After an impressive FIA World Touring Car Championship debut at his home event in Japan last season, Ryo Michigami gets a full campaign in a Honda Racing Team JAS-run Civic WTCC in 2017. The 43-year-old discusses learning tracks, long-haul flights and Honda-powered heroes.
– When you were announced as a factory Honda driver for 2017 you said racing in the WTCC would be the pinnacle of your career, but what do you hope to achieve this season?
Ryo Michigami : « Winning is always the aim, and we will all make a special effort to make Honda World Touring Car champions in 2017. »
– Apart from Twin Ring Motegi, how well do you know the other WTCC tracks? Are you a fast learner?
Ryo Michigami : « I’ll be new to most of the tracks on the calendar. Apart from Motegi, I’ve race at Monza in a round of the European Le Mans Series in a Mugen-engined Dome LMP1 car in 2004, and at Macau, when I did the F3 Grand Prix there in 1994. I’ve driven the Nürburgring Nordschleife as well, so at least I’ve driven the two toughest tracks on the calendar. I think every racing driver is a fast learner, but we have a great simulator at JAS Motorsport, which makes it much easier. »
– WTCC MAC3 will be something new for you this season – are you excited by the prospect or apprehensive?
Ryo Michigami : « Because I don’t know the circuits, it’s going to take some getting used to. I didn’t do MAC3 in Japan last year because Norbi [Michelisz], Tiago [Monteiro] and Rob Huff were the regular drivers. We will, I’m sure, do some MAC3 simulations in testing before the season starts. »
– You began your pre-season testing in Spain last month. How did it go and what were the main things you learned?
Ryo Michigami : « I hadn’t raced since I made my WTCC debut at Motegi last year, so my focus was on re-familiarising myself with the Honda Civic WTCC and making sure I’m up to speed with the car’s characteristics. »
– How much of a help were your new team-mates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro?
Ryo Michigami : « They were very helpful. I could tell after Motegi that they were two guys who worked very well together, and they know that the sooner I’m fully up to speed, the better it will be for the whole team. It was my first time driving at Aragon, so Norbi came out with me for two laps in a Civic Type R road car to show me lines and braking and acceleration points, while Tiago was there for a day-and-a-half to benchmark the car for me and give me the benefit of his knowledge; he has quite a bit, having been with the Honda WTCC programme since day one. »
– You’ll be spending a lot of time in an aeroplane this season. What are your tips for coping with jet lag and long-haul travel, and what do you always carry in your hand luggage?
Ryo Michigami : « Long-haul travel is a normal part of racing, and after over 20 years in motorsport I’m used to it. I always carry my laptop and my mobile phone so I can keep in touch with my friends and family, and now with my fans too through social media. Everyone who supports me gives me a lot of strength and energy. »
– The WTCC visits Japan slightly later than normal in 2017. What message do you have for fans currently with nothing to do on 29 October?
Ryo Michigami : « Come and watch. I’d love to see you there. When it was announced that I would be racing in the WTCC, there were lots of people in Japan who were very happy and sent me some nice messages of support on social media. I was very happy to receive these. It’s a long time – nine months – until the WTCC Race of Japan, but I hope to do well for myself and for Honda this season so that we have something to celebrate when we come back to Japan. »
– Your WTCC programme will keep you busy this year, but do you have any other plans for races in 2017?
Ryo Michigami : « I’ll be fully focused on the WTCC as I learn my new team, car and championship, but when I’m back home in Japan I’ll continue my role as chief instructor for the Suzuka Racing School and give tuition to the NSX Owners’ Group. I’ll also attend some races in Japan in a management/advisory role within the Honda Racing family. »
– There have been many Honda-powered drivers and riders in motorsport. Who is the greatest and why?
Ryo Michigami : « You’re right, there have been many, and many legendary ones too. But for me, Ayrton Senna stands head and shoulders above the rest, and I’ve felt that way for a long, long time. That guy was born charismatic and his amazing commitment, way of life and car control were just fantastic. »