Johan Kristoffersson claimed his second World Touring Car Cup race win with a lights-to-flag victory in an intriguing final race at Suzuka.
Having qualified on pole, the Swede’s SLR Volkswagen was initially beaten away off the line by KCMG Honda of Tiago Monteiro but a late lunge up the inside of the Portuguese driver at Turn 2 allowed him to reclaim the lead.
Championship frontrunner Esteban Guerrieri slotted his Münnich Motorsport Honda into third place, while disaster befell Mikel Azcona, who stalled his PWR Racing Cupra at the start and plummeted to the back of the field.
Further around the opening lap, local wildcard Ritomo Miyata and Tom Coronel had a coming-together through the Esses, with the incident also spelling the subsequent retirements for Mehdi Bennani and Ma Qing Hua.
With Coronel and Miyata both beached in the gravel trap, the Safety Car was called into action. At the restart, Kristoffersson survived a leery slide through the final corner to keep the race lead, before quickly pinning his ears back and punching out a series of fast laps to build a cushion over Monteiro and Guerrieri.
An agreement between the two Honda teams would see Monteiro agree to hand second place to Guerrieri, but the Argentine struggled to hang onto the back of the Portuguese driver for much of the race until they eventually switched positions with two laps to go.
The Lynk & Cos of Thed Björk and Andy Priaulx ran fourth and fifth ahead of the BRC Racing Hyundai of Gabriele Tarquini in the early laps.
There was plenty of strategic intrigue bubbling away, with only Björk still mathematically contender among the trio. Further behind Tarquini’s teammate Norbert Michelisz – the championship leader heading into this race – was trying to make progress in ninth place, with fellow title rival Yvan Muller’s Lynk & Co mired out of the points in seventeenth and trapped behind Guerrieri’s teammate Néstor Girolami.
A five-second time penalty for a starting grid infringement was handed out to Monteiro’s teammate Attila Tassi – running eleventh at the time – which presented Muller with an opportunity of sneaking into the points’ paying positions, provided that Guerrieri didn’t slow him down to try and mitigate Tassi’s penalty…
As the lap times and tyre grip started to fade, a big mover in the upper midfield was Kevin Ceccon. The Italian’s Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo was searingly quick in a straight line, and it wasn’t long before the youngster fired his car ahead of Rob Huff, followed swiftly by passes on Tarquini, Björk and Priaulx in quick succession to move into fourth place.
His move on Huff, nudging the Volkswagen wide at Turn 2 on Lap 21, would earn him a five-second time penalty after the race.
Priaulx in particular was beginning to struggle and after being passed by Ceccon he was quickly overwhelmed by Tarquini and spent the rest of the race aggressively defending against his countryman Huff.
A spin for the other local wildcard Ryuichiro Tomita ensured the race would end behind the Safety Car, leaving Kritoffersson to claim a fine victory ahead of Guerrieri who had just managed to swap positions with Monteiro before the full-course caution was initiated.
Monteiro should have finished on the final step of the podium, but a radio miscommunication on the final lap saw him peel off the circuit towards pit entry instead of staying on the circuit to receive the chequered flag.
By the time he realised his error it was too late; Ceccon had slipped by and he then overtook Björk as he rejoined the circuit. That earned him his own penalty, and with both he and Ceccon penalised that later promoted Björk to third place, with Tarquini fourth and Priaulx fifth.
Once all the penalties had been applied, Michelisz was promoted to eighth and Muller to thirteenth.
Thanks to his Race 1 win and second place in Race 3, Guerrieri (288 points) retakes the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings from Michelisz (282), with Björk (248) promoted to third ahead of Muller (240).
The penultimate round of the 2019 World Touring Car Cup takes place on the Macau Guia street circuit on the weekend of 14-17 November.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan – Race 3 Final Classification (24 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||30||30:07.581||25|
|2.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||30||+ 3.070||20|
|3.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||30||+ 11.063||16|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||30||+ 11.715||13|
|5.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||30||+ 12.545||11|
|6.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||30||+ 12.586||10|
|7.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||30||+ 13.104||9|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||30||+ 13.864||8|
|9.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||30||+ 14.838||7|
|10.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||30||+ 18.942||6|
|11.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||30||+ 19.252||5|
|12.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||30||+ 19.770||4|
|13.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||30||+ 19.952||3|
|14.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||30||+ 20.340||2|
|15.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||30||+ 20.394||1|
|16.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||30||+ 22.087|
|17.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||30||+ 23.476|
|18.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||30||+ 24.001|
|19.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||30||+ 26.812|
|20.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||30||+ 27.669|
|21.||Jim Ka To (WC)||KCMG||30||+ 40.961|
|22.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||30||+ 51.068|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Ryuichiro Tomita (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||27||Spin|
|DNF.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||26||Retired|
|DNF.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||24||Puncture|
|DNF.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||11||Splitter|
|DNF.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Ritomo Miyata (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||0||Collision|
- The top fifteen classified finishers (excluding wildcard entries) and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- Kevin Ceccon – who was provisionally classified P3 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing avoidable contact with Rob Huff.
- Tiago Monteiro – who was provisionally classified P4 – was issued a 10-second post-race time penalty for unsafely rejoining the circuit and overtaking Thed Björk behind the Safety Car.
- Nicky Catsburg – who was provisionally classified P11 – was issued a 2-second post-race time penalty (effectively a redress measure) for overtaking Yvan Muller before either driver had crossed the Safety Car control line.
- Attila Tassi was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for being out of starting position.
- Augusto Farfus – who was provisionally classified P16 – was issued a drive-through penalty (applied as a 30-second post-race time penalty) for twice causing avoidable contact with Yann Ehrlacher.
- Yann Ehrlacher – who was provisionally classified P17 – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing avoidable contact with Augusto Farfus.
Images via FIA WTCR Media