The third round a tightly-fought World Touring Car Championship season gets underway this weekend at the Hungaroring.
With local fans expected to flock to the circuit to cheer on Honda’s Norbert Michelisz, they may be disappointed if Honda is unable to repeat its early-season form now that its Civics are carrying maximum compensation weight.
|Location||Mogyoród, Hungary||Circuit Length||4.381 km / 2.722 mi|
|Opened||1986||First WTCC Event||2011|
|Direction||Clockwise||Lap Record||1:50.119 – Yvan Muller (2014)|
Having played host to the Formula 1 circus since 1986, the Hungaroring is an iconic venue on the F1 calendar (not least of which because it was the first major motorsport event to occur behind the ‘Iron Curtain’), but also because it is synonymous for its slippery surface and lack of overtaking.
The much bigger braking distances needed for World Touring Car Championship machinery have rendered overtaking concerns to be comparatively more trivial, but the undulating track certainly presents its own challenges.
Its slow-speed corner sequences play into the strengths of a car with good traction and handling, while also rewarding those that can preserve tyre wear.
Rewind to 2016
The FIA World Touring Car Championship delivered two dramatic races on a wet day at the Hungaroring last year, with Citroën drivers Mehdi Bennani and José María López triumphing in slippery conditions.
Bennani scored his second outright WTCC victory in the Opening Race, leading from start to finish as many big names, including factory Citroën drivers López and Yvan Muller, as well as Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Rob Huff, were caught out by the difficult weather. All four gambled for dry-weather tyres and finished outside the points as a result.
Tom Chilton made it a one-two for Sébastien Loeb Racing from tenth on the grid ahead of LADA driver Nicky Catsburg and Volvo Polestar’s Fredrik Ekblom for the Swedish make’s best WTCC finish since its return to the championship.
In an embarrassing showing for the factory Citroëns, López was lapped in that first race but later took revenge in the Main Race with an assured victory that extended the championship lead he claimed by winning pole position – and five valuable points – in qualifying on Saturday.
The defending two-time champion was pressed hard by Huff and a fast-starting Muller in the early stages (pictured below). The former Chevrolet teammates made contact while battling for second place, with the stewards controversially handing Huff a drive-through penalty that took him out of contention and gifted Citroën a 1-2 finish. Huff’s teammate Tiago Monteiro claimed third place and of Volvo Polestar’s Thed Björk.
The weekend was a disaster for local driver Norbert Michelisz. The Hungarian driver failed to take the start of the Opening Race when his Honda developed a turbo failure on the warm-up lap, forcing his mechanics to complete a mammoth engine change before the Main Race that soon followed. After starting at the rear of the grid, he tigered his way up to sixth place, but suffered a suspension failure late in the race that dropped him to tenth.
The 2017 Event
|2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship – JVCKENWOOD Race of Hungary|
|Event Dates||12-14 May 2017||Scrutineering||Fri 14:30-18:30|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-09:45||Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:30-12:15|
|Qualifying Session 1||Sat 14:00-14:20||Qualifying Session 2||Sat 14:25-14:35|
|Qualifying Session 3||Sat 14:40-14:50||MAC3||Sat 15:00-15:20|
|Opening Race (12 laps)||Sun 12:35-13:00||Main Race (15 laps)||Sun 13:45-14:15|
|JCVKENWOOD Race of Hungary Weather Forecast|
|Friday||11°C – 24°C||Saturday||12°C – 23°C||Sunday||8°C – 24°C|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC/GMT + 2:00)
The Form Guide
The first two rounds’ four races have produced four different winners among four different manufacturers. With the first cycle of compensation weight adjustments kicking in – which are designed to stop one car make from gaining the upper hand over the rest of the field – this could theoretically keep the competition wide open around the Hungaroring’s twisty undulations.
The strong form of both Honda and Volvo mean that both car makes will carry the maximum 80 kilograms of compensation weight, putting them 30kg up on the championship-winning Citroën C-Elysée cars.
The could play nicely into the hands of the privateer Citroëns, especially given last year’s round where Sébastien Loeb Racing duo Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton claimed a 1-2 finish in wet conditions in the Opening Race.
Mixed weather conditions are once again expected to hit the Hungaroring this weekend, with qualifying likely to be impacted by a damp track surface that could help further shake up the grid for Sunday’s two races.
The heavier Hondas cannot afford to lose ground, however. With Tiago Monteiro holding a slender 15-point lead over Volvo’s Thed Björk in the Drivers’ Championship standings, his teammate and crowd favourite Norbert Michelisz will need to recover from a DNF – incidentally caused by Bennani – at Monza a fortnight ago.
Similarly, Polestar Cyan Racing will have its tail up after a strong showing last time out at Monza. Björk in particular was the stand-out driver, claiming pole position and victory in the Main Race, and he will once again have teammates Néstor Girolami and Nicky Catsburg hot on his heels.
Images via FIA WTCC Media