Miche­lisz makes up for Honda woes


AT TIMES IN THE WORLD TOUR­ING Car Cham­pi­onship this sea­son, it seems as though fate is con­spir­ing against Honda’s ti­tle bid.

Ti­ago Mon­teiro’s test­ing crash at Barcelona and its con­se­quences were far be­yond Honda’s con­trol, but the blame for its lat­est set­back lay firmly at its own door. A new fuel in­jec­tor was flagged up by of­fi­cials in China and, just as had been the case with the rul­ing over its mod­i­fied flat floor last sea­son, the part was found to con­tra­vene the se­ries’ ho­molo­ga­tion pro­ce­dure – cost­ing the team (and in­de­pen­dent Zengo Mo­tor­sport) all its points from the pre­vi­ous round.

It was an­other case of in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law with the same out­come, and left Honda fac­ing an­other up­hill battle. If Nor­bert Miche­lisz – who now ap­pears to be the Ja­panese mar­que’s best bet for the ti­tle – is to over­turn Thed Bjork’s lead, he’ll need more days like a flaw­less Sun­day at Motegi.

A com­pact Sun­day sched­ule – re­lat­ing to ty­phoons be­tween Shang­hai, from where the cars were be­ing shipped, to des­ti­na­tion port Tokyo caused de­lays – ren­dered the week­end ef­fec­tively a one-day event, but Miche­lisz did ev­ery­thing he needed to do in the cir­cum­stances. Sec­ond fastest times in the first and sec­ond seg­ments of qual­i­fy­ing did not re­flect the Hun­gar­ian’s pace, hav­ing done the min­i­mum re­quired to progress to the next stage, but Miche­lisz saved it up for one mon­ster Q3 shootout run to grab pole by

0.370 sec­onds in his Civic.

In­creas­ingly heavy rain – a fac­tor for a sec­ond race week­end in a row – meant much of the main race was neu­tralised, but Miche­lisz had done the hard work al­ready. In the four laps of green run­ning that were man­aged af­ter a safety car start, he built a small lead over Nicky Cats­burg, be­fore the safety car re­turned on lap seven. That was it and, while win num­ber eight of his ca­reer was hardly the most ac­claimed, Miche­lisz won’t have minded too much. The cars cir­cu­lated un­til the manda­tory 75% dis­tance for full points to be awarded had been com­pleted be­fore the race was called.

Miche­lisz’s sev­enth in the open­ing race was lit­tle re­ward for a fight­ing dis­play, but it could have been far worse af­ter a punt from Nestor Giro­lami at the fi­nal com­plex put him on the edge of the gravel trap.

A re­cov­ery drive from there, al­lied to driv­ethrough penal­ties for Giro­lami and Cats­burg (both for clashes with Hon­das), lim­ited the points lost to fourth-place fin­isher Bjork.

The Swede had been part of a three­way squab­ble for sec­ond – some way back from race win­ner Tom Chilton, who romped to a sec­ond win of 2017 – but af­ter briefly claim­ing the spot from Yann Ehrlacher, Bjork be­came em­broiled in a tus­sle with Este­ban Guer­ri­eri and ul­ti­mately slipped be­hind the pair.

Had Honda kept its China points, Miche­lisz would cur­rently en­joy a 14.5-point lead. As it is, he’s 16.5 down on Bjork – but that is half of what it was be­fore the event, and is a gap that’s not in­sur­mount­able with four races left. And Cats­burg is still close too.

Miche­lisz con­trolled the short­ened sec­ond race

Chilton is up to fifth in the 2017 stand­ings

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