After a series of exciting rounds in Africa and Europe, the second half of the FIA World Touring Car Championship season gets underway with the series’ sole visit to the Americas.
This weekend sees the field tackle Argentina’s Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo, where the fans will have eyes for only one man: series leader José María López.
|2014 FIA WTCC RACE OF ARGENTINA
|Date||1-3 August 2014|
|Open Test Session||Fri 12:00-12:30|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 08:45-09:15|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:00-11:30|
|Race 1 (13 laps)||Sun 14:15-14:45|
|Race 2 (13 laps)||Sun 15:25-15:55|
|Race Lap Record||1:50.248 (2013)|
* All session times are quoted in Argentine Time (GMT -03:00 hrs)
Located in Argentina’s north, the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo will play host to the FIA World Touring Car Championship for the second time in its history.
Constructed in 2007, the track layout was subsequently given an overhaul by Italian circuit designer Jarno Zaffelli to produce a challenging 4.8-kilometre circuit that is perefect for wheel-to-wheel touring car racing.
The fourteen-turn circuit features little in the way of elevation change but it does boat a number of good overtaking spots. The most popular is at the right-hand hairpin at Turn 5 after a 1.3-kilometre long straight, while Turns 7 and 12/13 also provide passing opportunities.
The track has undergone substantial upgrades since the series’ maiden visit last year, including a complete resurfacing, new pit facilities and grandstands, as well as improvements to gravel traps and safety barriers.
The Runners & Form Guide
A nineteen-car field will contest this weekend’s pair of thirteen-lap races in Argentina, with the reduction of one entry apiece from the TC1 and TC2T classes.
The championship-leading Citroën team will scale back to its usual three cars, with occasional driver Ma Qing Hua set to be brought back into a four-car line-up for the final four Asian rounds.
The second-tier TC2T class will also have one less runner. The Campos Racing team is fielding a single SEAT León WTCC for regular driver John Filippi, having been unable to lease its second car to another driver this weekend.
There will be another new face in the TC2T class, with local touring car driver Camilo Echevarría taking over the Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC usually driven by Pasquale di Sabatino. The Argentinean has a one-round deal with the German outfit.
Having won all but one of the races this season, few would be brave to bet on Citroën not romping to victory this weekend.
The Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo’s layout and characteristics are ideally suited for the C-Elysée WTCC, and the three cars are expected to leave the chasing Hondas, RML Chevrolets and LADAs in their wake in the fight for outright honours.
Citroën’s cause will be aided by the latest compensation weight adjustments, which will see the RML Chevrolet Cruzes have to bolt on an extra 20kg of compensation ballast this weekend after Gianni Morbidelli claimed pole position last time out at Spa-Francorchamps.
For the Argentine fans, anything less than a pair of race wins for championship leader José María López will be akin to a disaster. The Argentine made his WTCC debut a year ago with a one-off driver for the privateer Weichers-Sport team, getting his BMW onto the reverse-grid Race 2 pole before romping away to a popular victory.
López heads the championship standings by 41 points over defending champion Yvan Muller. The Frenchman will need a near-perfect weekend in order to claw back some points to López, but he’ll also have to be mindful of the threat being posed by the third car of Sébastien Loeb who lies just 7 points further adrift. Loeb has performed remarkably well in his first season of touring car racing, although he’s generally left himself with more work to do in the races as he’s typically not qualified quite as well as his teammates.
The battle for the lower reaches of the points will again be between the Hondas and RML Chevrolets; the works Hondas of Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini head the ‘best of the rest’ battle in the standings, hotly pursued by the Chevrolet trio of ROAL teammates Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton, along with Münnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli.
Images via FIA WTCC Media