wasn’t over yet. Fate would once again conspire to deprive Muller; the Frenchman’s bonnet catch worked loose after he made front-to-rear contact with Valente and the four-time champion was ordered into the pits by the FIA Race Director to have it securely refastened. That dropped him to the tail of the field, and he elected to retire later on with there being no possibility to score any points.
With neither Muller nor López scoring any points, the gap between the pair would remain at 74 points, a seemingly insurmountable margin for Muller with just six races of the season to go.
That promoted Huff into third place, but the Englishman was having his mirrors filled by the yet-to-be-penalised Tarquini, with the pair being hotly pursued by Sébastien Loeb.
The battle burned for the rest of the race. Tarquini tried to overtake Huff at Turn 9 on Lap 8, but left the door open for an enterprising Loeb to claim the inside line at the next corner and snatch fifth place from the Italian.
Loeb now had the challenge of trying to get by Huff, whose defenses were proving resolute. Loeb made a number of attempts over the next few laps until putting in an ‘all or nothing’ lunge at Turn 4 on the final lap of the race, but made the same mistake as Tarquini had done a few laps earlier, leaving the door open for the Honda driver to claim the place back.
It still wasn’t over, as Loeb regrouped and outdragged Tarquini on the sprint to the finish line, emerging just 0.1 seconds ahead at the chequered flag.
Up at the front, Monteiro won with an almost ten-second margin to Valente, who claimed his second podium finish of the season after a fine drive. Huff also earned his second rostrum visit in third place.
With Tarquini copping a time penalty after the race, the top-ten was completed by the two ROAL Chevrolets of Tom Chilton and Tom Coronel, who were followed by Nicolas Lapierre’s LADA, giving the Frenchman a points’ finish on debut. Stefano D’Aste and Mehdi Bennani were ninth and tenth.
The next round of the World Touring Car Championship season takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit in two weeks’ time.
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 2 Final Classification (13 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||25:53.893|
|2.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 9.222|
|3.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 10.938|
|4.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 11.703|
|5.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 12.894|
|6.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 17.474|
|7.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 21.284|
|8.||Nicolas Lapierre||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 28.053|
|9.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 32.744|
|10.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||13||+ 35.253|
|11.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 41.364|
|12.||Gabriele Tarquini*||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 41.792|
|13.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 42.109|
|14.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||11||Collision|
|15.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||10||Bonnet|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||4||Collision|
|DNF.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1||Collision|
- Gabriele Tarquini was awarded a 30-second time penalty in lieu of a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Ma Qing Hua.
Images via FIA WTCC Media