Rob Huff scores podium in Japan but powerless to take lead
Rivals' car simply too fast with current balance formula
Rob Huff had his best weekend of the season to-date at the Suzuka circuit, scoring 35 points across the three days and taking his first podium of the year, but the world champion says he should feel happier than he does.
The Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Motorsport driver felt he couldn't compete with some of his competitors' much faster cars, despite the series' balancing formula which promises to equalise the field.
In very wet conditions on Friday, everything was equal, as Huff finished the two completely drenched practice sessions in fourth and second positions in his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR.
Come the afternoon's two qualifying sessions, due to the use of the short 2.2km East Circuit, track position was key, as the field jockeyed to give themselves some space for their fast laps. Unfortunately, Huff's team's garage location worked against him, and he could only qualify in 19th place, although he was promoted to 16th after a substantian 21 penalties were handed out with drivers punished for driving too slowly.
Huff fared much better in the second qualifying session, now held in drying conditions, placing his car ninth, and so grabbing second position for the reversed grid second race on Sunday.
In Saturday's Race 1, Huff picked his way through the midfield during the 26-lap heat to move up to tenth position, but could go no further.
From second on the grid in Race 2, the 39-year-old made a terrific start, but pole-sitter Norbert Michelisz drove straight across the track to cut Huff's progress down the inside, forcing the British driver all the way down the exit of the pit lane.
Michelisz was given an unsportsmanlike driving flag, but Huff still had to try and make his way past for the lead. Despite sitting on the Hyundai's driver rear for the full race, and saving the life of his tyres for the latter stages, there was simply no way past Michelisz's Hyundai, which simply drove away from him on the straights, despite carrying the maximum penalty weight this weekend.
In Race 3, Huff picked up a spot at the start, but found himself again staring at the rear of a Hyundai, this time the car of last year's champion Gabriele Tarquini.
The only car that seemed to be able to pass was the Alfa Romeo of Kevin Ceccon, who barged his way past Huff's car on lap 21 at Turn 2, and then carried on all the way up to third place - though he'd later be penalised for his pass, although not by enough to drop him behind Huff in the final order.
At the end of the weekend, their were mixed emotions for Huff, who secured his first podium of the season in a tough campaign, but felt he could do nothing about the Hyundai and Alfa Romeo cars around him, who had a clear performance advantage due to the current Balance of Performance.
The Cambridge-driver now turns his attention to the next round of the season at Macau on November 16th-17th, where he's looking to add to his record-breaking tally nine victories at the iconic Guia circuit.
Rob Huff said:
"In the second race I got a good start. but Norbi (Michelisz) was a bit naughty after cutting me off at the front. We had the pace in the second half of the race, but the Hyundais are so strong - and he also drove really well and made no mistakes at all, which left me with no place to go around him.
"It's a little frustrating as we're 80kg lighter than the Hyundais, and have 2.5% more engine power, yet they pull away from us in the straights, which is where you want to be quick. As for the Alfa, with (Kevin) Ceccon, that car's also ridiculous, he drove past four cars lap after lap on the straight - and also just pushed his way past me.
"I should be happier than I am, as with the compensation weight and the BoP how it is, we should be winning races by a long way, and we're not.
"On the whole, it was not a bad weekend for Volkswagen, with a podium for me, and a win for Johan Kristoffersson. Now we move on to my favourite track, where we have eight poles and nine wins, so I'm looking forward to Macau.
"To get a podium just before we go there gives us good confidence - and we know we have a good set-up there from last year where we took both pole positions."
WTCR Race of Japan
Qualifying 1 result
1 - Tiago Monteiro - KCMG Honda Civic TCR - 59.713
2 - Esteban Guerrieri - Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - +0.128
3 - Néstor Girolami - Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - +0.254
4 - Niels Langeveld - Comtoyou Racing Audi RS 3 LMS - +0.326
5 - Frédéric Vervisch - Comtoyou Racing Audi RS 3 LMS - +0.433
19 - Rob Huff - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +1.013
Qualifying 2 result
1 - Johan Kristoffersson - Sebastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - 59.627
2 - Tiago Monteiro - KCMG Honda Civic TCR - +0.153
3 - Mikel Azcona - PWR Racing Cupra TCR - +0.477
4 - Esteban Guerrieri - Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - +0.565
5 - Andy Priaulx - Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 03 TCR - +1.396
9 - Rob Huff - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +0.603
Race 1 result
1 - Esteban Guerrieri - Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - 26 laps
2 - Niels Langeveld - Comtoyou Racing Audi RS 3 LMS - +0.460
3 - Tiago Monteiro - KCMG Honda Civic TCR - +1.602
4 - Thed Bjork - Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR - +1.991
5 - Johan Kristoffersson - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +2.400
10 - Rob Huff - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +8.566
Race 2 result
1 - Norbert Michelisz - BRC Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR - 24 laps
2 - Rob Huff - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +0.293
3 - Gabriele Tarquini - BRC Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR - +8.205
4 - Kevin Ceccon - Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR - +8.531
5 - Thed Bjork - Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR - +11.102
Race 3 result
1 - Johan Kristoffersson - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - 30 laps
2- Esteban Guerrieri - Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - +3.070
3 - Thed Bjork - Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR - +11.063
4 - Gabriele Tarquini - BRC Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR - +11.715
5 - Andy Priaulx - Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 03 TCR - +12.545
7 - Rob Huff - Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - +13.104
The next round of the 2019 FIA World Touring Car Cup takes place at the Guia Race of Macau on November 14th-17th.