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Japan Signals Start of the Asian Tour

The FIA World Touring Car Championship rolls into Japan this weekend for the first of three flyaway weekend’s which will see one of the Chevrolet drivers crowned Champion for the second season in succession.

Previously, the WTCC has raced at Okayama, but for logistical reasons, the series has switched to Suzuka for this season, but not on the full 5.8km Grand Prix circuit. Instead, the teams face their longest race distance of the season as they complete two races of twenty three laps.

The Japanese race weekend of 2010 was surrounded in controversy. BMW Team RBM, the team which ran Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus took advantage of a loophole to swap gearboxes and thus, a weight break.

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Subsequently, the BMW’s locked out the front row after qualifying with the Chevrolets behind. Come race day and the weather changed, from warm and dry to cold and wet – which played into the Chevrolet drivers hands.

Rob Huff secured victory in race one, the only Chevrolet victory to date in Japan while race two saw Augusto Farfus win on the road – but WSR’s Colin Turkington inherited the victory when both Priaulx and Farfus were disqualified from the event due to the gearbox issues.

This meant that Muller was crowned Champion before the Macau weekend and Chevrolet were crowned Teams’ Champions.

Previous Winners at Okayama are:

2008: Rickard Rydell (SEAT), Tom Coronel (SEAT)
2009: Andy Priaulx (BMW), Augusto Farfus (BMW)
2010: Rob Huff (Chevrolet), Colin Turkington (BMW).

Heading to Suzuka East, the current Championship leader is Chevrolet’s Yvan Muller, the reigning Champion moved into the lead of the Championship last time out at Valencia and he arrives sixteen points ahead of team-mate Rob Huff.

Sitting in a safe third position is the third Chevrolet of Alain Menu. If he loses more than twenty one points to Muller over the weekend, his Championship will be over. He is almost assured of third in the Championship as his nearest rival, Tom Coronel in the ROAL Motorsport 320TC is ninety five points behind with a maximum of 150 to race for.

Behind the leading three Chevrolets, the next two drivers, Coronel and 2009 Champion Gabriele Tarquini are separated by a single point. Tarquini has taken the sole SEAT Victory this season, when the TDi Engine was still in all of the cars, and he defended stoutly from Huff in the second race at Zolder.

Coronel is the leading BMW runner but the only victory for the BMW machinery came at their home race of Oschersleben, when Franz Engstler secured the honours for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler operation.

Volvo and Robert Dahlgren have shown glimpses of speed and potential with their Polestar Racing run Volvo C30, and they chase their maiden podium finish in the WTCC. There has been no news on whether they will enter as a full works outfit in 2012 as of yet.

Japan sees the return of Colin Turkington to WTCC duty for Wiechers-Sport while the grid gains three drivers: Chevrolet have entered a fourth car for rally driver Toshihiro Arai, Liqui Moly Team Engstler have entered a BMW 320si for Charles Kaki Ng while SUNRED Engineering enter Hiroki Yoshimoto in another SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T.

DeTeam KK Motorsport also return to the fold with Masaki Kano, the team competed the opening couple of events but then disappeared – sponsorship issues and the car livery being the reasons cited for the absence.

In the battle for the Yokohama Independents, the title battle is still wide open as the top six drivers are covered by twenty six points and with a maximum of eighty points available, twelfth place Yukinori Tanaguchi could end up as Independents Champion.

The points scoring system works differently to the main Championship and the Macau finale is a double point’s event.

Leading the way heading to Suzuka is Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Kristian Poulsen, who sits four points ahead of Zengo Dension’s Norbert Michelisz. The first of the non BMW Independent drivers is Darryl O’Young in the bamboo engineering Chevrolet Cruze LT 1.6T, while Pepe Oriola is the first of the SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T drivers in seventh.

For the Jay Ten Trophy, Fabio Fabiani is joined by Charles Kaki Ng for Suzuka, Fabiani is second in the Championship despite being the sole representative at some of the race weekends – the campaign started with a number of the SEAT Leon 2.0 TDi drivers in contention, plus Turkish driver Ibrahim Oykay has also had selected outings in his BMW 320si, taking a double win at Oschersleben.

What will happen in Japan? We shall wait and see, but with two races of twenty three lap’s duration, tyre management could end up being key. Could BMW finally kick start their season and secure a double win? Will Volvo secure their first WTCC podium with Robert Dahlgren or will Chevrolet continue their dominance? And will the title still be on the Menu for Alain leaving Japan?

Answers to these questions and a lot more questions can be answered during qualifying, which is on Eurosport at 09.15 BST Saturday, 22 October with rounds nineteen and twenty live on Eurosport at 06.15 BST and 07.15 BST Sunday morning, 23 October.

Suzuka Predictions:

Pole Position: Yvan Muller
Race 1:
1st: Yvan Muller, 2nd. Rob Huff, 3rd: Gabriele Tarquini
Race 2: 1st: Norbert Michelisz, 2nd: Yvan Muller, 3rd: Tiago Monteiro

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