The WTCC hits Donington for the first time

The Race of the UK, the seventh event of the 2011 World Touring Car Championship season occurs this weekend at the Donington Park circuit.

Richard’s F1 previews this weekend’s action and takes a look at some of the talking points leading into this weekend…

The Circuit

2011 FIA WTCC RACE OF UK 
Donington-Park-Circuit
Date: 16-17 July 2011 Lap Length: 4.023km
Race Lap Record: Not established
Event Schedule: Free Test Session Fri 13:30-14:00
  Free Practice Session 1 Sat 09:00-09:30
  Free Practice Session 2 Sat 11:00-11:30
  Qualifying Q1 Sat 14:00-14:20
  Qualifying Q2 Sat 14:25-14:35
  Warm-Up Sun 09:00-09:15
  Race 1 (13 laps, 52km) Sun 11:50-12:20
  Race 2 (13 laps, 52km) Sun 14:15-14:45
Past Winners: 2005 Race 1: Gabriele Tarquini (Alfa Romeo 156) (Silverstone)
  Race 2: Rickard Rydell (SEAT Toledo) (Silverstone)
Past Winners: 2006 Race 1: Yvan Muller (SEAT León) (Brands Hatch)
  Race 2: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Lacetti) (Brands Hatch)
Past Winners: 2007 Race 1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Lacetti) (Brands Hatch)
  Race 2: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) (Brands Hatch)
Past Winners: 2008 Race 1: Jörg Müller (BMW 320si) (Brands Hatch)
  Race 2: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Lacetti) (Brands Hatch)
Past Winners: 2009 Race 1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze) (Brands Hatch)
  Race 2: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320si) (Brands Hatch)
Past Winners: 2010 Race 1: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze) (Brands Hatch)
  Race 2: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) (Brands Hatch)

An icon on the UK motorsports scene, Liecestershire’s Donington Park circuit will play host to a round of the World Touring Car Championship for the first time as the series moves from its traditional Brands Hatch base this year.

That being said, the circuit itself is not unfamiliar to the FIA touring cars, having played host to the European Touring Car Championship (the predecessor to the WTCC) between 2002 and 2004. During those six races, BMW clocked up four wins and Alfa Romeo took two.

Since the circuit was bought out after its hopes of holding a Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2010 were abandoned, the circuit has undergone a number of renovations, including the erection of new pit facilities. But the layout has remained unchanged, and the track’s undulating nature and mix of corners will provide plenty of on-track action and overtaking opportunities.

 

The Players

A twenty-car entry list is on offer this weekend, with the field featuring a couple of notable changes.

Colin Turkington makes a return to the WTCC stage The first – most pleasingly for home fans – is the one-off return of former British Touring Car champion and WTCC race-winner Colin Turkington, who will pilot the Wiechers-Sport BMW as a stand-in for Stefano D’Aste. The Northern Irishman has not driven the new turbocharged model, but his pedigree is second-to-none and he could give the regular BMW runners a run for their money if he gets up to speed quickly enough.

The other change is that this weekend will be the first since mid-2007 where a SEAT León TDi does not grace the grid, after the SUNRED team confirmed that Aleksei Dudukalo will be the last of its six drivers to switch to its new turbocharged León 1.6T model.

The entry list also has Proteam BMW’s tail-ender Fabio Fabiani returning to the fold in the grid’s only normally-aspirated entry, which will leave him as the sole runner still Fabio Fabiani will be making up the numbers and getting in the way eligible to claim points in the Jay-Ten Trophy championship, which was a title set up for runners still competing with cars conforming to the 2010 engine regulations. With the Italian having been well off-the-pace at every event he has entered to-date (often needing the permission of the stewards to race because he can’t post a qualifying time within 107% of pole), he’ll be all but invisible this weekend.

And Marchy Lee’s DeTeam KK Motorsport BMW is still missing from the field, having not made a showing since his last outing at the third round of the championship at Monza. Ostensibly this is due to his Engstler-engineered BMW requiring a new livery as a result of securing new sponsors, but unless the painters are trying to replicate the Sistine Chapel fresco, one would assume this should be sorted by now…

2011 FIA World Touring Car Championship Entry List (Race of UK):

No. Entrant Car Driver
1. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Yvan Muller FRA
2. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Robert Huff GBR
3. Lukoil-SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Gabriele Tarquini ITA
4. Lukoil-SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Aleksei Dudukalo RUS
5. Zengõ-Dension Team BMW BMW 320 TC Norbert Michelisz HUN
7. SEAT Swiss Racing by SUNRED Sunred SR León 1.6T Fredy Barth SUI
8. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Alain Menu SUI
9. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Darryl O’Young HKG
10. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Yukinori Taniguchi JPN
11. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Kristian Poulsen DEN
12. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Franz Engstler DEU
15. ROAL Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Tom Coronel NED
17. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Michel Nykjær DEN
18. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Tiago Monteiro POR
20. Scuderia Proteam BMW BMW 320 TC Javier Villa García ESP
21. Scuderia Proteam BMW BMW 320si Fabio Fabiani ITA
25. Scuderia Proteam BMW BMW 320 TC Mehdi Bennani MOR
29. Wiechers-Sport BMW BMW 320 TC Colin Turkington GBR
30. Polestar Volvo Volvo Volvo C30 1.6T Robert Dahlgren SWE
74. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SR León 1.6T Pepe Oriola ESP

 * Subject to final FIA confirmation

 

The Form Guide

The arrival of a new circuit and the reductions in penalty weights for the BMWs and Robert Dahlgren’s Volvo may help bring the competition a little closer and shake up the form guide this weekend, but in reality the RML Chevrolets are so superior that it’s hard not to see the blue cars disappearing into the distance once again.

The team has made significant investments in heavily testing and developing its Cruze challenger during the off-season, and having that amount of data (and continuity in its line-up) has paid dividends, with the outfit winning all but one of the races so far in 2011.

Tensions are high between Huff and Muller In fact, the only challenge stopping them from sweeping the title is the team itself. After some rough and tumble racing between the three drivers at recent events, tensions are high between Robert Huff, Yvan Muller and (to a lesser extent) Alain Menu, with each lobbying furiously for the support of their team. Certainly Huff has the pace and the form at the moment, and one senses that defending champion Muller – beaten in Race at Portugal by Huff after a contentious overtaking move (pictured right) – is none too happy about this.

Menu, however, is clearly the form driver on British soil. Of the twelve WTCC races held in the UK to-date, the Swiss driver has the most wins of any other driver in the field with four, and he’ll be familiar with Donington after his many years in British touring cars. The veteran will be desperate to impress once again, having generally struggled to put a complete weekend together. Meanwhile, Huff has never won a WTCC race on home soil, but his form is so strong at the moment that he will also be considered a favourite to take the top step of the podium.

The circuit – when used during the European Touring Car Champion days – is also  well-suited to the rear-wheel-drive BMWs, and this weekend could pose the opportunity for any one of its drivers to mount a challenge for a race win. But like Menu, neither Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport) or Norbert Michelisz (Zengõ-Dension) have been able to string an entire weekend together just yet.

Robert Dahlgren could be a dark horse this weekend Robert Dahlgren could be a dark horse this weekend. The Swede’s little Volvo C30 has improved with every weekend it has competed in its first full-time championship season, and the drop in penalty ballast could see him as a strong contender at Donington. Dahlgren has been among the quickest cars in a straight line at recent events, and he is brimful of confidence that he could claim his first podium of the season.

It’s difficult to read too much into the current form of the SEAT drivers and how much of an impact they will have this weekend. Typically, the SEATs have performed poorly in the UK, but the advent of their continually-improving turbo engine may see SUNRED’s leading drivers, Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro, pose something of a threat.

Make sure you stay tuned to the Richard’s F1 website this weekend for the latest news and results in this championship series!

[Original images via FIA WTCC official site and ItalianCar]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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