José María López will bow out of the FIA World Touring Car Championship as a three-time title winner after provisionally winning the Drivers’ Championship crown by finishing in second place in Sunday’s final race at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit.
The Argentine driver dominated proceedings and looked set to claim his 21st career victory, but slowed on the penultimate lap to hand the win to his Citroën Racing teammate Yvan Muller.
It was the French veteran’s first race win of the season, with the extra points potentially proving vital to claim a possible runners-up spot in the final championship standings. Muller moved to equal-second in the championship standings as a result of López’s gesture.
López’s championship triumph is provisional on paper, as series organisers are yet to confirm if the penultimate round of the 2016 season in Thailand will be cancelled, as has been predicted. If the remaining race tally is trimmed to four – with the rounds in China and Qatar still to go and a maximum of 110 points on offer – his 120-point margin over Muller and Monteiro is insurmountable.
Starting from pole position alongside Muller, López made a textbook getaway to lead the field into Turn 1 and raced alone at the front, steadily pulling away from Muller as the laps ticked by.
Monteiro gave a folorn chase in third after jumping Mehdi Bennani’s privateer Citroën at the start, but never came close to threatening second-placed Muller. The top four ran in that order until López’s late-race position swap with Muller.
The fight for fifth place proved to be entertaining, with Tom Chilton fighting valiantly to keep his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën ahead of Néstor Girolami’s Polestar Volvo.
Chilton’s car was handling terribly, and a train of cars comprising Girolami, the two Hondas of Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff, and the sister Volvo of Thed Björk were all in close proximity.
Björk quickly disposed of the two Hondas on the second and third laps of the race, and on the next lap Girolami threw his car up the inside of Chilton as they braked for Turn 2 to slide into fifth place.
The group ran in that order for the rest of the race, while further down the field the other major battle was between James Thompson’s Chevrolet and Nicky Catsburg’s LADA, which waged for a number of lap before Catsburg eventually overtook the Brit down the back straight.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 2 Final Classification (14 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||14||28:03.653|
|2.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||14||+ 1.045|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||14||+ 2.561|
|4.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||14||+ 3.280|
|5.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||14||+ 5.204|
|6.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||14||+ 7.638|
|7.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||14||+ 9.159|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||14||+ 12.094|
|9.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||14||+ 15.769|
|10.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||14||+ 16.746|
|11.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||14||+ 17.812|
|12.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||14||+ 28.185|
|13.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||14||+ 30.215|
|14.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||14||+ 31.351|
|15.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||14||+ 31.950|
|16.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||14||+ 34.863|
|17.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||14||+ 39.613|
|18.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||14||+ 40.074|
|19.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||11||Mechanical|
Images via FIA WTCC