The Chevrolet World Touring Car Championship team will be looking to maintain its advantage at the top of the Drivers' and Manufacturers' standings as the series heads to the Okayama International Circuit in Japan for the penultimate round of the season.
The Okayama weekend marks the first of two Asian rounds that will conclude the 2010 season. All of the cars and equipment began the long journey to the Far East just hours after the last round at Valencia in Spain. Since then the RML-run squad have been busy testing at Jerez to develop alternative disc and break pad options that could be used on the Chevrolet Cruzes in Okayama and Macau, two circuits where breaks play a key role.
Going to Japan, driver Yvan Muller currently holds a 25 point lead over BMW's Andy Priaulx, with SR-Sport SEAT driver Gabriele Tarquini a further four points behind. Meanwhile, Chevrolet have a 45 point lead over SEAT in the Manufacturers' standings.
Muller says that he expects the Okayama circuit to offer a level playing field for the three manufacturers. “Okayama is special track, very technical, and a track that somehow balances the potential of the three main manufacturers competing in the WTCC,” the Frenchman said. “We saw that last year and I expect this to be the case this year too. So, I think we will all be on an equal foot, and it will be an interesting fight.”
He added that he hopes to strengthen his position at the top of the standings: “We go there knowing that we can do well, and with the objective of not doing mistakes, take heavy points and further strengthen our position in both championships”.
Rob Huff, who lies fourth in the Drivers' standings, is a big fan of Okayama, and is expecting the Cruze to be as competitive as usual. “I really love Okayama, both the track, which is quite challenging, and the place, up in the mountains and far away from any urban area,” he explained. “I am very excited to be there again, and I am sure that the Cruze can be competitive, as it has been fantastic on every circuit this year.
With both previous trips to Japan having been affected by the weather, Huff was keen to point out how key the conditions could be. “Rain may play a role, we just need to be ready to react quickly in case of wet conditions, especially in qualifying. For the rest, the objective is clear: try to consolidate Chevrolet's and Yvan's positions in the championships!”
Alain Menu is currently sixth in the standings, and is well aware of the pressure that can be brought on as the season reaches its climax. “We are entering the final and decisive part of the season, it is going to be very exciting and it will be interesting to see in Japan how everybody is coping with the extra pressure that the decisive races bring,” he said.
“Okayama was good to us last year, we had one podium and three more point finishes, and I think we will be competitive this time too. Of course, weather is always a question mark there, conditions may vary from one minute to the other and we can anticipate some this will happen again this time, but we were good also on the wet last year, so I am not very concerned about that”.
Chevrolet Motorsport Europe boss Eric Neve commented: “On paper, together with Curitiba, Okayama is the hardest circuit for the Cruze, but the car has been so consistently good this year, doing well on every circuit an in all conditions, dry or wet, that I am confident we will be ok. See what happened in Curitiba, where we won one race and got plenty of points, if we can do the same in Okayama, that will be perfect!
“We will have a number of GM guests with us, also in view of preparing next year's move of the Japanese event to Suzuka, another great and historic track we look forward to.”