After much anticipation and several high-profile driver changes in the off-season, the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship season finally kicks off this weekend with the Race of Italy at the historic Monza circuit.
RichardsF1.com will be right here in the thick of it, and we’ll bring you all of the action and gossip from Milan as the tin-tops go racing. Let’s take a look at our bumper race preview…
|2012 FIA WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP RACE OF ITALY
|Date:||23-24 March 2012|
|Race Lap Record:||1:59.000, Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T) – 2012|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-09:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:45-12:15|
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 15:00-15:20|
|Qualifying Session 2||Sat 15:25-15:35|
|Sunday Warm-Up||Sun 09:30-09:45|
|Race 1 (10 laps, 58km)||Sun 15:05-15:35|
|Race 2 (10 laps, 58km)||Sun 17:20-17:40|
|Past Winners:||Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2012 (Race 1)|
|Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2012 (Race 2)|
|Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2011 (Race 1)|
|Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2011 (Race 2)|
|Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si)||2010 (Race 1)|
|Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T)||2010 (Race 2)|
|Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León TDI)*||2009 (Race 1)|
|Yvan Muller (SEAT León TDi)*||2009 (Race 2)|
|Yvan Muller (SEAT León TDI)||2008 (Race 1)|
|Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León TDI)||2008 (Race 2)|
* Held at Imola
The opening round at Monza – known as Italy’s ‘Temple of Speed’ – is always one of the most anticipated on the WTCC calendar (not least of which is due to its season-opener billing this year), along with one of its most traditional.
The high-speed circuit has played host to the championship for its inaugural race when the series was re-formed in 2005, and has remained on the calendar every year, with the exception of 2009 when the Race of Italy occurred at the Imola circuit.
The event is widely popular with fans, who flock to the circuit to support local heroes Gabriele Tarquini and Stefano D’Aste, while Swiss fans will also make the trip south over the border to support Fredy Barth, who returns to the series full-time in 2013.
The major manufacturers have all enjoyed success at this circuit, which will reward a car with a good aerodynamic profile, a strong engine and a set-up that doesn’t punish its tyres too much.
The two races in 2011 saw tyres struggling under the massive cornering loads, but Robert Huff came through to win two gripping races in his Chevrolet, hounded all the way to the line by team-mate Yvan Muller.
In 2012, Muller became the series’ most successful driver at the venue with back-to-back wins (his fourth and fifth at the circuit). His Race 2 win was particularly impressive, coming back from a wild mid-race spin to tiger through the field to claim victory.
A total of twenty-five drivers will line up for this weekend’s season-opener, with fifteen competing for the Yokohama Independents’ Trophy and the rest vying for overall championship honours.
There have been a number of substantial line-up changes during the off-season, with the main trigger being Chevrolet’s withdrawal of its manufacturer support from the WTCC, leaving the frontline RML squad to run as a smaller, two-car independent operation.
Championship runner-up Alain Menu has left for the Porsche Supercup championship when he was unable to secure a drive, while title-winner Rob Huff will seek to defend his crown with the brand-new Münnich Motorsport operation, which will field three SEAT León WTCCs. Teammates Marc Basseng and René Münnich will make their full-time debuts this weekend – neither is expected to feature at the sharp end of the field in the early rounds.
The only driver remaining with RML – which is rumoured to be switching to Renault in 2014 if, as rumoured, the French carmaker joins the series – is Yvan Muller, who will be joined by Tom Chilton, who raced for the now-defunct Arena Motorsport Ford outfit last season.
The two manufacturers making full-time returns to the championship are Honda and LADA. The former ran at the final three races last year with Tiago Monteiro, and the Portuguese driver will be joined by fellow ex-F1 pilot Gabriele Tarquini in the Castrol-sponsored Civic WTCC contenders. A third Honda will also be on the grid for Norbert Michelisz, with the Zengõ Motorsport team switching manufacturers after two seasons (and one outright win) with BMW power.
LADA is also fielding a two-car effort after two inconclusive round appearances last year. This year they’re running a two-car effort with James Thompson back in the cockpit full-time, alongside former SEAT pilot Aleksei Dudukalo, who will give the team even more of a Russian flavour.
ROAL Motorsport veteran Tom Coronel will lead their charge for outright championship honours as the only non-Independent Trophy runner; he is joined by new team-mate Darryl O’Young, who spent the 2012 season driving for Special Tune Racing and Bamboo Engineering.
O’Young’s switch from Bamboo created a vacancy for the other ex-Arena driver, James Nash, who will give the British team an all-British line-up alongside Alex MacDowall – both would be considered hot favourites for the Yokohama trophy alongside O’Young.
The other BMW runners shouldn’t be discounted either, with Stefano D’Aste quitting Wiechers-Sport and opting to set up his own team, PB Racing, during the off-season. The Italian was the most successful BMW runner in terms of race wins in 2012, and he’ll be looking for a more consistent run in 2013 if he’s to be in the reckoning for a second championship crown.
Proteam BMW and Wiechers-Sport will field one BMW 320TC apiece for Mehdi Bennani and the returning Fredy Barth, respectively – both have shown themselves to be capable drivers in recent years, as have the Engstler pairing of Franz Engstler and Charles Ng.
SEAT will also have a healthy presence on the grid, with Spanish drivers Fernando Monje and the very impressive Pepe Oriola flying the colours for Campos Racing and Tuenti Racing, respectively. Oriola should – along with Huff – be the Spanish carmaker’s strongest pilots while the rest of the León runners get up to speed.
While Honda and LADA are the only true manufacturer-supported entries on the grid, the past competitiveness of other teams (or their drivers) has forced several runners out of Independent Trophy contention, even if they’re driving for independently-run teams. Huff, Muller, Coronel and Michelisz are three examples, while the likes of Chilton and Basseng will also be unable to challenge for the Yokohama crown.
The Race of Italy entry list reads as follows:
2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Italy Provisional Entry List:
|1.||Münnich Motorsport||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||Robert Huff|
|3.||Castrol Honda WTCC Team||Honda Civic WTCC||Gabriele Tarquini|
|5.||Zengõ Motorsport||Honda Civic WTCC||Norbert Michelisz|
|6.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Franz Engstler*|
|7.||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW 320 TC||Charles Ka-Ki Ng*|
|9.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Alex MacDowall*|
|10.||LADA Sport Lukoil||LADA Granta||James Thompson|
|11.||LADA Sport Lukoil||LADA Granta||Aleksei Dudukalo|
|12.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Yvan Muller|
|13.||ANOME||BMW 320 TC||Jean-Philippe Dayraut*|
|14.||Bamboo Engineering||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||James Nash*|
|15.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Tom Coronel|
|17.||NIKA Racing||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Michel Nykjær*|
|18.||Castrol Honda WTCC Team||Honda Civic WTCC||Tiago Monteiro|
|19.||Campos Racing||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||Fernando Monje*|
|22.||Special Tune Racing||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||Tom Boardman*|
|23.||RML Chevrolet||Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||Tom Chilton|
|25.||Proteam Racing||BMW 320 TC||Mehdi Bennani*|
|26.||PB Racing||BMW 320 TC||Stefano D’Aste*|
|37.||Münnich Motorsport||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||René Münnich*|
|38.||Münnich Motorsport||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||Marc Basseng|
|55.||ROAL Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Darryl O’Young*|
|27.||Zengõ Motorsport||BMW 320 TC||Gábor Wéber*|
|73.||Wiechers-Sport||BMW 320 TC||Fredy Barth*|
|74.||Tuenti Racing Team||SEAT León WTCC 1.6T||Pepe Oriola|
* Denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor. Entry list is subject to final FIA confirmation.
Facts, Stats & Predictions
The FIA has decreed that all five car models will start this weekend on the same base weight of 1,150kg in an attempt to kick off the season on a level playing field.
That notion could backfire, however. This will be the lightest weight that the Chevrolet Cruze turbo cars have ever been able to run since that model made its debut at the start of the 2011 season, and given its recent dominance, that could give it a significant advantage over the rest of the grid.
However, Chevrolet has withdrawn its manufacturer support from the three teams on the grid this year, which could give the advantage back to SEAT, Honda and LADA, who have been hard at work in the off-season developing their packages to close the gap to the frontrunners.
For Honda and LADA, it will mark full-time returns to the championship for both manufacturers after entering one car each at a couple of rounds as they evaluated a return to competition. The Honda looked particularly strong – it earned Tiago Monteiro a podium at Macau – and it could be a spoiler to Chevrolet’s dominance this weekend.
As always, make sure you visit RichardsF1.com for all of the latest news and analysis from Monza!