The works Honda World Touring Car Championship squad will expand to a three-car outfit for the 2016 season.
The Japanese carmaker, whose team is run by the Italian-based JAS Motorsport operation, has signed former series champion Rob Huff and two-time Independents’ Trophy winner Norbert Michelisz to race alongside Tiago Monteiro for the forthcoming season.
The announcement comes in the wake of Honda’s decision to part ways with series veteran Gabriele Tarquini, who is rumoured to be taking over Huff’s now-vacant seat at the LADA Sport Rosneft team.
Speculation about Huff moving to Honda grew both on the back of Tarquini’s exit and the 35-year-old’s outstanding performance in a one-off drive for JAS Motorsport in the final round of the TCR International Series at Macau. Driving for its WestCoast Racing outfit, the Englishman dominated the opening race to claim a record eighth race win at the Guia street circuit.
Huff, a winner of 27 WTCC races, endured a torrid 2015 campaign with LADA’s all-new Vesta WTCC racer and retired a total of nine times out of the 23 races he started. Podium finished in Russia and Japan were the only highlights in a season blighted by reliability problems and he finished tenth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings, his worst result since 2006.
It is understood that his results triggered an exit clause in his long-term deal with LADA, allowing him to explore the opportunity of moving to Honda for 2016.
“Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve become very used to seeing the Civic WTCCs in front of me, so it’s terrific to have the chance to race one this year,” the 2012 series champion said of his move.
“I won’t be happy to finish my career as only a one-time world champion, and there’s a tremendous opportunity with Honda and JAS to correct that statistic.
“I raced a JAS-built Civic TCR at Macau last year and it was a very well-built and fast machine, so that gives me plenty of confidence that we’ll have a strong season. I can’t wait to start testing.”
Huff will be joined by Honda privateer Norbert Michelisz, who has spent the past two seasons driving a Civic WTCC for the one-car Zengõ Motorsport outfit. The Hungarian claimed a win on home soil in 2015, along with five other outright podium finishes to claim sixth in the overall standings and win the Independents’ Trophy title for a second time.
“I am thrilled to become a factory Honda driver in the FIA World Touring Car Championship with JAS Motorsport,” Michelisz added.
“I have raced Honda machinery for the past three years and it has been an extremely good relationship that has enabled me to win races and take the Yokohama Trophy last year.
“I’m very grateful and hope I can repay the faith Honda have shown in me this year.”
Images via FIA WTCC Media and XPB Images
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