WTCC World Touring Car Championship 2016
Honda will start the opening event of the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s Race of Japan from pole position after a dramatic qualifying session at Twin Ring Motegi.
Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff qualified their Civic WTCCs 10th and ninth for Sunday’s Main Race, meaning they locked out the front row for the reversed-grid Opening Race at Honda’s home circuit.
Both looked capable of qualifying higher up the order, despite the Civics carrying the championship’s maximum compensation weight of 80kg at Motegi.
But each took a clever tactical approach during the second part of qualifying (Q2), deciding to end their sessions early, save a set of tires and benefit from the championship’s reversed-grid rules.
Tiago Monteiro was Honda’s highest-place qualifier. The Portuguese driver, who lies second in the WTCC points, was a superb third-fastest in Q2 to book his place in the single-lap Q3 session.
He wound up fourth quickest in Q3; the 13th time a factory Honda driver has qualified on the front two rows during the 2016 season. Tiago will start the Opening Race from seventh place.
Ryo Michigami, who is making his WTCC debut as a wild-card in a fourth Civic WTCC, showed top-10 pace during free practice, despite only using a single set of tires in sweltering conditions. He missed out on a Q2 spot by the smallest of margins and will start both races 15th.
After qualifying, the ninth MAC3 contest of the 2016 season took place. A minor grassy excursion by Norbert on the opening lap cost vital tenths, but he, Rob and Tiago still produced an excellent display of teamwork to pull back much of the time loss and take second place.
“Qualifying went much better than expected. After practice we did not think we could get a car into Q3 because the maximum compensation weight of 80kg makes such a difference to the performance. We managed the gap with the weight very well though and were much closer than we thought possible. I was very pleased with my Q2 lap. My Q3 lap wasn’t perfect and I think P3 could have been achievable. The aim is to be on the Main Race podium tomorrow. Championship-wise it’s not ideal because I need to score some big points to keep the battle alive to China, but we’ll see what happens.”
“I’m pleased and a little surprised with how much we improved the pace of the car between practice and qualifying, because it now feels pretty good. Because Q2 is quite short, to get two runs in, you have to be aggressive on your out-lap. I perhaps took a little too much out of my tires and had some oversteer as a result. But once we saw we were P9 and only Norbi had any chance of overhauling me, we took a tactical decision to pit and settle for the position, knowing it meant a front-row start for the Opening Race. Norbi and I are 1-2 on the grid so the aim is to turn that into a 1-2 finish for Honda’s home race.”
“It feels great to know that I’m starting from pole position, thanks to some brilliant tactics from the team and my engineer Andrea [Chisotti]. I made some mistakes in Q2, but the timing was perfect to play for P10 and the reversed-grid pole, so I came back to the pits and saved the tires once we knew nobody could go faster. A win is possible, even with 80kg of compensation weight. Rob is alongside me so we will certainly work together to make sure Honda get a win for the Japanese fans here at their home event. In MAC3 I ran wide because I underestimated the effect of following another car closely at a corner that’s usually flat.”
“I’m honored to be making my WTCC debut at Motegi and very grateful to Honda for giving me this opportunity. Ahead of this weekend we had only a short test in Barcelona and one at Okayama to prepare, but they both went well. In free practice I could see how the experienced WTCC drivers used the tires and the lines and had to make some adjustments, which worked quite well. It’s a shame I didn’t quite make Q2, but I’m sure that from P15 I can watch what the other drivers are doing, make more improvements and hopefully score some points in the Main Race.”
Alessandro Mariani: Team Principal
“It’s very pleasing for us to have two cars on the front row for the Opening Race and even more so to see the pace that Tiago was able to find to qualify fourth for the Main Race with maximum compensation weight, we thought it would be impossible to have a car in the top five, so this is a very satisfying result. I feel a bit sorry for Ryo because he could have made Q2 and missed out by a very small amount. He’s done a good job today on his debut.”
Daisuke Horiuchi: Large Project Leader WTCC Development, Honda R&D
“We knew that carrying 80kg of compensation weight would have a big effect on the pace of the Civic WTCCs, but the team has worked very well to minimize the disadvantage of the extra weight during practice and qualifying. To get Tiago into Q3 was more than we expected and with Norbi and Rob starting the Opening Race from the front row, we have a great opportunity to take another home victory if everything goes right.”
|1||Jose LOPEZ (Citroen C-Elysee WTCC)|
|2||Yvan MULLER (Citroen C-Elysee WTCC)|
|3||Mehdi BENNANI (Citroen C-Elysee WTCC)|
|4||Tiago MONTEIRO (Honda Civic WTCC)|
|5||Tom CHILTON (Citroen C-Elysee WTCC)|
|6||Nestor GIROLAMI(Volvo S60 WTCC)|
|9||Rob HUFF (Honda Civic WTCC)|
|10||Norbert MICHELISZ (Honda Civic WTCC)|
|15||Ryo MICHIGAMI (Honda Civic WTCC)|
|17||Ferenc FICZA (Honda Civic WTCC)|
|18||Daniel NAGY (Honda Civic WTCC)|