The FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) Race of Japan at Twin Ring Motegi turned out to be a historic event, and part of the festivities included the racing return of former Autobacs Super GT Series GT500 champion, Ryo Michigami, for Honda Racing Team JAS.
Michigami qualified 15th for the two-race meeting, finishing 11th in his opening race, and 17th in the second feature race – whilst also mixing it up with the likes of fellow Honda Super GT alumnus, Tom Coronel, now a veteran WTCC competitor.
While Michigami scored no points on his return to racing, the 43-year-old team principal of Drago Corse and Drago Modulo Honda Racing was mostly positive about the experience of competing in the WTCC as a wildcard entry for Honda.
Speaking before the race yesterday, Michigami said:
“When I was asked by Honda to join the WTCC and I was very proud and I also want to really thank Honda here for asking me to join them and for trusting me. It was only about two months ago and I was pretty worried and tense about my performance this weekend.”
“We had a test in Barcelona and then at Okayama this week for the final test. I knew it would be difficult, it’s a type of racing I am not used to. Everything went well in the test, I learned a lot about the car and I was confident, but once I got here and saw that all the drivers and how they use the tyres and how their lines are different, it was all very new for me and very difficult to adapt and get a good result right away.”
“The image I had of how I had to perform and seeing the others, I realised that I had to adjust a couple of points. My engineer gave me tips on how I had to do it but you can’t learn that in one day so it’s been a bit difficult.”
After qualifying, he added: “It was a difficult qualifying of course but I will start the race from the back, which is good because I will have the chance to see the world’s top drivers driving their best and I will probably learn from their lines and try to implement that in the final race and hope for a better result in the final race.”
The opening race saw Michigami’s Honda stablemates complete a 1-2-3 finish, led by Hungarian Norbert Michelisz, with the Castrol Hondas of Robert Huff and Tiago Montiero second and third.
The all-dominant Citroën C-Elysée of Yvan Muller won the second and feature race, followed in second by reigning champion Jose Maria “Pechito” Lopez, who, pending the cancellation of the scheduled round in Thailand, is provisionally crowned a triple champion of the WTCC.
Lopez would thus tie Andy Priaulx’s mark of three consecutive WTCC titles (2005-07) and end up one short of his Citroen teammate Muller.
As for Michigami, he returns to the helm of his Drago Corse team next weekend, as they take part in the Super Formula doubleheader at Okayama International Circuit.