The second season of the FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO gets underway in just a matter of days. Without wanting to appear hyperbolic, this could be even better than last year’s outstanding championship season.
Why the hype?
Born out of the merger of the World Touring Car Championship and the TCR International Series, the FIA WTCR’s philosophy of running lower-downforce, less aerodynamically efficient cars – which cost a mere €130,000 to build (peanuts in motorsport terms) – supported by a robust Balance of Performance scheme produced some truly spectacular racing.
While carmakers are behind the development of these cars, the purpose of the championship was clear: to promote and sell these racing cars to privateer teams worldwide to run in their domestic TCR championships. In just five years, close to one thousand of these cars have been built.
The inaugural championship season in 2018 featured the who’s who of touring car icons in both drivers and carmakers. It was a closely-fought contest; every single car make won at least one race, while a total of 15 drivers stood on the top step of the podium in the season’s 30 races. In the end the championship honours went to BRC Racing Hyundai driver Gabriele Tarquini who, at 56 years of age, became the oldest ever driver to win an FIA-sanctioned championship.
Controlling costs has been a core focus of series promoter Eurosport and the FIA.
Each car brand is allowed no more than four full-time entries, while each team is only allowed to enter two cars. While clear in its spirit, a number of outfits – Sébastien Loeb Racing (VW), Cyan Racing (Lynk & Co) and BRC Racing (Hyundai) – are notionally four-car teams, with the entry list seeing each team ‘split’ into two by dint of a subtle name change. To counter this, each team will be limited on the number of operational personnel they can have at any event, with just ten staff permitted per two-car team – this ostensibly should prevent the bigger four-car efforts from having an unfair headcount advantage.
The cars’ development is all but frozen thanks to a three-year homologation cycle, meaning that testing, personnel and driver line-ups will ultimately prove to be the major factors between winning and losing. With the season about to start, the teams will be banned from testing at any circuits on the calendar to get an unfair advantage, although plenty of pre-season miles have been logged at the Hungaroring, Slovakia Ring, Zandvoort and even the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Last year’s complicated points-scoring system, where the three races in each event had different points tallies awarded to them, has been overhauled. The weekend’s two qualifying sessions will award points for the five fastest qualifiers, while all three races will follow the same points structure. In 2019, however, points are now awarded to the top-fifteen finishers on a 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
Ten rounds and thirty races will give the fans, teams and drivers plenty of wheel-to-wheel action over the course of the season. The streets of Marrakech will once again act as the curtain-raiser on the first weekend of April, with a succession of European events following in Hungary, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal.
The final four events are the Asian rounds, and this is where the only calendar change has occurred. Gone is the twin-header in China, with the street races in Wuhan dropped in favour of Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit which will close out the season after the Guia Race of Macau.
|2019 FIA World Touring Car Cup – Season Calendar|
|06-07 APR||Race of Morocco||Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan|
|27-28 APR||Race of Hungary||Hungaroring|
|10 & 12 MAY||Race of Slovakia||Automotodróm Slovakia Ring|
|18-19 MAY||Race of the Netherlands||Circuit Zandvoort|
|21-22 JUN||Race of Germany||Nürburgring Nordschleife|
|06-07 JUL||Race of Portugal||Circuito Internacional de Vila Real|
|14-15 SEP||Race of China||Ningbo International Circuit|
|26-27 OCT||Race of Japan||Suzuka Circuit|
|16-17 NOV||Guia Race of Macau||Guia Circuit|
|15 DEC||Race of Malaysia||Sepang International Circuit|
The 2019 entry list reads like another “who’s who” of touring car racing, with the field’s collective CV featuring a total of 43 major motorsport titles to their names.
Six teams stay on the grid from the inaugural season, joined by three new outfits all armed with plenty of TCR experience in domestic championships. Seven different car brands will again compete for honours on this year’s grid, although Peugeot are out and in their place have come the Geely-owned Lynk & Co. marque.
With the most race wins last year, Hyundai heads the grid with the Italian BRC Racing Team running all four of its entries and with a highly experienced driving line-up to boot. Reigning champion Gabriele Tarquini remains alongside teammate Norbert Michelisz, while a second pair of cars with LUKOIL sponsorship will be fielded for former WTCC race-winners Augusto Farfus and Nick Catsburg.
The grid’s four Hondas will be a competitive force. Münnich Motorsport, which is owned and run by ALL-INKL.COM, has had to trim down from three to two cars in 2019 and features an all-Argentine line-up of Esteban Guerrieri and former WTCC race-winner Néstor Girolami. The Hong Kong based KCMG team graduates from the feeder TCR Europe championship to the WTCR, bringing 19-year-old Hungarian Attila Tassi to drive alongside Honda stalwart Tiago Monteiro who is returning to full-time competition after over a year off recovering from head and neck injuries suffered in a high-speed testing accident.
Audi’s presence on the grid has been cut from six to four under the 2019 rules, with WRT and Comtoyou Racing fronting the German carmaker’s efforts with its RS3 LMS chassis. The former outfit keeps an unchanged driver pairing of Jean-Karl Vernay and Gordon Shedden, while Comtoyou retains Frédéric Vervisch who will be joined by TCR Germany’s Niels Langeveld.
Conversely, Volkswagen will have four Golf GTIs in 2019, doubling the number of cars run by Sébastien Loeb Racing. The rally ace’s racing team will keep its pairing of Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani on one side of the garage, while also adding rallycross star Johan Kristoffersson and the Golf GTI’s chief development driver Benjamin Leuchter to its expanded roster.
SEAT’s racing division Cupra has had a wholesale change of drivers and teams. Campos Racing and Zengö Motorsport both left the grid in the off-season, with the former replaced by Swedish racing team PWR. The former championship-winners in the STCC, its line-up will be headed by owner/driver Daniel Haglöf and 2018 TCR Europe series champion Mikel Azcona. The second pair of Cupra Leóns will be entered by Comtoyou Racing – which already fields two Audis – which will run touring car veteran Tom Coronel alongside Aurélien Panis.
The sole car brand with just two cars is Alfa Romeo, with the Italian firm’s new Giulietta Veloce cars once again entered by Team Mulsanne with support of TCR car builder Romeo Ferraris. After a ground-breaking rookie season, Kevin Ceccon has been retained in one of its cars, with the Italian youngster joined by Chinese racing star and former WTCC race-winner Ma Qing Hua.
The field’s newcomers are in the form of Chinese brand Lynk & Co., part of the Geely Group that owns the Volvo, Proton and Lotus brands. The brand’s 03 TCR saloon cars will be steered by a quartest of drivers rivalled only by BRC Racing. Yvan Muller, Thed Björk ad Andy Priaulx – who have no less than eight FIA WTCC Drivers’ Championship titles between them – will race alongside Muller’s nephew, the rising star Yann Ehrlacher.
|2019 FIA World Touring Car Cup – Final Entry List|
|1||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||Hyundai i30 N|
|5||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||Hyundai i30 N|
|8||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N|
|9||Attila Tassi||KCMG||Honda Civic Type R|
|10||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS|
|11||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03|
|12||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||VW Golf GTI|
|14||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||VW Golf GTI|
|18||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||Honda Civic Type R|
|21||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||CUPRA León TCR|
|22||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS|
|25||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||VW Golf GTI|
|29||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R|
|31||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta|
|33||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||VW Golf GTI|
|37||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||CUPRA León TCR|
|50||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||CUPRA León TCR|
|52||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS|
|55||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta|
|68||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03|
|69||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS|
|86||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R|
|88||Nick Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N|
|96||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||CUPRA León TCR|
|100||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03|
|111||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03|
Images via FIA WTCR Media