Tiago Monteiro wins in Motegi as title contenders hit trouble

Castrol Honda’s Tiago Monteiro claimed his second win of the season at Motegi, and the third for Honda this year, while championship contenders Yvan Muller and José María López both failed to finish the race after separate incidents.

Monteiro catapulted into the lead from third on the grid, passing the pole-sitting Campos Racing Chevrolet of Hugo Valente and the Lada of Nicky Catsburg, while Yvan Muller also made a strong start moving one spot up to third behind Valente in his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC.

Further down the order there was drama as José María López ran into trouble in the first corner melee which also saw Sébastien Loeb Racing driver Mehdi Bennani spun out. López picked up damage and returned to the pits with a broken wheel, only his second career DNF in the WTCC.

Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini and Citroën’s Ma Qing Hua battled away for the first few laps, with Tarquini passing Ma for fourth before the end of lap one, but Ma retook the spot at Turn 11 on lap three, before the two made contact the next time they headed into the first corner, which dropped Ma to the middle of the pack, and saw Lada’s Rob Huff elevated to fourth ahead after a strong start to the race.

The race was now about two key battles, the fight for second between the French drivers Valente and Yvan Muller, and the battle for fourth between Rob Huff, Gabriele Tarquini and Sébastien Loeb.

The first battle was decided on lap six, when the bonnet catch on the left side of Muller’s Citroën came loose as a result of contact with Valente earlier in the race. The stewards ordered the team to bring him in for repairs, which saw him drop to the tail end of the field and eventually retire with no possibility to score points.

Huff, Tarquini and Loeb now was a battle for third, and raged on throughout the rest of the race.

Tarquini tried to pass Huff at Turn 9 on lap eight, but left himself vulnerable to Loeb’s Citroën behind and dropped to fourth. Now it was Loeb’s turn to try and pass Huff, making several attempts to move ahead of the Briton. A lunge at Turn 4 on the final lap, and Loeb made the same error as Tarquini five laps earlier and dropped back behind the Italian.

However, the battle wasn’t over, as Loeb fought back, and outdragged the Honda driver across the line to snatch fourth by just under a tenth of a second.

Monteiro won the race with almost a ten second margin over Hugo Valente, who took his second podium of the season, as did Lada’s Rob Huff with third.

The stewards will investigate the incidents between Tarquini and Ma, as well as incident between WTCC newcomer Nicolas Lapierre and Norbert Michelisz, which saw the Hungarian retire from tenth, after the race.

López maintains a 74 point lead over Muller, with just 165 remaining from the final three race weekends, the next of which is in Shanghai, China in two weeks’ time.