Norbert Michelisz returned to the top of the World Touring Car Cup championship standings less than 24 hours after relinquishing the lead to Esteban Guerrieri with a lights-to-flag victory in the second race of the weekend at Suzuka.
Having barely finished in the points in Saturday’s opening race while Guerrieri went on to claim the win, this time it was the turn of Michelisz to take the upper hand. Starting from the reversed-grid pole, the BRC Racing Hyundai driver aggressively chopped across the front of Rob Huff’s SLR Volkswagen Golf at the start to keep the race lead.
It was a starting move that was straight out of the Michael Schumacher textbook and it quite rightly earned him a ‘black-and-white’ warning flag from the stewards, but with a clear track in front of him Michelisz quickly set about trying to build an early lead.
Huff was initially left to defend against Michelisz’s teammate Gabriele Tarquini and the hard-charging Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo of Kevin Ceccon, but the British driver quickly settled down to a rhythm and started to ease away from the two Italians who staged an entertaining race-long scrap for the final spot on the podium.
Michelisz’s immediate championship rivals were having their own mixed fortunes. Race 1 winner Guerrieri found the initial going difficult, with the Münnich Motorsport Honda driver overtaken by Mikel Azcona’s PWR Racing Cupra on the second lap. The Argentine would lose a further position later in the race to Jean-Karl Vernay’s WRT Audi, with the French driver putting in a late charge over the last few laps to finish in ninth.
Yvan Muller, starting well down the order, once again threaded the needle on the opening lap and quickly worked his way into the lower points-paying positions. His Lynk & Co stablemate and nephew Yann Ehrlacher let him by into fifteenth place, which then became fourteenth when Attila Tassi toured his evil-handling KCMG Honda through the gravel at the final corner.
Aside from race-ending contact for SLR Volkswagen’s Niels Langeveld (who copped a hit from Augusto Farfus’ BRC Hyundai through the Esses) the racing was generally quite disciplined, with no one wanting to risk major repairs in the short break between the weekend’s second and third races.
In the end, Michelisz hung on to claim his fourth race win of the season and with Guerrieri finishing no better than tenth this moved him into a narrow six-point lead in the championship standings. Unable to get any higher than fourteenth, Muller remains in third place, albeit a distant 37 points adrift of Michelisz.
Huff pushed hard over the final laps but could not find a way by, claiming his first podium finish of what has been a rather luckless season. Tarquini survived a side-by-side attack from Ceccon in the final laps to claim the final podium position.
Thed Björk led the Lynk & Co charge with fifth place ahead of Race 1 podium-finisher Tiago Monteiro (KCMG Honda), with Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen) Azcona, Vernay and Guerrieri rounding out the top ten finishers.
The third and final race of the weekend takes place at 11:30 local time.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan – Race 2 Final Classification (24 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||24||22:01.538||25|
|2.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||24||+ 0.293||20|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||24||+ 8.205||16|
|4.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||24||+ 8.531||13|
|5.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||24||+ 11.102||11|
|6.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||24||+ 11.330||10|
|7.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||24||+ 11.699||9|
|8.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||24||+ 12.114||8|
|9.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||24||+ 12.883||7|
|10.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||24||+ 18.072||6|
|11.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||24||+ 19.580||5|
|12.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||24||+ 19.773||4|
|13.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||24||+ 19.958||3|
|14.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||24||+ 20.134||2|
|15.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||24||+ 20.367||1|
|16.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||24||+ 20.741|
|17.||Ryuichiro Tomita (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||24||+ 21.025|
|18.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||24||+ 21.517|
|19.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||24||+ 22.517|
|20.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||24||+ 26.168|
|21.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||24||+ 28.366|
|22.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||24||+ 29.493|
|23.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||24||+ 30.037|
|24.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||24||+ 32.744|
|25.||Ritomo Miyata (WC)||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||24||+ 32.902|
|26.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||24||+ 33.112|
|27.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||24||+ 33.504|
|28.||Jim Ka To (WC)||KCMG||24||+ 52.139|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||15||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.
- Benjamin Leuchter – who was provisionally classified P11 – was issued a 1.5-second post-race time penalty (effectively a redress measure) for a ‘bump and run’ pass on Néstor Girolami.
Images via FIA WTCR Media