SUZUKA [Japan]: This weekend sees the return of the FIA World Touring Car Championship to Japan as the series heads East to embark on the final tour of the year across Asia.
Just 21 points separates the Frenchman from securing championship honours and with 25 points up for grabs for a race win, plus a further 5 points awarded to the pole position qualifier, the Wellingborough-based team arrive with unfaltering determination to bring home what could be their 7th WTCC title since the championship's inception in 2005.
Visiting for the third year, RML has a strong history and is the only team to have taken pole position at the iconic venue - in both cases the pole sitter has staged a lights to flag victory. Alain Menu currently holds the honours. In the past two years RML/Chevrolet took 7 podiums, and, in 2012 it was here that the American marque sealed the Manufacturers' championship with over 800 points.
Adding to the history books, the FIA WTCC will celebrate a major milestone when it completes the 200th race as the lights go out for race two on Sunday. Since 2005 190 drivers from thirty-four countries have competed in at least one race whilst ten different manufacturers have entered in the series that has visited thirty-two race tracks in twenty-three countries, over four continents. And adding to the prestige of the event, the grid will field a record of 30 cars for rounds 19 & 20 - nine of which are RML-built Cruzes - the highest number seen to date (Shanghai last year staged eight Cruzes and one Lacetti).
Vying for the prestige of the 200th race win and his fourth title, Yvan Muller says: "We arrive at the last party of the WTCC with three races in Asia. The Drivers' title can come back to me this weekend in Suzuka so, as in Sonoma two weeks ago, I will emulate the same strategy - to score as many points as possible."
Asked if he arrives feeling any extra pressure, Yvan adds: "In some ways yes, because the reward of a title is so much bigger but equally, my focus remains as it has been throughout the year - we need to perform the best that we can as a team and go out there to win."
For team-mate Tom Chilton, Suzuka poses an exciting challenge and one the Aon-backed WTCC-winner relishes: "I'm really looking forward to racing at Suzuka now I'm fully dialled in with the car. It's another technical little circuit and hopefully I can keep my winning streak up. I need to move up from 4th in the championship to 3rd this weekend if I'm to keep my goal of 2nd overall. Our Cruze is really suited to this type of circuit and I hope we can really use that to our advantage and close down on Tarquini this weekend, especially as they have just gained an extra 10kg of success ballast and are just 30kg lighter than us now."
In addition to the main WTCC activity, this weekend also launches the new Asia Trophy - in which the top Asian drivers competing on a race-by-race basis can score points for both the Trophy and the main WTCC Drivers' Championship. This welcome addition to the regular fixture looks to encourage and support the increasing interest from Asian teams and competitors who often run former WTCC cars in National championships across Hong Kong, Macau, China and other venues.
Three of the nine RML-built Cruzes on the grid will enter under the Asia Trophy - China Dragon Racing will run two normally aspirated Chevrolet Cruze LTs for Macanese drivers Filipe Clemente de Souza, who last year entered the Chevrolet Lacetti, and Ng Kin Veng, who returns to the Cruze. Son Veng Racing will field local driver, Jerónimo António Badaraco, who makes his debut in the WTCC, also in an RML built Cruze.
The FIA World Touring Car Championship resumes at Suzuka, Japan, on 21-22 September 2013.