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The FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) returns to action in Japan at the Twin Ring Motegi race track. For José María López and Yvan Muller, the aim will be – as ever– to win for the Citroën Total team. A successful weekend in the land of the rising sun could also enable Citroën and Pechito López to secure world titles for the third year running.   pic

After starting the season in Europe and then making the long trip to Argentina in early August, the FIA WTCC now embarks on a three-stop tour of Asia, beginning in Japan. Round nine will be held this weekend at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, 150km to the north of Tokyo.

A championship venue for the first time in 2015, the 4.801km track has relatively low average and maximum speeds. The many acceleration and braking zones tend to be especially demanding on the brakes, but they also provide plenty of overtaking opportunities.

Last year, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs were in good form at this circuit. After missing out on pole position by just 8/100ths, José María López won the first race, thus taking another step towards his second world title.

This year, the Red Army is once again in a strong position and the Japanese round could prove decisive in the world title race. In the manufacturers’ championship, Citroën is 196 points ahead of its closest rival. Given that a maximum of 105 points are available and the C-Elysées have claimed an average of 88 per round this season, the team isn’t all that far from reaching its target of securing a third consecutive world title.

In the driver standings, with five pole positions and seven race wins, José María López has built up a 117-point lead over the second-placed driver. Even without maximum points this weekend, there is still a chance that he may be crowned champion for a third time, in Motegi.

For the other drivers’ championship places, however, the battle is much more open. Seven drivers are separated by 37 points. Third-placed Yvan Muller is only seven points behind Tiago Monteiro. In the chasing group, there are two drivers from the SLR team, who drive private Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs: Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton. The Moroccan and the Brit are also fighting with one another to win the WTCC Trophy, which is awarded to the top independent driver.

As usual, the compensation weights have been reviewed in light of the results from the last three meetings. The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs will continue to carry the maximum ballast of 80kg, but the same will go for the Hondas. The two leading cars will therefore carry equal weights for the first time this season.

WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY

José María López: “I always love going to Japan! I really like the culture and the peace and tranquillity of this country. I also love the fact you can explore new things here. I won my first world title here at Suzuka in 2014 so I suppose that makes this place a little bit more special for me. As regards Motegi, we know that our rivals are very strong at this track. In fact, it’s the only circuit at which we missed out on pole position in 2015. But I managed to grab the lead during the race, so that means that the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC is comfortable on this surface. I’m pleased that we are carrying the same amount of ballast this year. I think the fight at the front will be interesting and quite revealing in terms of the form of the drivers. I have been feeling fairly relaxed in the last few races. I don’t feel that I absolutely have to win races. So long as I keep scoring points and I maintain my lead, I will edge closer to the title by making the situation increasingly difficult for my rivals. I’m not the one who is the most under pressure!”

Yvan Muller: “The fight to finish as runner-up is not devoid of interest, but personally speaking, it doesn’t really bother me. Above all, I’m interested in finishing in first place! My main aim is therefore to score as many points as possible for Citroën, to help the team win the Manufacturers’ World Championship again. I think we have increased our potential in the last two or three races. I have been challenging consistently for pole position, but I need to put together three perfect sectors in order to get there. That is the key to being able to go for the win the next day in the race. Motegi is a fairly slow track, but it’s possible to overtake in several places. As far as the set-up is concerned, we need to concentrate on looking for traction and keep an eye on tyre wear. And we’ll also need to monitor the weather, because there is a high risk of showers at this time of year. It’s a real pleasure just being back in Japan. The fans really love their motorsport here and are very knowledgeable. This year, I’m taking advantage of the trip to spend a few days exploring the country with my family.”

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