Johan Kristoffersson made it look easy on his way to victory in the third World Touring Car Cup race at Suzuka this weekend.
However, it was Tiago Monteiro who made the best start of all. The Portuguese driver dived past Kristoffersson on entry to turn one for the lead of the race, but the Swede wasn’t ready to give up without a fight. After a little nudge at turn two, Kristoffersson swiftly made his way back into first place.
Mikel Azcona meanwhile, didn’t get away at all, so he plummeted from third to the very back of the field.
The safety car was quick to make an appearance at the start of lap two, following a collision between multiple cars at the tail end of the queue through turns five and six. Wildcard, Ritomo Miyata got it all wrong through turn five and slammed into the side of Tom Coronel‘s car. The pair of them ended up stranded in the gravel trap, so the race inevitably had to be neutralised so that their vehicles could be moved out of the way.
It took a little while to clear both cars, and so racing got back underway on lap eight. Kevin Ceccon was immediately on the attack, but Rob Huff did enough to hold onto seventh place through turns one and two.
Two laps later, Gabriele Tarquini had a look at getting past Andy Priaulx at turn one, but couldn’t pull the move off which left him vulnerable to Huff. Having shaken off Ceccon, Huff thought about a move on the inside line through turn two, but wasn’t able to get his car alongside Tarquini’s.
Attila Tassi was then awarded a five-second penalty for being outside of his grid box at the start of the race, which should’ve given Benjamin Leuchter a free boost up the order. However, the German lost grip at the rear end of his car through the final turn on lap eighteen, and instead lost out to Frederic Vervisch and Nicky Catsburg.
A bit further up the order, Ceccon was getting aggressive. On lap twenty one, the Italian attempted an overtake on Rob Huff for seventh at turn two, but admittedly relied heavily on contact to do so. In traditional ‘push to pass’ fashion, Ceccon nudged the rear of Huff with the nose of his own car, thus unsettling the balance of the Volkswagen.
Nonetheless, Ceccon continued his surge up the order, this time blasting past the Hyundai of Gabriele Tarquini along the start-finish straight. Making it all look very easy indeed, the Italian then pulled off an identical move on Andy Priaulx for fifth. However, question marks still loomed over whether or not he would receive a penalty for that contact with Huff.
The Hyundai-Lynk & Co battle then sparked into life. Further back down the order, Augusto Farfus pulled off a great move to get by Yann Ehrlacher at turn two on lap twenty four, but Ehrlacher replied with an aggressive move of his own on the final corner of the same lap. Meanwhile, Tarquini and Priaulx were bumper to bumper along the start-finish straight, with the former being able to sweep past the latter at turn one.
Priaulx was clearly struggling for top-end pace at this point, as Rob Huff was now all over the back of him too.
At the front, Kristoffersson was way out in the clear, and so Tiago Monteiro dropped back into third place, promoting his Honda stablemate Esteban Guerrieri up into second. This would give the Argentine a few extra points, which could prove to be crucial at the end of the year.
The Honda teams played their tactics just in time, as the safety car was brought out just seconds later on the final lap of the race. Ryuichiro Tomita had gone off in sector two, so Johan Kristoffersson’s victory was confirmed a lap early.
But, in a bizarre turn of events, Monteiro began to come into the pit lane before he’d taken the chequered flag. Kevin Ceccon passed him as a result, which made Monteiro realise the error of his ways before rejoining the circuit to hang onto fourth.
The confusion was initially undone when the stewards awarded Ceccon a time penalty for his contact with Rob Huff, but that wasn’t the final twist in the tail of this odd scenario. It then became apparent that Monteiro had in fact dropped behind and re-passed Thed Bjork while under safety car. Naturally, this wasn’t looked on too kindly, and so Monteiro was then awarded a time penalty too.
Through the mess of penalties, it was eventually decided that Bjork would be awarded third place instead.
So, in the context of the championship, Guerrieri’s second place finish elevates him back into the lead of the points standings. Norbert Michelisz finished in eighth place, meaning that he’s now eight points behind Guerrieri. Thed Bjork is third in the standings, albeit with a forty point deficit to make up.
Race Result – Top 15:
|3rd||Thed Bjork||Lynk & Co|
|5th||Andy Priaulx||Lynk & Co|
|6th||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo|
|13th||Yvan Muller||Lynk & Co|