Tribune News Network
Honda are aiming to finish the season as FIA World Touring Car Championship winners as the series reaches its conclusion at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar this week.
With three wins and six podium finishes, Norbert Michelisz lies just 6.5 points away from the top spot in the Drivers' Championship with 60 available from the season finale.
The Hungarian, who could become his country's first FIA world champion, is the WTCC's in-form driver, having scored 78 points 26 more than anyone else over the past two rounds and having qualified on the front row at each of the past six events.
His results have also been instrumental in pulling Honda to within 12.5 points of the Manufacturers' Championship lead; the Japanese make having been 60.5 behind just two rounds ago.
Norbert has had fond memories of the Losail International Circuit as it was here an overall podium finish helped him secure the 2015 WTCC Trophy in a non-factory Honda.
Esteban Guerrieri substitutes for the injured Tiago Monteiro for a third straight event, although the Portuguese driver has recovered sufficiently from his Barcelona testing accident in September to attend the Qatar weekend in an advisory capacity.
Argentinian Esteban has finished inside the top six in each of the four races he has contested with Honda and has risen to sixth place in the Championship as a result. With two wins and four podium finishes this season, he is just 11 points away from third spot in the Drivers' standings.
Ryo Michigami made history in Macau by becoming the first Japanese driver to finish on a WTCC podium. Having qualified inside the top 10 at four of the past five events, he will play a key role in Honda's quest to become Manufacturers' Champions.
Although he has never raced at Losail, Ryo has been learning the circuit on a simulator and is raring to get on track for opening practice on Thursday evening.
The Hondas will carry the maximum 80kg compensation weight at Losail, which features an unusual timetable with both practice sessions on Thursday and qualifying and each race on Friday.
Michelisz said of the twin races in Losail,"It all comes down to Friday night and I think that, as a team, we're as prepared as we possibly can be. Earlier in the year I became fixated on thinking championship, and it didn't help me, so I changed my philosophy to taking things one race at a time. It's definitely paid off, as you can see from the results since the Nurburgring in May.
"Obviously, I want to win the World Championship and the whole team is behind me in this aim, but win or lose, as long as I can say I gave it everything, I'll be proud of the job I've done," the Hungarian.
Guerrieri, happy to be in the line-up for the season-ending races, said,"I'm extremely pleased to have been asked to continue to stand in for Tiago in Qatar, and even happier that he will attend the event. My role is simple, as it was in Macau. I'm here to help Norbi score as many points as possible and I also have my eye on finishing third in the Drivers' standings myself.
"I've never raced at Losail, but the team has experience of the track, so this will be a big help. Having the maximum 80kg compensation weight isn't ideal, so we have to work extra hard to overcome this."
The Japanese Michigami is excited after the team came withing striking distance of three titles. He said,"The races have been coming thick and fast during the second half of the WTCC season, and Qatar will be no exception. When we went out for qualifying in Japan, we were a long way behind in the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, but we've had such great momentum as a team that we've been able to take back lots of points and get ourselves into a very good position.
"I've not had any race at Losail before, but I've been learning it on a simulator and I like it. I have two aims, which are to do everything I can to help Honda become Manufacturers' Champions and support Norbi's bid for the Drivers' title."