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The World Touring Car Cup 2018 Season: A New Era, a Better Era

Credit: Paulo Maria / DPPI

After a busy weekend of racing, you’d be forgiven to have forgotten about the first ever WTCR round. Nigel Chiu looks at what we expect from the rest of the season and his initial thoughts on the opening round.

The inaugural World Touring Car Cup started this weekend in Marrakesh. To me, it’s just a name change with a set of new regulations for the cars. But, it should be miles better than the now-defunct WTCC. As is the TCR International series which was actually doing quite well with some good racing and good teams in the series which only started in 2015. So it leaves us with two championships which have become extinct and a mix of those series which needs to deliver.

The opening round took place last weekend at Marrakech with Gabriele Tarquini taking two of the three wins to leave the weekend with the early championship lead from last years WTCC champion Thed Björk.

The Car Regulations

A lot of people are still confused with the regulations so lets see if someone who loves simple things (that’s me!) can simplify them. The following regulations are for the cars that are allowed in the new WTCR Championship.

Eligible cars: 4/5-door vehicles

Body shell: Reinforced production body shell; wheel arch modifications allowed to accommodate tyres

Minimum weight: 1250 kg for cars with production gearbox, 1285 kg for cars with racing gearbox (both including the driver)

Minimum overall length: 4.20 metres

Maximum overall width: 1.95 metres

Maximum power output: 350BHP

Engine: Turbo-charged petrol or diesel up to 2.0-litre

Traction: On two wheels

Basically, these have been the main regulations for the TCR International Series for the last three seasons and the new WTCR series will use them. The TC1 regulations used by the WTCC from 2014-17 have had horrible consequences which has ultimately led to the end of the WTCC. They were expensive, bad for racing and had no interest from any major manufacturers.

Whilst the car regulations is all based around the TCR International Series, everything else is really a copy of last season’s WTCC with a few additional features.

The new name, WTCR, has been introduced to reflect the switch from TC1 to the TCR technical regulations. Meanwhile, the change of status from world championship to world cup signals the start of an exciting new era for international touring car racing when it is hoped that more affordable technical regulations will trigger a flurry of competitor interest, while building on the existing fan and media following enjoyed by the WTCC.

The success ballast will change for each event with the best cars taking as much as 80KG of ballast on the same types of car. For example, if one Audi has to take 60KG of ballast, all the Audis do. There are no changes in the event itself, just before and after events.

Credit: Paulo Maria / DPPI

The Format

This might be a bit confusing as well. It’s 2 days with lots of on track action which is great if you’re going to the circuit to watch or if you just want more touring car action. There are 3 races across the weekend along with two practice sessions and a qualifying session in each of the days. Here’s the break down:

Saturday

Free Practice 1 (30 minutes)

Free Practice 2 (30 minutes)

Qualifying (30 minutes)

Race 1 (top 10 classified finishers score points as follows: 27-20-17-14-12-10-8-6-4-2)

Sunday

This is essentially last year’s WTCC format all in one day.

Qualifying Q1 (25 minutes)

Qualifying Q2 (10 minutes)

Qualifying Q3 (top-five shootout)

Race 2 (top 10 positions reversed after Q2, top 10 classified finishers score points as follows: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1)

Race 3 (grid as per combined order after Q3, top 10 classified finishers score points as follows: 30-23-19-16-13-10-7-4-2-1)

Qualifying sessions are slightly longer on street circuits and the final race of an event is a few laps longer than the 1st and 2nd races (with the exception of the Nordschleife which has its own completely different format)

The Calendar

Marrakech (Morocco): 7-8 April – COMPLETED

Hungaroring (Hungary): 28-29 April

Nurburgring Nordschleife (Germany): 10-12 May

Zandvoort (Netherlands): 19-21 May

Vila Real (Portugal): 23-24 June

Termas de Río Hondo (Argentina): 4-5 August

Ningbo (China): 29-30 September

Wuhan (China): 6-7 October

Suzuka (Japan): 27-28 October

Macau (Macau): 15-18 November

The calendar is largely based around the previous 3-4 seasons of the WTCC

Credit: Francois Flamand / DPPI

The Entry List

Comtoyou Audi: Denis Dupont, Aurelien Panis, Frederic Vervisch, Nathaneal Berthon

BRC Racing Hyundai: Norbert Michelisz, Gabriele Tarquini

Sebastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen: Rob Huff, Mehdi Bennani

Yvan Muller Racing Hyundai: Yvan Muller, Thed Bjork

Boutsen Ginion Honda: Tom Coronel, Benjamin Lessennes*

Munnich Motorsport Honda: Esteban Guerrieri, Yann Ehrlacher, James Thompson

WRT Audi: Jean-Karl Vernay, Gordon Shedden

Campos Racing Cupra: John Filippi, Pepe Oriola

DG Sport Peugeot: Aurelien Comte, Mato Homola

Romeo Ferraris Alfa Romeo: Fabrizio Giovanardi, Gianni Morbidelli

Zengo Motorsport Cupra: Norbert Nagy, David Zsolt Szabo

*Deputising for Tiago Monteiro

I look at the field and I just think, WOW. There are touring car legends, world and national champions all with masses of experience. The Alfa Romeo team has a combined age of 101 and the all Italian line-up of Fabrizio Giovanardi and Gianni Morbidelli might become a fan favourite. Both are characters in their own way and are legends of touring car racing. Speaking of legends, Yvan Muller returns to full-time racing in a Hyundai which just shows his desire to race. It just shows that racing drivers love their sport so much and cannot get away from it even when they say they are done. A few race wins would be nice to see but don’t expect Muller to be right on top of his game.

His teammate, Thed Bjork, is last year’s WTCC champion and proved that he is a very consistent driver who can handle the pressure and not make any silly errors across a season. These characteristics will make Bjork a title contender. Another championship contender, must be  the 3-time BTCC champion, Gordon Shedden. He’s with a great team (WRT) and I expect the Audi to be very strong. He’s my tip for the title; to go from national champion to world champion (effectively).

Rob Huff hasn’t had a shot at a championship for a while and I think he will be motivated and will get the maximum out of his Volkswagen. He’s probably past his peak but he loves to win and I’d love to see a British battle for the championship. Watch out for Huffy!

It’s a shame that the line-up is mainly ex-WTCC drivers but I did expect that because in my opinion, the TCR International Series drivers don’t quite have the speed or the consistency to be a championship contender and therefore, a lot of the teams haven’t picked them up. I am surprised that double TCR International Series champion, Stefano Comini, isn’t in the line-up. I rated him very highly and it’s a massive shame to not see him in WTCR this year because it would have been fascinating to see the Swiss driver compete with some of the very best touring car drivers in the world.

Last year’s TCR International Series champion is in the line-up, Jean-Karl Vernay, so if he can provide the goods and show the speed that he had last year, it will be interesting to see if he can repeat another good season. That said, he will find it a lot tougher to win a championship in WTCR.

Credit: Paulo Maria / DPPI

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that this series is for the good. The WTCC was likely to die anyway so it has now been rescued by TCR and Frank Ribeiro. They should never have had to be put in this position though because they just got the last set of regulations completely wrong. But this is all in the past and we have to look at the future. The future does look promising with lots of teams and a variety of cars in the championship. My hope is that it ends up on a similar level to the current status of the BTCC but on an international level. The driver line-up is pretty good but even with a few youngsters, the championship looks like it’s still relying on some “old heads”. Should the likes of Gabriele Tarquini and Gianni Morbidelli still be racing at such a high level. Where is that young shining touring car star going to come from. I don’t see if with the current grid.

There should be at least 9-10 different winners with nearly everybody having a good chance of being on the podium at some point in the season. Who will win the championship? There’s a handful of possible contenders, it should go down to the final event in Macau. The racing will be on a similar, good level of the TCR International Series’s last few years and I think the format will create drama with lots of changes in the pecking order.

The opening round of the series happened at the weekend and it was Hyundai who showed that their car might be the car to beat. They looked excellent in the corners with a great front end which will help on all if the circuits. Gabriele Tarquini took 2 out of the 3 wins with genuine pace whilst Jean Karl Vernay took the reverse grid race win. With Hyundai having such a good car, it means that Muller, Bjork, Michelisz and Tarquini himself will be championship contenders. Surprisingly, the Audis struggled for raw speed and they suffered badly with overheating brakes on the Marrakesh circuit.

I’m not really a fan of the Marrakesh track and as hard as the drivers tried, their was a lack of proper racing. Lots of silly collisions and too many safety cars upset the flow of the race and at the front, track position was more than king. You just couldn’t overtake cleanly and couldn’t use the slipstream because you were focused on keeping the engine and car temperatures down due to the high track temperatures on the tight Moroccan street circuit. It would be better of WTCR didn’t go there.

Due to the strange track layout, it’s very hard to say if the championship will be highly successful. The cars seemed to be able to follow each other slightly better than last year’s TC1 WTCC cars and the field does look quite close. I think it will be circuit specific on which cars are best at which tracks. It looks positive but the next rounds will give us a much better impression on the state of the series.

It’s the start of a new era for international touring cars and I guarantee that this will be better than the previous WTCC years. Lets hope our patience will be rewarded!

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