The fourth round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship takes place this weekend, with the series heading to eastern Europea for its fourth visit to the Slovakia Ring.
After Gianni Morbidelli managed to break Citroën’s five-race winning streak with victory last time out, the rest of the field will be looking to see a serious fight being taken to the French machines.
|2014 FIA WTCC RACE OF SLOVAKIA
||Date:||09-11 May 2014|
|Open Test Session||Fri 12:15-12:45|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-09:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:50-12:20|
|Race 1 (11 laps)||Sun 13:15-13:45|
|Race 2 (11 laps)||Sun 17:45-18:15|
|Lap Record||2:12.918 (2013)|
* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT +02:00 hrs)
The Automotodróm Slovakia Ring is in Orechová Potôň, Dunajská Streda District near Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava.
Built in 2008-9, it is the country’s principal motor racing circuit, and it has since played host to rounds of the EuroBOSS championship, along with the FIA GT Championship.
One of the longest circuits on the calendar at 5.9 kilometres in length, the Slovakia Ring is a medium-speed circuit with a mix of largely constant-radius corners, a pair of wide 900-metre long straights and a couple of wicked blind crests and elevation changes.
Its switchback nature gives spectators great viewing opportunities from the circuit’s grandstands, and the event is guaranteed to be well-attended given the previous years’ great crowd figures.
The Runners & Form Guide
The tight and twisty nature of the Hungaroring had a somewhat equalising effect on the grid, although on sheer one-lap pace the Citroën C-Elysées were still the cars to beat after a 1-2-3 rout in qualifying.
The compensation weight adjustments – which saw the Honda, LADA and Chevrolet TC1 class runners all shed 60kg of performance ballast – will remain in place this weekend, and that will certainly help peg back some of the advantage that the factory Citroëns currently enjoy.
That being said, the Slovakia Ring is a very different circuit to the tight and twisty confines of the Hungaroring. While the 5.9-kilometre circuit certainly has its fair share of slow corners, the high-speed right-handers will punish the front tyres and expose every car that doesn’t have good front-end grip. Overtaking is also a much easier prospect here, meaning that the Citroëns could still work their way through the field in the reverse-grid second race.
On paper at least, it’s hard not to bet against another intra-team battle between José María López, Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb. By claiming victory in Race 1 and finishing ahead of López in Race 2 last time out, Muller was able to vault ahead of Loeb in the Drivers’ Championship standings and now lies just ten points adrift of López. A poorer showing for Loeb saw him slip a further 21 points adrift in third, and he’ll need to get back on the top step of the podium to remain in the championship hunt.
The Hondas have also picked up their pace, and the works pairing of Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro can now seriously consider themselves as podium contenders. Tarquini is a two-time winner here, and he’ll be looking to open his account with a third visit to the top step of the podium.
But they’ll face a stern challenge from fellow Honda runners Norbert Michelisz and Mehdi Bennani, along with the ever-confident RML Chevrolet runners like Tom Coronel, Hugo Valente and Morbidelli, who became the first non-Citroën winner last weekend in Hungary.
By contrast, LADA has the biggest amount of catching up to do, with its trio of Grantas struggling for outright pace and reliability. The red cars are yet to make it out of the first phase of qualifying, and all of its drivers have suffered with reliability issues that have robbed the them of valuable on-track time. The team is pinning its hopes on a swathe of upgrades, but these aren’t likely to be ready until the next round in Austria. Unless it rains, expect the likes of Rob Huff, James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy to be running towards the rear of the grid.
It will be another twenty-car affair this weekend, with the same 16 TC1 class runners on track as was the case in Hungary. There will be four TC2T class competitors squabbling at the back of the pack, with the Liqui Moly BMW pairing of Franz Engstler and Pasquale di Sabatino set to fight it out for class honours once again.
Campos Racing will field two SEATs this weekend, with Czech racer Petr Fulín back behind the wheel and hoping he can at least make the grid after crashing out of qualifying on his debut appearance at the season-opener in Morocco. The NIKA Racing Honda of Yukinori Taniguchi will be missing this weekend.
Images via FIA WTCC Media