Chiba, Japan has been added as the third race of the 2018 World Championship, giving Yoshihide Muroya his first home race after taking the title in October last year. And Japan's hero is aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive wins at the seaport, but the world's best pilots are determined to stop him. The action takes place on 26-27 May.
Chiba has been magic for Muroya, the Team Falken pilot set a track record in 2015, earned his career-first race win there in 2016, and then clinched a repeat victory in front of ecstatic crowds last year on his way to claiming Asia's first World title. Already beloved by fans, Muroya's success has elevated him to superstar status. Chiba tickets frequently sell out – with a record of 120,000 spectators packing Makuhari Beach over the 2015 race weekend alone – and demand is expected to be higher than ever for the 2018 race.
Also higher than ever will be the expectations of Japan's super fans; and adding to the pressure will perhaps see the most competitive lineup in the history of the sport. Among those challenging Muroya in the 14-pilot field will be two former World Champions – Kirby Chambliss and Matthias Dolderer – plus the standouts who earned the second and third steps on the overall podium in 2017, Martin Šonka and Pete McLeod.
Meanwhile, this season Michael Goulian has taken the early lead in the points with a win at February's season opener in Abu Dhabi, pushing Muroya to second. Anything can happen at the next stop on the eight-race calendar, when the World Championship makes its French premiere in Cannes. All eyes will then turn to Japan, where the changing winds of Tokyo Bay will act as an additional opponent for the pilots.
"We want to bring Japan another World Championship at the end of this season, and we're working very hard to make our raceplane even faster," said Muroya. "A home race is special, and we are very happy to have the opportunity to fly in Chiba again. Yes, there's pressure, but the support we feel from the fans always gives us a boost."
Tickets for Chiba will be on sale soon...