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