Norbert Michelisz has secured Honda’s first ever factory 1-2-3 race finish in the World Touring Car Championship, leading home Rob Huff and Tiago Monteiro in the opening race at the Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi circuit.
Michelisz started the reversed-grid race from pole position and led from start to finish without ever being challenged, only backing off in the final two laps to cross the line 1.3 seconds clear of Huff.
The start saw Michelisz lead from Huff and the fast-starting Sébastien Loeb Racing Citröen of Tom Chilton, but Chilton’s joy proved short-lived as he found himself bundled down a number of places with an untidy opening lap.
It was a poor opening lap for the privateer Citröen team, and Chilton’s teammate Mehdi Bennani undid his hopes of clinching the Independent Trophy title by jumping the start and earning a drive-through penalty, while the third car of Grégoire Demoustier was also handed a penalty for punting the LADA of Hugo Valente into retirement on the opening lap.
Starting from the fifth row of the grid, the two factory Citröens of Yvan Muller and José María López were making short order of the upper midfield and rapidly carved their way up to sixth and seventh behind Nicky Catsburg’s LADA.
Catsburg was proving resolute in his defence and managed to box Muller in to allow López ahead of his teammate on Lap 6. It took a further three laps before López could get by Catsburg; he forced the Dutch driver wide at the exit of Turn 1 to claim fifth place. Catsburg lost traction on the grass and in his attempts to keep momentum he violently swiped the back of López’s Citröen.
The damage to both cars proved superficial and they were able to continue, but Muller took advantage of the melee to also slip ahead of Catsburg.
Up at the front, the the Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo of Thed Björk held third place behind Huff and Michelisz, but was steadily finding the pace to be too much and came under attack from the third works Honda of Tiago Monteiro.
Monteiro would slip by on Lap 11 and, free of Catsburg, the two Citröens blasted by a lap later to bundle Björk down to sixth. Catsburg claimed seventh ahead of Chilton, while series returnee Néstor Girolami managed to fend off Gabriele Tarquini’s LADA in the final laps to secure ninth place in his first outing in a Volvo.
With the 14-lap main race to follow shortly, López needs to outscore Monteiro by at least 7 points – assuming the forthcoming round in Thailand is to be cancelled – in order to claim his third Drivers’ Championship crown.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Race 1 Final Classification (13 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||26:07.443|
|2.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 1.358|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 2.173|
|4.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 3.609|
|5.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||13||+ 4.805|
|6.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||13||+ 8.049|
|7.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 8.738|
|8.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||13||+ 9.385|
|9.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||13||+ 10.135|
|10.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||13||+ 10.456|
|11.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||13||+ 18.300|
|12.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 18.691|
|13.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 21.696|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||13||+ 26.419|
|15.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||13||+ 26.935|
|16.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||13||+ 28.127|
|17.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||13||+ 34.475|
|DNF.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||5||Engine|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1||Collision|
Images via FIA WTCC