Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Tom Chilton took victory in the Opening World Touring Car Championship race at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, as Honda’s title contender Norbert Michelisz endured a drama-filled race.
Despite heavy rain throughout the day, the race was deemed safe to commence with a standing start. Chilton started from the front row of the grid and got a good getaway, pulling alongside pole man Kevin Gleason heading into Turn 1 on the first lap.
The Brit slipped his Citroën up the inside and was able to take the lead, as Gleason battled with his RC Motorsport LADA and slid down to eighth by the end of the opening lap.
Chilton was thereafter unchallenged on his way to a second victory of the season, opening up a margin of over 13 seconds to win the race.
RC Motorsport’s Yann Ehrlacher found himself in second at the end of the first tour, and the Frenchman held the position for the rest of the race, despite heavy pressure first the Volvo of Thed Björk and later the Honda of Esteban Guerrieri.
Lap nine briefly saw Björk get past Ehrlacher for second, but Guerrieri followed through in the pass and then took Björk for second at the next corner. The two factory cars then made contact heading into Turn 7, which allowed Ehrlacher back into second.
For a moment it looked like things could end in tears for both title contender Björk and Honda’s sub Guerrieri, but the Swede backed out of further skirmishes and had to settle for fourth, with Guerrieri completing the podium ahead of him.
The second Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of Mehdi Bennani took fifth after a quiet race for the Moroccan, ahead of Gleason in sixth, with the American scoring his best-ever WTCC result.
Honda’s Michelisz took seventh, although the Hungarian had to recover to take points home from the race. On lap three the Honda driver was knocked out of sixth at the final corner by Volvo’s Néstor Girolami, who had a few corners earlier made a mistake and lost the position.
Michelisz dropped down to 12th and was forced to work hard for points, whilst Girolami was handed a drive-through penalty for the contact.
Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff took eighth, having lost out to the clearly much faster Michelisz on lap seven, ahead of Volvo’s Nicky Catsburg in ninth. The Dutchman had earlier also been given a drive-through penalty for contact with Honda’s Ryo Michigami on lap three whilst battling for tenth.
In the end Michigami was able to claim the final point for tenth, despite another off-track incident late in the race at Turn 11 after contact with Huff.
Girolami just missed out on the points after his earlier penalty and took 11th, ahead of SLR’s John Filippi in 12th.
ROAL Motorsport’s Japan favourite Tom Coronel failed to find any of his eastern luck and took 13th ahead of rookie Kris Richard in 14th in his Campos Racing Chevrolet.
All drivers finished the race despite the conditions and contact. The Main Race takes place at 15:30 JST (06:30 GMT, 07:30 CET).
|1||3||T||Tom CHILTON||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||11||11 LAPS||2:09.388||2|
|2||68||T||Yann EHRLACHER||RC Motorsport||LADA Vesta WTCC||11||13.158||2:10.134||3|
|3||86||T||Esteban GUERRIERI||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda Civic WTCC||11||15.288||2:10.038||6|
|4||62||Thed BJÖRK||Polestar Cyan Racing||Volvo S60 Polestar||11||15.846||2:10.425||5|
|5||25||T||Mehdi BENNANI||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||11||19.053||2:10.248||4|
|6||24||T||Kevin GLEASON||RC Motorsport||LADA Vesta WTCC||11||20.659||2:09.754||1|
|7||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda Civic WTCC||11||27.349||2:09.741||8|
|8||12||T||Rob HUFF||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||11||36.278||2:11.441||11|
|9||63||Nicky CATSBURG||Polestar Cyan Racing||Volvo S60 Polestar||11||36.629||2:10.098||17|
|10||34||Ryo MICHIGAMI||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda Civic WTCC||11||37.104||2:10.783||16|
|11||61||Néstor GIROLAMI||Polestar Cyan Racing||Volvo S60 Polestar||11||37.127||2:10.526||7|
|12||27||T||John FILIPPI||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||11||37.748||2:10.926||10|
|13||9||T||Tom CORONEL||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1||11||40.107||2:11.935||12|
|14||11||Kris RICHARD||Campos Racing||Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1||11||40.687||2:11.271||13|
|15||99||T||Dániel NAGY||Zengő Motorsport Kft||Honda Civic WTCC||11||42.683||2:11.240||9|
|16||26||T||Filipe Clemente DE SOUZA||RC Motorsport||LADA Vesta WTCC||11||54.402||2:11.734||15|
|17||66||T||Zsolt Dávid SZABÓ||Zengő Motorsport Kft||Honda Civic WTCC||11||1:08.185||2:12.085||14|