José María López became the first Argentine since the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio 57 years previously to claim an FIA world title when he won the opening race at Suzuka in late October to wrap up the 2014 World Touring Car Championship.
López’s crown was all but assured when Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller, the only driver who could have beaten him to the championship, stopped in race one to change a punctured tyre on his works C-Elysee WTCC.
Success for López triggered enthusiastic celebrations in Japan, where his Citroën team donned Argentina replica football shirts, and in his home city of Córdoba as fans stayed up through the night to watch his momentous victory.
Behind López, Tom Chilton and Hugo Valente became embroiled in a close battle for second. Chilton came out on top as Valente slipped back to fifth in the closing stages, leaving Lopez’s Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb to complete the podium.
Gabriele Tarquini gave Japanese fans reason for cheer in the second race by winning from pole for Honda, the make’s second success of 2014. Dušan Borković made history by becoming the first Serbian to finish on the podium of an FIA world championship event with Norbert Michelisz completing a strong race for Honda in third having finished fourth in race one.
Elsewhere, John Filippi ended Franz Englster’s dominance in the TC2T category with class success in race two. Henry Kwong and Filipe De Souza shared the Asia Trophy laurels, while López and Tarquini were the WTCC Race of Japan Yokohama Performers.
Tom Chilton will continue his chase of FIA World Touring Car Championship success after re-signing for ROAL Motorsport for the 2015 campaign.
The British ace, a race winner in last year’s WTCC, will undertake four days of testing in Spain next week in ROAL’s Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 in preparation for the new season.
“I’m delighted to be racing again with ROAL in the WTCC,” said the 30-year-old. “I settled into the team quickly last year and managed some great results and podiums on our way to the Yokohama Teams' Trophy. I’ve been training hard over the winter and can’t wait to get back into the car."
Roberto Ravaglia, ROAL Motorsport Team Principal, added: “We’ve set ourselves some high targets for this year to build on the success we had in 2014 and we’re delighted to have Tom back in our car to help us achieve them. He did an excellent job for us last year and we’re all excited to see what we can do with him behind the wheel for 2015."
ROAL Motorsport will announce the second driver for the 2015 WTCC season in mid-February.
This was the race, in October 2014, where Citroën claimed the manufacturers’ title in its first season of FIA World Touring Car Championship racing.
And it did so in style, with the French team’s quartet of drivers filling the top four places in race one. Championship leader José María López extended his points advantage to 93 by winning race one ahead of local hero Ma Qing Hua, nearest title rival Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb. Next up were the three Honda Civics of Norbert Michelisz, Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro. Also celebrating was Franz Engstler, whose latest TC2T class win ensured he won the Yokohama Drivers’ title aboard his eponymous team’s BMW.
In race two there was another first following Rob Huff’s emotional win for LADA last time out in Beijing when Mehdi Bennani took his and Proteam Racing’s maiden WTCC victory. In doing so the Honda driver became the first Moroccan to win an FIA world championship event. And it was the first WTCC win this year for the Civic. Monteiro added to the joy by claiming second ahead of López and Michelisz, with Ma the next Citroën driver in fifth. “This is an incredible day for me, I still can’t believe it and I try to imagine what will happen in Morocco,” said Bennani.
Loeb had finished fourth on the road but was handed a 30-second penalty for causing a clash with team-mate Muller on lap two and dropped to 12th as a result. Engstler, meanwhile, celebrated his TC2T title in emphatic fashion with another class victory. López was the Yokohama Performer for the weekend.