Jose Maria Lopez prepares for pivotal Suzuka WTCC meeting

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 WTCC C-Elysées, 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. There wasn’t much time to celebrate Citroën’s first World Championship title in the series, in Shanghai, last Sunday. As soon as the WTCC C-Elysées had been loaded into the containers, they set sail for Japan for the penultimate round of the season.

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

Unlike previous years, this time around the TC1s will be using the full Grand Prix circuit, which measures 5.807km. “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 SHOULDERS

The 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. These results have earned him 384 points, with Yvan Muller the only man still in a position to beat him to the title, on 291.

Pechito needs 17 points to be crowned champion in Suzuka, the equivalent of one second-place finish. Statistically, it is likely that the title will be his after race one.

“I have to stay focused until 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 LOEB

Although 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.”

* Subject to publication of the official results by the FIA