José María López has admitted that he needs to keep his focus as he closes in on the 2014 World Touring Car Championship drivers’ title as the series heads to Japan.
López arrives at Suzuka with a 93 point advantage over his nearest rival and team-mate Yvan Muller after taking a win and third during the last round at Shanghai. To secure the title at Suzuka, ‘Pechito’ needs 17 Championship points – a single second place finish would see him crowned.
“I have to stay focused till the end,” admits López. “At the start of the season, I wasn’t thinking about winning the title. I was just there to do as well as I could and to help the team meet its goals. Although I’ve been leading since qualifying in Marrakech, I refused to think about the title until I won both races in Argentina.
“In Shanghai, I felt more nervous, as I felt the moment was drawing nearer,” he admits. “I have already won several titles over the course of my career, but I have to say that the prospect of becoming World Champion surpasses anything I’ve experienced before. There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s nice pressure to have to cope with!”
López is aiming to become the first Argentine FIA Champion since Juan Manuel Fangio.
Team-mate Muller has already turned his attentions to the 2015 WTCC Campaign after seeing his title aspirations take a hit in China after contact from his Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb saw the four times Champion retire.
Despite having an outside chance to secure his fifth WTCC crown – Muller needs to outscore López by 38 points to take the fight to Macau – the Alsace driver admits his hopes have long since disappeared.
“In my mind, my Championship hopes disappeared a while back,” added Muller. “The outcome of our little trip to China only strengthened that belief! That won’t stop me from approaching the final rounds with the same determination and professionalism as ever.
“But I’m now focusing all my efforts on preparing for next season. We still have room for improvement in several areas. We can find new setups and improve our understanding and use of our tyres. Meanwhile, the competition isn’t exactly resting on its laurels either!”
The fourth visit to Suzuka will see the WTCC field attack the full length 5.807km (3.1m) circuit, including the Degner corners and 130R. The previous three visits had seen the unpopular Suzuka East configuration used.
“That’s really good news. Previously, we had to settle for the shorter, 2-kilometre track,” said Muller of the decision to switch to the 5.8km configuration. “To be honest, all the drivers felt it was a shame to go halfway across the world to compete on an uninteresting circuit where it was impossible to overtake. Now our cars will be able to express themselves on a track where they can really show what they’re capable of.”
“I can’t wait to get out on track in my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC,” said the four-time WTCC World Champion. “There aren’t a lot of tight corners and most of the track consists of successions of quick bends. This is the type of circuit where you need to find the right pace to clock fast times.”
Third in the Championship and third Citroën driver is Sébastien Loeb and like Muller, he has turned his attentions to 2015 and the multiple World Rally Champion admits he needs to work on racing in the pack ahead of 2015.
“This season is about laying the foundations for stronger performances next year,” Loeb commented. “As I’ve said since Spa-Francorchamps, it’s in the pack that I have the most improving to do. Unfortunately, that was apparent in Shanghai, but you can only get better by racing. I’m delighted to be returning to Japan, which is home to some of my most loyal supporters. I’m sure they’ll be there to cheer us on in Suzuka!”