Esteban Guerrieri claimed a ‘very important win’ in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race at Suzuka, elevating the Honda driver back to the top of the drivers’ championship standings.
Guerrieri started the race from pole position, despite qualifying in second, after a raft of drivers, including original pole-sitter Tiago Monteiro, were handed penalties ahead of the race.
The Münnich Motorsport driver initially lost the lead at the start of the race to the Audi of Niels Langeveld, having also come under pressure from his team-mate Frédéric Vervisch, but he quickly moved back to the front on lap two.
The Argentine then controlled the rest of the race to claim a third win of the year – crucially moving him past his main rival Norbert Michelisz, who could only manage 13th.
“It was a very intense race,” said Guerrieri. “I knew at the start I had to do a good start, which I did actually.
“I expected the Audis to be quick on the straight, but not to arrive at the first corner side by side with me.
“Vervisch did a very risky move on the outside, I tried to defend going side by side into Turn 2 and we touched wheels, losing a bit of pace there.
“Langeveld came on the inside and we went side by side and there was no need for me to risk too much, so he moved to the front.
“Unfortunately for him he did a mistake on the second lap and again I got back in the lead.”
Guerrieri was confident of the pace in his Honda Civic once he was back out in front, and he admitted that winning at the manufacturers’ home circuit was a very special moment for him.
“I knew I had the pace because the car felt very good on the infield, not so good on the straight, but I knew I could control the pace.
“It’s a very important win, a very enjoyable one for many reasons, but mostly winning here in Japan is very special as a Honda driver sharing the podium with a very experienced and a very loved driver by Honda in Tiago.
“It’s everything, you know, to win at Suzuka, a track full of history I used to watch races at as a kid. And for the championship it’s very important, so I am very thankful.”
Ahead of races two and three on Sunday Guerrieri holds a championship advantage of 13 points over Michelisz.