Event preview: WTCR / OSCARO racers ready to feast on East
*Suzuka Circuit East Course hosts second stop of season-deciding tour of Asia *World title tussle wide open heading to Honda’s home track *Miyata and Tomita fly the flag for Japan at JVCKENWOOD-backed event
Event preview: FIA WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 22, 23 and 24 of 30, Suzuka Circuit East Course, 25-27 October
With nine races remaining and a whopping 1350 points still to fight for, the battle to win the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO will shift up another gear when the Suzuka Circuit East Course hosts WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan from 25-27 October.
A new layout for the bulk of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID, the 2.243-kilometre track is the shortest on the WTCR / OSCARO schedule but is expected to deliver non-stop action and entertainment for the fans in the grandstands and for the viewers watching live coverage around the world.
Following last month’s WTCR Race of China, WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan is the second stop on the season-deciding tour of Asia that also includes visits to Macau and Malaysia. And it will be at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit from 13-15 December where the WTCR / OSCARO super-finale will take place as part of the inaugural Races of Malaysia double-header event, which features WTCR Race of Malaysia and the 8 Hours of Sepang FIM Endurance World Championship race for motorbikes.
With 21 races run, Norbert Michelisz from Hungary tops the title table for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, albeit by a slender 15 points over Argentine Esteban Guerrieri, who lines up for the Honda-powered ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport squad. After his record points haul in China, where a win double made him the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver, French FIA World Touring Car legend Yvan Muller is also firmly in the title chase, just one point behind Guerrieri for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co. But with a maximum of 85 points up for grabs at each of the remaining three race events, the battle for the crown is wide open heading to Honda’s home track.
Circuit switch means Coronel’s old favourite returns
The decision to switch from the planned Suzuka Circuit Full Course layout to the East Course respects the FIA’s safety requirements and was taken jointly by circuit operator and event promoter Mobilityland and WTCR / OSCARO promoter Eurosport Events.
This is because large sections of the Full Course are lined with urethane safety barriers. While these are mandatory for FIM-sanctioned motorbike events, they do not conform to the circuit’s stringent FIA homologation for car racing. Because there is not enough time to remove the urethane barriers in place around the Full Course before the WTCR / OSCARO event and then reinstall them afterwards due to other circuit-based activities, the significantly shorter East Course will be used instead.
But as Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing driver Tom Coronel has been quick to point out, a great show is in store in the three races that make up the WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan weekend, that combines with the Super Formula finale to form the 4 & 4 Races event.
“I won at the East Course in 2011 and 2013 so I have good memories,” said the Dutchman. “It’s a good track for the show and that’s part of what we do. The layout is a good style for the fans. When I won in 2013, Mehdi Bennani was leading but I overtook him in Turn 2 by approaching the attack in Turn 1 and teasing him. The last corner, which is uphill to the right, is also quite interesting. Unlike the other medium-speed corners, there’s a type of swing and if somebody makes a mistake you can overtake them.”
Alternative weekend timetable explained
WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan runs to a slightly different format than other WTCR events with First Qualifying and Second Qualifying on the same day, Friday 25 October, leaving Saturday and Sunday purely for racing. Race 1 (24 laps, 53.832 kilometres) provides the entertainment on 26 October with Race 2 (also 24 laps, 53.832 kilometres) and Race 3 (28 laps, 62.804 kilometres) delivering the action on 27 October. The 4 & 4 Races event is also headlined by the Super Formula finale, Japan’s premier single-seater category. Click here to view the timetable.
Audi-powered Miyata and Tomita get wildcard entries for home race
Local racers Ritomo Miyata and Ryuichiro Tomita will fly the Japanese flag when the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO visits their country. Miyata, 20, and Tomita, 30, have secured wildcard entries and will both drive an Audi RS 3 LMS under the Audi Team Hitotsuyama banner and their progress will be closely followed by the thousands of local fans expected at Suzuka. Click here to view the press release.
Jim Ka To set for WTCR / OSCARO debut in KC Motorgroup Honda
Hong Kong driver Jim Ka To is gearing up for his debut in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO in a Honda Civic Type R TCR entered under the KC Motorgroup banner. KC Motorgroup owns and operates the Honda-powered KCMG WTCR / OSCARO team which has guided Tiago Monteiro to a race win and team-mate Attila Tassi to a DHL Pole Position this season. Click here to view the press release.
WTCR hero Monteiro’s racing returned revisited
Tiago Monteiro made a heroic – and hugely emotional – return to racing at Suzuka on 26 October 2018 after 415 days of fighting to recover from the serious head and neck injuries sustained in a testing crash that could so easily have ended his career. In highly-charged scenes at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan, drivers from the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO formed a guard of honour in the Suzuka pit lane. They then watched Monteiro take to the track for Free Practice 1 before following the Portuguese on to the circuit. Click here to relive the moment and view the video.
Twenty-one races, 12 winners and a tightly-poised WTCR title tussle
Twelve drivers have won races in 2019, while all seven customer racing brands have celebrated race victories to underline another hugely competitive WTCR / OSCARO season. Click here to view the provisional 2019 standings.
Welcome to the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID
The #WTCR2019SUPERGRID celebrates the fact that of the 26 all-season racers, seven have won 14 FIA world titles, while the others have shared 29 major championships between them.
Gabriele Tarquini, who began his world title defence with the Race 2 win at the season-opening WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco, carries the number 1 on his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. The vastly experienced Tarquini took his second victory of 2019 when he beat team-mate and home hero Norbert Michelisz in the third race in Hungary.
After missing out on the inaugural WTCR / OSCARO crown by three points in a seven-way title decider in Macau last November, four-time world champion Yvan Muller is back in a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China. He took his first wins of the season at Lynk & Co’s home event last month to announce his emergence as a title contender.
Thed Björk partners Muller at Cyan Racing Lynk & Co and started his bid for a second FIA world crown by giving Lynk & Co an historic victory in Morocco. After the Hungary and Slovakia weekends proved frustrating in comparison, the Swede hit back in style with a win double in The Netherlands. He’s fourth in the rankings after 21 races.
Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport Golf GTI TCR), the 2012 WTCC champion, is one of 12 of the 15 winners from 2018 back in action in 2019. After a challenging start to the year, the Briton came close to a podium in Slovakia, where he led, and has shown more form in the subsequent races.
BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus, the FIA GT World Cup winner from 2018, double FIA World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen) and three-time WTCC champion Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) were new to WTCR for 2019, with Kristoffersson a winner following his Race 2 triumph at the Nürburgring Nordschleife where Farfus bagged a first podium.
Winner of Race 1 in Marrakech, Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR), topped the standings after the first race in Hungary only for his challenge to unravel when broken steering caused his Race 3 crash. He made amends with a fighting second place in Race 2 at the Slovakia Ring and retook top spot in the title table by winning Race 2 at Zandvoort. Having held first overall throughout the summer, a frustrating Ningbo weekend means the Argentine is in second place starting Honda’s home round.
Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport) had high hopes of his first 2019 win in Hungary when he lined up on the reverse-grid Race 2 pole. But a clutch issue meant a sluggish start resulting in the Frenchman settling for second ahead of impressive newcomer Daniel Haglöf (PWR Racing). Vernay has extensive experience in Japan, but Haglöf will be racing in the country for the first time.
Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and Comtoyou Racing pair Niels Langeveld and Frédéric Vervisch complete the Audi-powered attack with Vervisch winning in Slovakia – the result of an impressive charge from ninth on the grid – and taking a podium double in Germany. In his first season in WTCR / OSCARO, Langeveld is making progress and upping his pace at every turn. Shedden won once last season and isn’t giving up on his efforts to emulate that achievement.
A number of exciting young guns are challenging the established order in 2019. They include Mikel Azcona, who graduated to WTCR as the TCR Europe champion to race a PWR-run CUPRA, and his close rival in recent seasons, Attila Tassi, the 20-year-old Honda-powered KCMG driver. Although Vila Real was unchartered territory for both, Tassi took the DHL Pole Position for Race 3, while Azcona scored a breakthrough win in Race 2. Azcona, the best-placed rookie in the standings, was a podium finisher again in China, where Honda-powered Tassi produced his highest-scoring weekend.
Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne) and Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are already winners in WTCR, but at 26 and 23 respectively, they remain among a list of talented youngsters that also includes Aurélien Panis, who has switched to CUPRA power for 2019 with Comtoyou Team DHL CUPRA Racing and set the fastest lap in Race 1 in China. Ex-single-seater racer Ceccon scored a podium brace in Slovakia, while Ehrlacher led and was the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver in Vila Real.
Tom Coronel, who enjoyed a prolific career in Japan by capturing the country’s Formula 3 and Formula Nippon titles, partners Panis at Comtoyou. His fellow Dutchman Nicky Catsburg (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team) is new to WTCR in 2019 having triumphed in the World Touring Car Championship in the past. Benjamin Leuchter made the most of his Nordschleife knowledge to score an emotional home victory in Germany. However, Suzuka is a trip into the unknown for the SLR Volkswagen driver.
ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Honda-powered Argentine Néstor Girolami, another series newcomer for this year, is a WTCC race winner with three WTCR / OSCARO victories also to his name. Having become the first Chinese to score WTCR points in 2018, Ma Qinghua made more history as the first Chinese driver to win a WTCR / OSCARO race when he triumphed in Race 3 at the Slovakia Ring in his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce by Romeo Ferraris.
Tiago Monteiro is in his first full season since serious head and neck injuries ended his hopes of winning the WTCC title in 2017. The Portuguese, a Formula One podium finisher in the past, drives a Honda Civic Type R TCR for Hong Kong-based KCMG. He returns to Suzuka. where he made his heroic 2018 comeback, still on a high following his emotional home win in Vila Real in July.
Monteiro’s former team-mate, Norbert Michelisz, is leading on the #RoadToMalaysia after adding victory in China to his triumphs in Germany and Portugal for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse. Mehdi Bennani is playing catch-up in the WTCR / OSCARO standings but has experience of the Suzuka Circuit East Course from his successful stint in the World Touring Car Championship.
They said what? WTCR drivers on the Suzuka challenge
This is what some of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID members have had to say about Suzuka.
Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR): “Suzuka [last year] was the kind of weekend you always remember. It’s something you keep in your mind and when you think about it you just smile, feel grateful and say thanks for what happened. But it’s already one year ago. I like to switch my mind more about the future than the past so I want to focus on Suzuka 2019. It will be completely different, different cars, different tyres, different competitors, the field is stronger this year so we will see. But we are in shape and ready for Suzuka.”
Néstor Girolami (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR): “It’s one of the most exciting weekends because Honda is from Japan and it’s a real pleasure to race there with the support of the Japanese fans and the people from Honda. I came to Suzuka last year to visit but after the dream was coming true when I start to have conversations with Honda about racing in WTCR this season. We continue [the discussions] and in the end everything came together. Suzuka was the starting point for this.”
Ritomo Miyata (Audi Team Hitotsuyama, Audi RS 3 LMS): “I had never driven a front-wheel drive car [until recently]. I have spent my career in karting, single-seaters and Super GT, but I really have to say that I liked the TCR category instantly because the Audi is a car that is easy and fun to drive. Obviously, the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID boasts plenty of champions including multiple world champions, and I have a lot of respect for them. But as a race driver, you’ve got one target only whenever you race: being in front, claiming the pole position and winning. I want to do my best, and I know it won’t be easy at all against so many high-level drivers.”
Tiago Monteiro (KCMG, Honda Civic Type R TCR): “It’s an important event, a second home race and always busy. You feel a lot of excitement around it. It’s the place where I returned after my accident with this fantastic welcome from the whole paddock. It was very emotional. I’ve been seven years in the Honda family. I love Japan and I love being with Honda.”
Gabriele Tarquini (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai i30 N TCR): “I always had a very good feeling in Suzuka after I discovered the track was as old as me, it was built in 1962! I know Suzuka from my Formula One time and first raced there in 1988. I love the ambience and the amazing atmosphere. Last year was one of my best races ever because I scored a lot of points and it was the key of my championship win because the fight with Yvan [Muller] was very close. The weather can be a factor and there is no space for a mistake.”
All you need to know about WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan
Rounds: 22-24 of 30
Venue: Suzuka Circuit East Course
Date: 25-27 October 2019
Location: 7992 Ino-Cho, Suzuka-shi, Mie-ken 510-0295, Japan
Length: 2.243 kilometres
Time zone: GMT +9 hours
Race 1 distance: 24 laps (53.832 kilometres)
Race 2 distance: 24 laps (53.832 kilometres)
Race 3 distance: 28 laps (62.804 kilometres)
East Course WTCR qualifying lap record:
To be established
East Course WTCR race lap record:
To be established
Used for Japan’s WTCC counter between 2011 and 2013, the 2.243-kilometre East Course layout features the legendary First Turn – a classic down-hill right-hander. It also includes the S Corner sweeps and a section of the Dunlop Corner before it swings sharp right onto the iconic start/finish straight. Using the East Course respects the FIA’s safety and circuit homologation requirements, which don’t allow urethane safety barriers. Because there is not enough time to remove and reinstall these barriers that are in place on the Full Course before and after WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan the East Course is being used instead.
FIVE SUZUKA FACTS
1: Designed by John Hugenholtz – who also penned Circuit Zandvoort – Suzuka initially opened as a Honda test track in 1962 and staged its first Japanese Grand Prix in 1987.
2: Gabriele Tarquini, who was also born in 1962 and won the inaugural WTCR / OSCARO title in 2018, tried but failed to qualify for his first Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1988.
3: Suzuka Circuit’s East Course hosted WTCC Race of Japan on three occasions. Current WTCR / OSCARO racers Tom Coronel (two times) and Norbert Michelisz (once) won on the shorter layout.
4: At 2.243 kilometres, the Suzuka East Course beats Circuit Moulay El Hassan in Marrakech as the shortest track on the WTCR / OSCARO schedule. The Moroccan venue measures 2.971 kilometres in length.
5: Wildcard racers Ritomo Miyata and Ryuichiro Tomita will become the first drivers from Japan to race in WTCR / OSCARO when they compete at Suzuka from 25-27 October.
PROVISIONAL KEY TIMINGS*
Thursday 24 October
Pre-event press conference (Press Conference Room): 16h30-17h00
Friday 25 October
Free Practice 1: 08h30-09h15
Free Practice 2: 10h15-10h45
First Qualifying: 13h00-13h30
First Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 13h30-13h40 (estimated)
Second Qualifying Q1: 15h30-15h50
Second Qualifying Q2: 15h55-16h05
Second Qualifying Q3: 16h15 (first car starts top five DHL Pole Position shootout)
Second Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 16h40-16h50 (estimated)
Saturday 26 October
Race 1: 15h05 (24 laps)
Race 1 podium: 15h35 (estimated)
Race 1 press conference (Press Conference Room): 15h50 (estimated)
Sunday 27 October
Race 2: 10h00 (24 laps)
Race 2 podium: 10h30
Race 3: 11h30 (28 laps)
Race 3 podium: 12h00
Race 2/3 press conference (Press Conference Room): 12h15 (estimated)
Autograph session: 12h10-12h50 (pitlane)
*All timings are local (GMT +9 hours) and subject to change