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Preview: 200 up for WTCC at Suzuka

The World Touring Car Championship reaches another milestone in the second race of the weekend at Suzuka – the 200th race since the inception of the series back in 2005.

Suzuka also provides RML’s Yvan Muller another chance to secure his fourth drivers’ title – and in the process, become the most successful driver in WTCC history in terms of titles. He currently shares the accolade with DTM driver Andy Priaulx, who won three titles on the trot between 2005 and 2007.

Rounds 19 and 20 of the 2013 season feature the largest grids of the season – 30 cars are entered for the 2013 WTCC Race of Japan, held on the 2.24km Suzuka East circuit.

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It was at Suzuka last year where Honda made their anticipated debut with the Honda Civic – Tiago Monteiro secured a brace of top 10 finishes in the cars maiden WTCC event and he arrives off the back of a strong showing at Sonoma Raceway.

The Castrol Honda WTC Team expand to a three car outfit for the Suzuka weekend – Tayuka Izawa joins full time drivers Gabriele Tarquini and Monteiro – while Norbert Michelisz takes the number of Hondas on the grid to four for their home event.

With Muller on the cusp of his fourth title, the battle for second overall is between fellow Chevrolet drivers’ James Nash in the bamboo engineering car and Tom Chilton in the sister car to Muller. Michel Nykjær won’t be at Suzuka to continue his challenge for second.

With Nykjær missing from the grid, Nash has an opportunity to stamp his authority on the Yokohama Independents’ standings – he currently shares the lead with the Danish racer and holds a 31 point advantage over team-mate Alex MacDowall.

BMW took a victory at Suzuka last year with Stefano d’Aste in the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC and the team took a victory earlier in the season with guest driver Jose Maria Lopez in Argentina. With regular driver Fredy Barth missing due to clashing commitments, the team have hired Japanese racer Yukinori Taniguchi for the Suzuka weekend.

Franz Engstler is missing from the grid for the first time since he joined the grid – a run of 138 consecutive races. Masaki Kano has taken his place in the team for rounds 19 and 20.

ROAL Motorsport driver Tom Coronel considers Japan as his second home and has fond memories of racing in Japan – the Dutchman took his first ever WTCC victory in Japan back in 2008, in the mixed conditions at Okayama.

Best of the SEAT drivers, Rob Huff, is hoping for a chance in fortune in Japan after a run of luck which has seen a brace of retirements and lower top ten results in the American double header.

LADA Sport Lukoil head to Japan with neither driver, James Thompson or Mikhail Kozlovskiy having raced at Suzuka. With the Manufacturers title having gone, the team will focus on getting as much experience as they can ahead of the 2014 campaign.

Suzuka sees the opening round of the inaugural ‘Asia Trophy’ – a trophy set up by the series organisers for the Asian drivers who enter on a race by race basis and Suzuka sees nine drivers eligible for the trophy.

Four Japanese drivers – Kano, Yoshimoto, Taniguchi and Izawa – are joined by five drivers from Macau, the Macanese drivers are: Filipe C. De Souza, Ng Kin Veng, Jerónimo Badaraco, Mak Ka Lok and Henry Ho Wai Kun.

With 30 cars on the grid, a title to be decided and a 2.24km circuit – unpopular with drivers due to the lack of overtaking opportunities – the scene is set for two action packed and unpredictable races. Would the World Touring Car Championship want to celebrate its 200th race in any other way?

Suzuka Predictions:

Pole Position: Yvan Muller

Race 1: 1. Yvan Muller, 2. Gabriele Tarquini, 3. Norbert Michelisz

Reverse Grid Pole Position: James Thompson

Race 2: 1. James Thompson, 2. Tiago Monteiro, 3. James Nash

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