WTCC: Jose Maria Lopez prepares for date with destiny in Suzuka

After securing its first FIA WTCC title* in Shanghai, the Citroën Total team is off to Japan.

- José María López could become the first Argentine to win an FIA World Championship since Juan Manuel Fangio claimed his fifth and final crown in 1957.

- In the other two Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs, Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb are already focusing on their preparations for the 2015 season.

In the FIA WTCC, the race never stops, not even when the chequered flag comes down! Last Sunday, the lights in the Shanghai paddock stayed on well into the night, but it wasn’t to celebrate Citroën’s first World Championship title in the discipline. As soon as the C-Elysée WTCCs had been loaded into the containers, they set sail for Japan for the penultimate round of the season.

Located 400 km south-east of Tokyo, near Nagoya, the Suzuka International Circuit is famous for hosting the Formula 1 GP since 1987. After three editions in Okayama from 2008 to 2010, the FIA WTCC is back for a fourth visit to the venue.

However, this time around, unlike in previous years, the TC1s will be using the “big” circuit, which measures 5.807 km. “That’s really good news. Previously, we had to settle for the shorter, 2-kilometre track,” says Yvan Muller. “To be honest, all the drivers felt it was a shame to go halfway across the world to compete on an uninteresting circuit where it was impossible to overtake. Now our cars will be able to express themselves on a track where they can really show what they’re capable of.”

“I can’t wait to get out on track in my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC,” said the four-time WTCC World Champion. “There aren’t a lot of tight corners and most of the track consists of successions of quick bends. This is the type of circuit where you need to find the right pace to clock fast times.”

PRESSURE ON PECHITO’S SHOULDERSThe pressure will be on José María López at this eleventh-round meeting. The Argentinian driver has a healthy lead in the World Championship standings and has notched up five pole positions, eight race wins and seven more podium finishes so far this season. Those feats have earned him 384 points, with Yvan Muller, the only man still in a position to beat him to the title, on 291.

To be crowned champion in Suzuka, Pechito needs 17 points, the equivalent of one second-placed finish. Statistically speaking, it is highly likely that the title will be his after race 1!

“I have to stay focused till the end. At the start of the season, I wasn’t thinking about winning the title. I was just there to do as well as I could and to help the team meet its goals. Although I’ve been leading since qualifying in Marrakech, I refused to think about the title until I won both races in Argentina. In Shanghai, I felt more nervous, as I felt the moment was drawing nearer,” he admits. “I have already won several titles over the course of my career, but I have to say that the prospect of becoming World Champion surpasses anything I’ve experienced before. There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s nice pressure to have to cope with!”

In Argentina, where touring car racing is a real institution, expectations are high. With an entire nation behind him, Pechito looks set to become the first man from his country to win an FIA World Championship since Juan Manuel Fangio!

2015 THE TARGET FOR MULLER AND LOEBAlthough he still has a slim mathematical chance, Yvan Muller is under no illusions: “In my mind, my Championship hopes disappeared a while back. The outcome of our little trip to China only strengthened that belief! That won’t stop me from approaching the final rounds with the same determination and professionalism as ever. But I’m now focusing all my efforts on preparing for next season. We still have room for improvement in several areas. We can find new setups and improve our understanding and use of our tyres. Meanwhile, the competition isn’t exactly resting on its laurels either!”

Lying third in the World Championship, Sébastien Loeb is in the same state of mind as his fellow Frenchman. “This season is about laying the foundations for stronger performances next year. As I’ve said since Spa-Francorchamps, it’s in the pack that I have the most improving to do. Unfortunately, that was apparent in Shanghai, but you can only get better by racing. I’m delighted to be returning to Japan, which is home to some of my most loyal supporters. I’m sure they’ll be there to cheer us on in Suzuka!”

THE PROGRAMMEThe meeting will start on Friday 24 October, with a first session of free practice at 1.30 p.m. Two further practice sessions will take place on Saturday, at 9.20 and 11.20 a.m., before qualifying gets underway at 3.30 p.m. On Sunday, the two races will be held in quick succession, at 2.30 and 3.40 p.m. Japan’s time zone is GMT+9. With France switching to daylight saving time the same weekend, the races will set off at 6.30 and 7.40 Paris time.

* Subject to publication of the official results by the FIA