Race preview: WTCR drivers all set for Super Suzuka online and on-track
Suzuka will be the epicentre of World Touring Car racing in the coming days with a unique double-header in store at the famous Japanese track – both virtual and real.
On Sunday (21 October), the fifth event of the Esports WTCR OSCARO Multiplayer Championship takes place on an online version of the classic 5.807-kilometre circuit. That will serve as an exciting prelude to WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan, the penultimate weekend of the inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO season, from 26-28 October.
Twenty-four races run, 13 different winning drivers and six victorious customer racing brands are some of the key numbers in WTCR OSCARO. But the most significant number of all is 415. That’s because on 26 October, it will be 415 days since Tiago Monteiro began his fight-back from serious head and neck injuries sustained in a testing accident in Spain, a courageous battle that will culminate in him making his long-awaited and emotionally-charged return to racing.
“There were times when the situation looked pretty bleak, but I never lost hope that this day would come and that has kept me determined to push harder than ever to get back to where I want to be,” said Monteiro, who will finally get to climb aboard his #18 Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda Civic Type R TCR during a race weekend. “Coming to races all year and watching other people do what I should be doing has been tearing me up inside. The fact that I’ll be returning at Honda’s home circuit – the same place I made my first WTCC start with them in 2012 – is also very special and a great way to repay the faith and support they’ve shown me throughout my recovery period.”
No targets, Monteiro’s just happy to be back
Tiago Monteiro is not setting any targets as he prepares for his first racing weekend since WTCC Race of Argentina in July 2017. “I cannot even begin to tell you how good it feels to be back,” said the Portuguese. “I just want to have fun, get comfortable and play myself in at my own pace before I come back full time in 2019. I am so grateful to the professionals that have helped me in my recovery, my family, friends and supporters; you’ve all been amazing throughout this tough time.”
Fast Friday awaits WTCR drivers
Friday 26 October at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan will be about going as fast as possible with not one but two qualifying sessions on the agenda. At 13h00 local time, 25 World Touring Car drivers will attempt to secure their places on the grid for Race 1 on Saturday. Then at 15h30, the three-phase qualifying shootout for the DHL Pole Position for Race 3 on Sunday begins with the driver who places P10 at the end of Qualifying Q2 lining up at the front for Race 2.
Wide-open WTCR title battle continues
Gabriele Tarquini will return to Suzuka, where finished P11 in the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix and won the second of two FIA World Touring Car Championship races in 2014, leading the Drivers’ standings. However, his advantage over joint-second-place drivers Thed Björk – a Suzuka novice – and Yvan Muller is just seven points, such is the wide-open nature of the title fight in 2018. Indeed, after 24 races, the top 10 drivers are split by 79 points with a maximum of 87 on offer in Japan. Pepe Oriola (Cupra) heads the pursuit of the leading Hyundai trio with Jean-Karl Vernay (Audi), Esteban Guerrieri (Honda), Norbert Michelisz (Hyundai), Frédéric Vervisch (Audi), Yann Ehrlacher (Honda) and Rob Huff (Volkswagen) in close attention.
Shedden has that winning feeling in WTCR
Gordon Shedden has no plans to settle for winning once in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. Shedden ended his victory drought with a standout first place finish in Race 3 at WTCR Race of China-Wuhan earlier this month, where he also became the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver (MVD) for the first time. Now the Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team driver wants to do it all again at Suzuka. “Wuhan was a brilliant weekend for me and for the team,” said the three-time British Touring Car champion from Scotland. “My first podium, pole and race win, thanks to Audi Sport, Leopard and Lukoil and WRT, hopefully this is just the start of a great run to the end of the season.”
Could Suzuka GT run give Vervisch the edge?
Frédéric Vervisch is already in front in the battle to win at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. Vervisch took part in the track’s Intercontinental GT Challenge round in August and partnered Christopher Mies and Dries Vanthoor to fourth overall in an Audi Sport Team WRT RS 8 LMS, only missing out on a possible podium due to a puncture. While some of Vervisch’s WTCR OSCARO rivals have experience of the Japanese Grand Prix venue from their time competing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, it’s new to several and Vervisch will almost certainly have the most up-to-date knowledge of the track and the challenge it poses when action begins on 26 October. “I learned a lot but it’s a very difficult track,” said Vervisch, who drives an Audi Sport Team Comtoyou RS 3 LMS in WTCR. “The asphalt is, how can I say it, very strange, not what I’m used to, and maybe at the end of the races we will see some tyre degradation.” Asked what fans watching trackside and live on television can expect in terms of the racing, Vervisch said: “It’s a high-speed track with two places where you can definitely overtake.”
Why Suzuka is a second homecoming for Coronel
Not all WTCR drivers get one home race but Tom Coronel actually gets two. The Dutchman lived in Japan for five years and claimed some of his biggest motorsport successes in the country, including the Formula 3 and Formula Nippon titles, making WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan a second home event for the Honda-powered Boutsen Ginion Racing driver. “The change of my career happened in Japan because I came from Europe where I had not budget to continue but the Japanese supported me very well. And Suzuka is designed by a Dutchman, John Hugenholtz, the same designer behind Zandvoort in my country. Mr Honda liked Zandvoort so much with the uphill and downhill so he asked Mr Hugenholtz to do the same for him when creating Suzuka. It’s one of my personal favourites because of the combination of corners. When you arrive and you see the track you start to become happy. You have a little twinkle in your eyes.”
Bánki back in command and on top in Esports WTCR OSCARO
Bence Bánki is back in the lead of the Esports WTCR OSCARO Multiplayer Championship – despite not driving in anger since the last event at a virtual Slovakia Ring in September. Volkswagen driver Florian Hasse had topped the table but a retrospective penalty for an incident with Attila Dencs during the Slovakia Ring event, plus a P16 best in pre-qualifying, means a difficult round is in store. It’s a different story for Bánki (Oscaro eSports by SDL / Honda), however, with the Slovak topping the Suzuka leaderboard ahead of Nikodem Wisniewski and Redoine Messaoud. Kevin Siggy Rebernak has moved up into second in the championship, and the Slovenian goes into the Suzuka Esports WTCR OSCARO race with a lot of confidence, having just won another simracing tournament, the Mercedes-AMG eRacing Competition. Rebernak used the Audi RS 3 LMS in qualifying but will be back in his more familiar Hyundai i30 N TCR for race night on Sunday. Several real-life WTCR drivers made an appearance on the leaderboard as part of their preparations for the upcoming WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. Mato Homola was fastest, almost a second quicker than Yann Ehrlacher, although they both had to give best to former WTCC racer Ferenc Ficza, who drove for Zengő Motorsport during the 2016 season. He finished P34, albeit right in the middle of some of the fastest simracers in the world. James Kirk and Robert Wiesenmüller will provide expert commentary on the live broadcast, which starts at 19h00 CET on 21 October. Click here to watch the action on Facebook or here for YouTube.
New era goes from strength to strength
With a rulebook designed to promote corner-by-corner overtaking, a packed grid featuring four world champions and a host of national and international touring car title-winners, an abundance of young stars, ex-Formula One drivers and seven customer racing brands, the stage is set for a thrilling Suzuka extravaganza, which also features the Super Formula season finale. In an intriguing twist, WTCR – the new name for the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2018 – gets three races per weekend, plus a second shot at the DHL Pole Position Award due to the scheduling of not one but two qualifying sessions. There’s also the ground-breaking TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver award, which goes to the racer scoring the most points during a weekend, plus the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy. In addition to live global television coverage, Race 1 will be shown live in selected territories on Facebook and at wtcr.oscaro.com – website of the WTCR Series Presenting Partner partner and the world’s leading online retailer of original automotive spare parts.