The FIA World Touring Car Championship grid will face its greatest challenge of the season this weekend when it will attempt to tame the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife – home of the Race of Germany since 2015 – a venue considered to be one of the toughest circuits in the world.
|Location||Nürburg, Germany||Circuit Length||25.378 km / 15.769 mi|
|Opened||1927||First WTCC Event||2015|
|Direction||Clockwise||Lap Record||8:40.688 – José María López (2015)|
Following a four-year absence, the Race of Germany returned to the FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar two years ago. With the championship having staged its German rounds at the highly technical Oschersleben circuit, series organisers pulled off a major coup by announcing that the WTCC field would race at the ultimate touring car circuit: the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Even though the WTCC plays a starring support act to the annual Nürburgring 24 Hours, there is no denying that the touring cars have provided action and thrills aplenty.
Dubbed ‘the Green Hell’ by Sir Jackie Stewart, the Nürburgring Nordschleife is one of the toughest circuits in the world, stretching over 25 kilometres and 164 corners as it plunges and rises through the Eifel forest. The circuit is perhaps better described as a high-speed roller coaster, with a seemingly never-ending series of sweeps, climbs and turns.
Rewind to 2016
José María López ruled the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife by winning both encounters at FIA WTCC Race of Germany. The Citroën driver charged through from ninth on the grid to claim the Opening Race laurels before converting his DHL pole position into victory number five of 2016 by winning the Main Race.
Tiago Monteiro had been leading the Opening Race in his Honda only for a spectacular crash to put him out nearing the end of the final lap. Yvan Muller was also eliminated in the incident, although both drivers were given the all-clear following medical checks.
Tom Chilton was a double winner in the WTCC Trophy and second and third overall in the two action-packed races. Norbert Michelisz was twice in the top three for Honda, while the works Polestar and LADA squads also scored.
The 2017 Event
|2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship – Race of Germany|
|Event Dates||25-27 May 2017||Testing||Thu 11:30-12:30|
|Free Practice Session 1||Thu 18:50-19:50||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 08:15-09:15|
|Qualifying Session||Sat 12:45-13:25||MAC3||Fri 13:45-14:05|
|Opening Race (3 laps)||Sat 11:20-11:50||Main Race (3 laps)||Sat 12:45-13:15|
|Race of Germany Weather Forecast|
|Thursday||9°C – 18°C||Friday||11°C – 23°C||Saturday||13°C – 26°C|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC/GMT + 2:00)
The Form Guide
This weekend’s pair of three-lap races will present Honda and Volvo with the opportunity to break Citroën’s stranglehold of the event. José María López and Yvan Muller (although only just!) claimed a clean sweep for the French factory squad in the inaugural event at the Nordschleife, while López managed to do the double in 2016.
The Argentine’s victory in the Opening Race came thanks to a spectacular last-lap tyre failure for Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, which saw the unfortunate Portuguese driver also take out Muller in the process. López was able to narrowly avoid the accident right in front of him and went on to win.
Monteiro will be out to avenge his 2016 disappointment and is well placed to do so as the current championship leader. The season’s only multiple race-winner to-date sits a comfortable 38 points clear of Volvo’s Nicky Catsburg. Monteiro’s teammate Norbert Michelisz should not be discounted, and the Hungarian will need a strong weekend in order to keep himself in the championship hunt after suffering a crucial DNF last time out at his home race in Hungary.
The Hondas, however, will carry a significant handicap this weekend in the form of 70 kilograms of compensation ballast this weekend. While the added weight is 10kg less than what they carried at the Hungaroring, any extra kilos are a major penalty at this circuit.
Over at Polestar Cyan Racing, Catsburg looms as a favourite to claim victory given his extensive experience at the circuit and should find himself ably supported by teammate Thed Björk. For the team’s third driver, Néstor Girolami, his focus will be on quickly mastering a track he has never raced on. The field’s three S60 cars will maintain their full compensation weight hit of 80kg.
Even though the manufacturer team has since quit the sport, Citroën’s all-conquering C-Elysée will still be a threat in the hands of its privateer entries, even though it is back up to the maximum ballast load of 80kg. Current WTCC Trophy leader Tom Chilton was a double-podium winner here last year and will be looking to extend his lead in the standings with a similar result. His closest competition will come from Sébastien Loeb Racing teammate Mehdi Bennani and Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff.
The two Chevrolets of Esteban Guerrieri and Tom Coronel might find the RML Cruze’s relative horsepower deficiency a handicap here, although Coronel defied expectations last year by qualifying his ROAL Motorsports entry in the top three – the Dutch driver could therefore be something of a dark horse this weekend.
Lastly, the two RC Motorsport LADAs will maintain their ballast-free status, although both newcomer drivers Yann Ehrlacher and Kevin Gleason will have a steep learning curve given neither has raced before at the ‘Ring.
Images via FIA WTCC Media