There was plenty to celebrate all round after the first race of the day at the FIA WTCC Race of Japan in Suzuka on Sunday, the first of three weekends in Asia for the championship in 2013.
A first win of the season for Norbet Michelisz and Zengo Motorsport, a victory for Honda on home soil - and to top it all, a record breaking fourth world title for Yvan Muller.
Having started from pole Michelisz made sure he made a quick getaway from the rolling start, the popular Hungarian quickly driving away from eventual runner-up and top independent, Alex MacDowall to build up a near five-second advantage by the time the chequered flag was shown.
This was his and Zengo Motorsports first victory of the season and despite that being enough reason to rejoice, it was inevitably somewhat overshadowed by the long-expected crowning of Yvan Muller who had finally managed to secure his fourth WTCC title by crossing the line in third place.
The Frenchman had by no means been taking it easy during the race but instead had been piled on the pressure onto MacDowall throughout. He only finally backed off a touch when the sole remaining obstacle between him and the title, Honda's Gabriele Tarquini, pulled into the pits with a puncture. As it had in previous visits here, the Suzuka East circuit was proving to be a quite the car breaker again this weekend.
RML team mate Tom Chilton followed the two Chevys home but was unable do do anything about getting onto the podium due to the lack of passing opportunities available on the tight and short track. However solid points for fourth will help his cause for a top three placing in the overall standings, which is the former Tripple 8 BTCC drivers target for the year.
James Nash had the loneliest drive of race 1 in fifth, keeping well out of any trouble to come home second in the Yokohama trophy category and overhauling Michel Nykjaer in the process. With Nykjaer recently departed from the series, the title is now looking increasingly safe in Nash's hands.
James Thompson jumped up the order to sixth at the line after Pepe Oriola and Tiago Monteiro clashed at turn 6 on lap 18 which put Monteiro out of the race and saw Oriola handed a drive-thru penalty. That was good news for Thompson and for LADA, with more points exactly what the Russian manufacturer had ordered after a troubling drought in previous rounds.
Thompson ran to the finish holding off a six-car train that included former champion Rob Huff who took seventh, Tom Coronel in eighth, Marc Basseng in ninth and Fernando Monje in the final points position in tenth, followed by Mehdi Bennani in eleventh. Just behind was the Honda Japan wildcard of Takuya Izawa, who took top Eurosport Asia Trophy spoils in race 1.
All 29 cars that started the race were classified as finishers, although Tarquini, Oriola and SEAT's Tom Boardman all ended up classified five laps off the lead, and two laps even further back were Monteiro and BMW's Stefano D'Aste.
The race saw a new WTCC lap record set for the Suzuka circuit, with Alain Menu's record from last year toppled by this year's winner Michelisz who posted a time of 52.627 to make a nice addition to his winner's trophy for the race and pole position from Saturday. So far it had been a perfect weekend for both him and for the Hungarian-financed Zengo Motorsport team; the question now was what race 2 would hold in store.
by Dexter Fielding