FIA WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan, 27-29 October 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship 2017: Rounds 15 and 16 of 20
Norbert Michelisz, Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team, Main Race winner
Tom Chilton, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Opening Race winner, Opening Race WTCC Trophy winner
Yann Ehrlacher, RC Motorsport, Opening Race second position
Esteban Guerrieri, Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team, Opening Race third position
Nicky Catsburg, Polestar Cyan Racing, Main Race second position
Néstor Girolami, Polestar Cyan Racing, Main Race third position
Mehdi Bennani, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Main Race WTCC Trophy winner
Ryo Michigami, Honda Racing Team JAS, leading Japanese driver
Turning first to Norbert Michelisz, winner of the Main Race at Honda’s home track. Just how difficult were the conditions?
It was quite tough. The intensity of the rain increased for the Main Race and there was some aquaplaning. But to be honest it was not that bad. Of course if you are sitting in a good car, maybe the best car for these conditions, you underrate the problems others are having. For me, of course, I’m happy because I scored the maximum points possible. I would have loved to have the race continue [without the safety car] because I was able to manage the gap to Nicky. There were some tricky places on the circuit but I was happy with the points. Of course you always want to see the chequered flag but it is how it is sometimes
The Opening Race didn’t quite go to plan for you. What actually happened from your perspective?
It was just unfortunate. I think I was up to fifth. Néstor was in front and made a mistake going long into [Turn] 11 and re-joined the track from outside. I had the momentum, I was ahead of him, I had the inside for the last corner and then I just felt a big hit on the rear. I was very close to being stuck in the gravel. Of course with the championship being this tight I think it was really unfortunate from his side but I am sure he has another view of what happened.
Turning next to Tom Chilton, winner of the Opening Race, your first victory since Monza back in April. The weather wasn’t much better for you either so how tough was it?
The conditions in the Opening Race were very good compared to the Main Race. The Opening Race was fantastic. We did a couple of tweaks to the car after qualifying and the circuit came to us perfectly, actually. I was just saying on the radio to the boys on the way round what a great job we’ve done with the chassis because I was so consistent, I can do the same tenth of a second every single lap because it’s so easy to drive and that's all credit to the team and the engineer. I have really enjoyed driving the car. I kept thinking I should start lifting a bit but then I though I quite fancied a watch [for winning the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy].
And sticking with the Opening Race and coming next to Yann Ehrlacher, another wet race and another podium for you and you’re still only 21. Your race from your perspective please?
First of all, congratulations to Norbi for his Main Race win. The Opening Race was quite good for me, I scored another podium so that’s six races and three podiums, which is quite good. I am sure it was a spectacular race on TV, especially the fight between Esteban and Thed. I was struggling a bit for pace in the Opening Race but I managed to keep Thed behind almost all the race. After I used the opportunity I had after the contact between Esteban and Thed. I was happy about the podium. All the team did a really good job to give us a really good car for this weekend. The conditions were really hard and they received the car really quite late so big thanks to the team – the podium is for them this weekend.
And coming to Esteban next, Yann mentioned your battle with Thed and it did look spectacular on live TV. What was it like from inside the car for you?
Congratulations to everybody here but mostly to my team-mate Norbi, very well done. I am very happy with how the weekend went for Honda in my debut weekend. To answer your question, I just saw the image here on my phone and I was totally 90 degrees when Thed hit me. It was a nice battle until then, I was just trying to save my tyres, he was trying to overtake Yann. I took profit from the fight they were having in front of me and I attacked in the inside in Turn 4 or Turn 5. It was tight but it was okay. We exit side by side. I knew I had the correct line, which was the outside line, which had more grip and then I had the inside line for next corner. He didn’t want to lift and went on the gravel and when you go over gravel in the wet you don’t really lose grip. He came to me afterwards and said it was his mistake but, for me, I could have had a P2 and instead I had a P3. I was lucky to keep the car with full throttle and then managed to get it back. For sure he would have got a penalty and no points, which was not good for him and his championship. I’m sorry Norbi, in the end I managed to save it but I think it was too much from his side.
Coming next to Nicky Catsburg and second place in the Main Race for Polestar Cyan Racing. More points but perhaps not the maximum you needed for your championship challenge?
The biggest disappointment was the Opening Race. I had to start last for an engine change we had to do. I went forward quite quickly but unfortunately I made a misjudgement while overtaking Ryo, I touched him and got a drive-through for that. I’m sorry Ryo, I’ve already spoken to him, but that was my bad. I had to fight again forwards, I finished P9. We really had good pace but unfortunately in the Main Race the weather conditions were so bad that we couldn’t race. I am not sure if I could have kept up with Norbi or overtaken him but I would have loved to have continued the race.
Turning next to your team-mate Néstor Girolami. Now Néstor, Norbi has referenced the battle you and he had in the Opening Race. From your perspective what happened between you two?
Of course we have a different point of view, I did a mistake in Turn 11 as Norbi said. I went wider, then I let him turn around me in Turn 12 but in Turn 13 I felt that he closed the line and I was there. It was unfortunate. We want to be fair with our rivals, we don’t want to push nobody off so sorry for that but it was unfortunate for there to be contact. This is my point of view, of course we have different points of view. But we will see on the on-board camera and we can discuss together because I have a pretty good relation with everybody, even with Norbi. I know him very well and he’s a fair player so I don’t have any problem with him.
Coming next to Mehdi Bennani, the winner of the WTCC Trophy. And after a frustrating trip to China you’re back on the podium and back in the kind of form we expect from you. How was it for you?
It’s good to come back and score some points. We scored some points and it’s good to stay close to everybody at the top of the championship. I hope now to have some races in dry conditions because we are losing [car] weight but it’s for nothing in the end because when it’s raining it’s even worse to be light than heavy. That’s it. For me I hope the next races should be in the dry conditions to try to see the real performance of everybody. Congrats to Tom Chilton because he’s a good driver and gives a good image of the team. Well done to Sébastien Loeb Racing this weekend.
Turning finally to Ryo Michigami, the local hero. Your best ever qualifying performance with fifth place but I guess you had two races you didn’t quite want. Please summarise your two races?
My first season in the WTCC and at Motegi I really wanted to show my best performances with a good result. I did my very best and I’m satisfied with what I did. Regarding the Main Race, I had trouble with the brakes and had to retire. That was unfortunate but I thank everyone and I’m happy to have raced here. I’m looking forward to the next races now.