Gabriele Tarquini set up a WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO title showdown in Macau next month with a fifth win of the season in Race 3 at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan today (Sunday).
The Hyundai-powered BRC Racing Team driver inherited first place when on-the-road winner Kevin Ceccon was penalised five seconds for not having all four wheels of his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR within his DHL Pole Position starting box.
Saturday’s Race 1 winner pushed as hard as he could once notice of the Race 3 penalty had been served. Although Aurélien Comte (DG Sport Compétition PEUGEOT 308TCR) moved ahead of him in the final order, Ceccon held on for the last podium spot, with Mehdi Bennani and Aurélien Comte completing the top five for Sébastien Loeb Racing and Comtoyou Racing respectively.
Rob Huff finished sixth in the second SLR Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR but the Brit leaves Japan a two-time winner in WTCR OSCARO after landing top spot in Race 2. A rapid start and a controlled approach under race-long pressure from Pepe Oriola (Team OSCARO by Campos Racing Cupra) were key to his success and a major confidence boost ahead of Macau, where he will be gunning for a record-extending win number 10. Oriola, meanwhile, had started the reverse-grid counter on the DHL pole, and although he lost out on a second win of 2018, he remains in the title race.
That’s led by Tarquini to the tune of 39 points over Yvan Muller (YMR Hyundai 30 N TCR) – who finished third in Race 1 – heading to the Suncity Group Macau Guia Race from 15-18 November. But with 87 points up for grabs at the street racing spectacular and seven drivers still in contention for the inaugural WTCR OSCARO crown, a tense title battle is in store. In the teams’ classification, BRC Racing Team moves ahead of YMR, albeit by a mere eight points.
Other notable performances at a sun-baked Suzuka, which attracted a weekend crowd of 42,500, came from Esteban Guerrieri, who took his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Honda Civic Type R TCR to fourth in Race 1 ahead of Bennani and Jean-Karl Vernay (Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team).
Norbert Michelisz returned to the podium with third in Race 2 for BRC Racing Team, the Hungarian finishing one place ahead of Panis, for whom fourth place was a season-best result, and two ahead of team-mate Tarquini.
Ceccon added to his Race 1 win, his DHL pole for Race 3 and his weekend-closing third with sixth in Race 2. However, the most notable performance of all came from Tiago Monteiro. The Portuguese was back in action 415 days after suffering serious head and neck injuries in a testing crash. In what was his long-awaited WTCR OSCARO debut, Monteiro scored a Suzuka-high P11 in Race 3 for the Honda-powered Boutsen Ginion Racing squad.
Monteiro: Race return exceeded expectations
Tiago Monteiro said his return to racing at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan exceeded his expectations. Monteiro, out of action since sustaining serious head and neck injuries in a testing crash in Spain in September 2017, scored a weekend-best P11 in Race 3 in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda Civic Type R TCR. Afterwards the Portuguese said: “I gained confidence with the car and with myself [throughout the weekend]. I pushed myself to the limit to see where I was, with fourth fastest lap in race two and fighting for the points in Race 3 in that big group. I enjoyed it so much, it exceeded my expectations and I am very happy about it.” Monteiro received a hero’s welcome from the WTCR OSCARO family with Race 2 winner Rob Huff using the post-race press conference to praise his one-time team-mate. “To achieve what he has achieved after only 18 months after a life-changing crash and to perform as he has this weekend, the whole championship is very proud of you, mate, so well done.”
Super Seven go for WTCR title gold in Macau
Seven drivers will start WTCR Race of Macau in contention to win the inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. Gabriele Tarquini tops the pile with 291 points, 39 clear of Yvan Muller and 53 up on Thed Björk who fought hard to land eighth place in an enthralling third race. Pepe Oriola is fourth in the table with a gap of 64 points to overcome. Jean-Karl Vernay, Esteban Guerrieri and Norbert Michelisz are fifth, sixth and seventh, 75, 78 and 79 points down on Tarquini. However, with three races on a challenging street circuit and 87 points up for grabs, the championship battle is set to go down to the wire at the Suncity Group Macau Guia Race from 15-18 November.
Fans flock to WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan
FIA World Touring Car racing’s return to Suzuka after four years away delivered three different winners from three action-packed races and a weekend crowd of 42,500. With a packed timetable including the Super Formula finale, WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan will go down as one of the many highlights of the inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO.
Race winner quotes
Kevin Ceccon, Team Mulsanne, Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR by Romeo Ferraris (Race 1): “Alfa was the only that hadn’t won a race before so that was my target when Team Mulsanne called me before Slovakia. We did a good job, I think today and especially yesterday because as you know it is important to start from the front. Today it was good fighting with Aurélien [Comte] because his start was slightly better than mine and I was not able to overtake him on lap one, but then we fight. We had two safety cars and it was not easy to hold our position, but then I achieved that and I am happy for myself and the team as well. You don’t think you are winning the race until the last corner. You keep your concentration to not make mistakes and keep your position. I have to say that when I started and was P2 on the first lap Yvan [Muller] was very close to me and Aurélien much further [ahead], so at the beginning my idea was to keep the position. But then I saw I could catch Aurélien quite easily, so I decided I needed to pass him, but it’s never easy to pass. I as lucky that we started to fight hard at 130R and on the exit I was able to grab the position before the braking, which was good. The only thing I did different from a normal race was before the final corner I called the team by radio and said ‘guys, jump on the wall and see you there’.”
Rob Huff, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR (Race 2): “First of all, congratulations to Sébastien Loeb Racing and Volkswagen. The car was amazing, we really found a sweet spot eventually. We struggled at the beginning of the weekend but to get that result after the last four events puts it all right again. I’m just so pleased for the team, it’s an amazing result with Mehdi [Bennani] winning [in Wuhan]. The car was a dream to drive. I just managed to nail the start. We’ve been working hard on the starts recently, because the other cars have been making such good starts and we needed to make sure we optimised ours and we did today. Pepe [Oriola] made a good start but I just got a better one. Then after that it was just a case of managing the gap and tyres. But I’m just relieved more than anything. The next race will be tougher but we’ve got 25 points in the bag today and we’ll go for more. We know the car is good and quick but after three laps I was looking after the tyres because we know it’s aggressive on the tyres here. And getting the win is good for the confidence for Macau because Macau is all about the confidence.”
Gabriele Tarquini, BRC Racing Team, Hyundai i30 N TCR (Race 3): “Yes, you can see the smile on my face. The gap is bigger than I expected because after the grid position penalty yesterday it was not easy. Yvan [Muller] recovered 10 points on me. But today was a different day. I got the chance to score some points, made a fantastic start in Race 2 and even better in Race 3, and this was the key to my success. I am very disappointed for Kevin because he was the fastest guy here, uncatchable for everybody. But unfortunately he got his five-second penalty and to be honest when they informed me I let him past. I did not have to challenge for the race, I was thinking about the points for my fight for the championship. But after I tried to be as close as possible, but he was very, very fast. But even with this fast car he was not able to gain five seconds. For me it was a good chance to score this victory.”
What’s next? WTCR Race of Macau, Suncity Group Guia Race, Circuito da Guia, 15-18 November: Macau’s 6.120-kilometre Circuito da Guia blends twisty turns and narrow blasts with long, wide-open straights and sweeping corners – plus gradient changes – to create one of the most challenging and spectacular street circuits on the planet. Touring car racing has been held in this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for more than half a century, with the famous Guia Race first run in 1972. Having welcomed the WTCC back to its streets last November for the penultimate event of the 2017 campaign when Rob Huff bagged a record ninth win, Macau hosts the inaugural WTCR season showdown with both drivers’ and team’s titles up for grabs.