Okayama didn't bring the expected result for SEAT driver Tom Coronel Okayama, October 31st, 2010 - 16th place in the first race and ninth place in the second race was all that SEAT driver Tom Coronel managed to achieve in the penultimate season...
Okayama didn't bring the expected result for SEAT driver Tom Coronel
Okayama, October 31st, 2010 - 16th place in the first race and ninth place in the second race was all that SEAT driver Tom Coronel managed to achieve in the penultimate season weekend of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at Okayama in Japan. Both races were held in the pouring rain, which made it quite difficult for the drivers. In the first race, Coronel was hit on the left front wheel of his car by an opponent who spun. With a seriously damaged left front wheel suspension, he still made it to the finish in 16th place. In the second race, Coronel made up a few positions and crossed the finish line in ninth place with his SEAT Leon TDI in the colours of McGregor and TW Steel. "I had hoped for more in Japan, but it wasn't to be," said Coronel.
Tom Coronel flew to Okayama via London and Seoul. "It was quite a long journey, but every time when I arrive in Japan, I feel at home right away," he said. "People are friendly, the culture over here, it is all so familiar because I raced here for so many years." The Okayama circuit that also hosted the Formula 1 World Championship in 1994 and 1995 (back then, the track was still called TI Circuit Aida) is also quite special because most drivers and team members are staying in little houses at the circuit. Catering for everyone is located in a large tent in the paddock, and for any further needs, there are vending machines all over the place. "Very special: hot and cold drinks, rice, noodles and even warm French fries from the machines," said Tom Coronel with a smile.
Friday was the day of the traditional test that always takes place whenever the WTCC is racing at a new circuit or when the cars, like in this case, have been shipped to another continent. For Tom Coronel, the 30 minutes' session on Friday afternoon, usually referred to by the drivers as 'free practice zero', was the first time he sat in his SEAT Leon TDI again after the WTCC races at Valencia in mid-September. In the test, Coronel set a time of 1:39.453 minutes, the seventh fastest time among the 27 drivers. "The track still had very little grip, but generally, the car felt quite good," Coronel reported afterwards.
Coronel again fastest in second free practice
Prior to the race weekend, there were rumours in Okayama about the typhoon Chaba that is heading from the Philippines towards Japan and that was expected to reach the Okayama region on Saturday. Plans to change the time schedule were discussed, but eventually, the two free practice sessions and qualifying could take place on Saturday as planned. In first free practice on Saturday morning, Coronel set the tenth fastest time of 1:38.937 minutes. In second free practice, he was the fastest driver in the field, just like at Valencia last month. His time of 1:38.943 minutes remained unbeaten. "That makes me feel optimistic for qualifying," he said.
Nevertheless, qualifying didn't quite bring the result that Coronel had expected. "My first outing was quite good. The balance of the car felt well and I was 100 percent certain that I would make it into the top ten and thus would be able to compete in the second qualifying heat," Coronel said. Reality, however, was different: Coronel just had to make do with 17th place on the grid. "When I went out with fresh tyres again, Alain Menu was in front of me, which was the reason that I lost time. And for the rest, I didn't manage to get it right, although I have to say as well that the lap times were incredibly close together, that really surprised me. But of course, the result wasn't what I had hoped for," he said.
Racing in the rain
Warm-up on Sunday morning, in which Coronel ended up third fastest, was still held in dry conditions, but like so often in Japan, rain set in before the race. This made the clerk of the course decide to start the race behind the safety car. For Coronel, the race wasn't fantastic either: in the opening stages, his car was hit on the left front side by Kristian Poulsen when the Scandinavian spun on the soaked track. This made Coronel's SEAT rather difficult to drive. He still had a battle over several laps with privateer Yukinori Taniguchi, but eventually, 16th place was all the Dutch driver managed to achieve. "Because of the collision, the mount of the left front shock absorber was broken. My car was five centimetres lower on the left-hand side. I still managed to finish the race, but it wasn't fun," said Coronel.
Strangely enough, Coronel was instructed to put his car in 21st place on the starting grid for the second race. Protests by the driver and the team remained fruitless. "The time keepers had omitted one lap in my result for the second race, so that I suddenly was 21st instead of 16th. Later, they apologised for the mistake, but that didn't really help me," Coronel said afterwards. In the second race, he gradually moved up the ranks and crossed the finish line in ninth place, still scoring some points for the drivers' standings. Coronel: "The lap times were good: I was the fastest of the SEAT drivers, so the speed was definitely there, but there just was nothing more I could do." Now, Coronel is looking forward to the WTCC season finale at the Macau street circuit, his favourite track, in three weeks' time. "Hopefully, we can close the season there in a nice way."