Remembering when… WTCR stars were super at Suzuka
With the FIA Formula One World Championship back at Suzuka this weekend for the first time since 2019, here are five memorable WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup moments at the Japanese Grand Prix venue.
5: Kristoffersson’s “love tap” wins it for Sébastien Loeb Racing
After winning Race 3 at WTCR Race of Japan in 2019, Johan Kristofferson was asked about his pass on Honda-powered Tiago Monteiro for the lead. The incident happened at Turn 2 after the Portuguese had beaten the pole-sitting Swede off the line. “The takeaway at the start was not the best and Tiago was able to pass, but I managed to undercut him at Turn 2 a good rallycross move,” said Kristoffersson, who’d switched to WTCR for the 2019 season as a double FIA World Rallycross champion. “There was some contact. I touched him in the door, but it was a little love tap.”
4: Tarquini sets up WTCR title showdown in front of 42,500 fans
Gabriele Tarquini set up a WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup title showdown to remember with a fifth win of the 2018 season in Race 3 at WTCR Race of Japan. The Hyundai-powered BRC Racing Team driver inherited first place when on-the-road winner Kevin Ceccon (see entry number 2) was penalised five seconds for not having all four wheels of his car within his pole position starting box. Tarquini left Japan leading Yvan Muller by 39 points, the two touring car legends among seven drivers in title contention at the Macau finale the following month. “I made a fantastic start in Race 2 and even better in Race 3, and this was the key to my success,” Tarquini said. “I am very disappointed for Kevin because he was the fastest guy here, uncatchable for everybody. But, unfortunately, he got his five-second penalty.”
3: Guerrieri helps to make more Suzuka history in Honda “tractor”
Honda Racing’s Esteban Guerrieri described winning Race 1 at WTCR Race of Japan in 2019 as “one of my best victories”, after he moved back to the top of the title standings for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch had challenged Guerrieri for first place on the outside of Turns 1 and 2, which allowed the Belgian’s team-mate Niels Langeveld, who started from pole, up the inside to snatch first place. But the Dutch driver made a mistake at the final turn on lap two, which allowed Guerrieri to take a lead he would not lose. “It was intense,” said the Argentine. “The Audis were lighter and quicker on the straight. After the start I touched wheels with Vervisch, but the Honda is like a tractor and so reliable! Langeveld got inside and took the lead, but then made a mistake. From there I had the pace to control the race. It’s everything to win at Suzuka, a track full of history I used to watch races at as a kid.”
2: Ceccon: “Guys, jump on the wall, I’ll see you there”
Kevin Ceccon’s breakthrough success came at Suzuka when he triumphed in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Japan in 2018. Driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR by Romeo Ferraris, the Italian started second but overtook Aurélien Comte on the run to the chicane at the end of the second lap. Keeping his composure during two safety car periods, the then 25-year-old held on for victory, radioing his team two corners from home to ensure they were in position to celebrate their momentous win. “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’,” Ceccon said.
1: Monteiro back on track at Suzuka after 415 days of fighting
Tiago Monteiro made a heroic – and hugely emotional – return to racing at Suzuka on October 26, 2018 after 415 days of fighting to recover from the serious head and neck injuries sustained in a testing crash that could so easily have ended his career. In highly-charged scenes at WTCR Race of Japan, drivers from the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup formed a guard of honour in the Suzuka pitlane. They then watched Monteiro take to the track for Free Practice 1 before following the Portuguese on to the 5.807-kilometre circuit. Speaking over live intercom at the time, Monteiro, who was then driving a Honda Civic Type R TCR for Boutsen Ginion Racing, said: “I am trying to focus on practice, but there are a lot of emotions. I’ve got tears in my eyes. I’ve had an unbelievable reception from everyone in the WTCR family. I’ve been dreaming about this for so long and now we are here. That is why I am in love with this sport and this series.” He took a weekend-high P11 in Race and finished on the podium 12 months later.
Suzuka’s WTCR Race of Japan winners remembered:
Race 1: Kevin Ceccon
Race 2: Rob Huff
Race 3: Gabriele Tarquini
Race 1: Esteban Guerrieri
Race 2: Norbert Michelisz
Race 3: Johan Kristoffersson