Tiago Monteiro celebrated his second podium of the season in the third-last weekend of racing in the World Touring Car Cup. After his much-feted victory in front of his home crowd in Vila Real at the beginning of July, the Portuguese driver, who is sponsored by Brose, finished third in the first race in Suzuka. The 43-year-old was also able to get into the points in the two other races.
Tiago demonstrated very early on that he would be a force to reckon with on the weekend of racing in Japan: The ex-Formula 1 pilot clocked the best time in qualifying on the Friday. However, he was not allowed to start the first race from pole position: He was given a three-place grid penalty because he “had driven unnecessarily slowly in the first qualifying,” according to the official reason given by the stewards. As a result, he had to start from fourth.
“I’m delighted at the podium,” said Tiago about his Honda team’s success in its home races, “especially when you take into account the penalty, which I still find difficult to understand and which I’m not happy about. But we had to get over that and give all we could.” In a race interrupted by several safety car phases, Tiago initially defended his fourth spot, before benefiting from the fact that the rival ahead of him, Frederic Vervisch, was forced to retire on lap seven.
In the second race on the 2.2-kilometer East Course of the legendary Suzuka Circuit, Tiago took sixth place and so was the best Honda pilot – even ahead of the current world championship leader Esteban Guerrieri from Argentina, who crossed the line in tenth. Tiago stayed among the leading group throughout the 24 laps and failed to capture his second podium on the weekend by just a little more than three seconds.
The third race also went very well for the Portuguese driver to begin with. He even briefly snatched the lead at the start, but then had to relinquish it again to the later winner Johan Kristoffersson. He then lost second spot to his Honda stablemate Guerrieri. However, Tiago wanted to drive into the pits too early in the final spell of the race, which was completed behind the safety car. When he realized his mistake, he drove back onto the track on time, but overtook a rival in contravention of the rules and so was handed a 10-second penalty that demoted him to 15th place.
“That’s really bitter,” was how Tiago summed up what happened on the final meters. Nevertheless, he took away a lot of positives from the track on which he made his comeback last year after being out for a long time through injury. “We showed this weekend that we can compete with the best again. We hope to be able to maintain this good form for the rest of the season,” said an optimistic Tiago. “We picked up a lot of points here and demonstrated our class on Honda’s home track.” The penultimate weekend of racing in the season is in Macau in three weeks’ time. If he also gets among the points there, he could move up a little from 17th place in the overall standings.