The FIA World Touring Car Cup season’s third and fourth rounds occur over successive weekends, with the first being this weekend’s Race of Slovakia where all three races will occur on the same day.
|Automotodróm Slovakia Ring|
|Location||Orechová Potôň, Slovakia||Circuit Length||5.922 km / 3.680 mi|
|Opened||2010||First WTCR Event||2018|
|Direction||Clockwise||Race Lap Record||1:54.129 – Gabriele Tarquini (2018)|
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 multiple GT championships and the World Touring Car Cup’s forebear, the FIA WTCC.
One of the longest circuits on the calendar at 5.9 kilometres in length, the Slovakia Ring is a medium-speed circuit with a pair of wide 900-metre long straights and a couple of wicked blind crests and elevation changes. Its constant-radius corners, particularly the almost never-ending Turn 2 right-hander taken at over 225km/h, place major strain on the outside tyres.
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.
|2019 FIA WTCR / Oscaro Race of Slovakia – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||10 & 12 May 2019||Free Practice 1||Fri 09:15-09:45|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 11:30-12:00||Race 1 Qualifying||Fri 13:45-14:15|
|Race 2 & 3 Qualifying (Q1)||Fri 16:40-17:00||Race 2 & 3 Qualifying (Q2)
|Race 2 & 3 Qualifying (Q3)||Fri 17:20-17:30||Race (9 laps)||Sun 10:45-11:15|
|Race 2 (9 laps)||Sun 15:15-15:45||Race 3 (11 laps)||Sun 16:45-17:20|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC/GMT + 02:00)
Rewind to 2018
Norbert Michelisz topped off an action-packed weekend with his first win of 2018 following a thrilling Race 3 as Pepe Oriola (Campos Racing Cupra) and Gabriele Tarquini (BRC Racing Hyundai) also claimed a win apiece.
Oriola and Michelisz, who partnered Tarquini in the Hyundai-powered BRC Racing Team, became the tenth and eleventh difference race-winners of the season respectively, while Oriola’s success for Cupra in Race 1 meant that six customer racing brands had claimed victory.
Tarquini headed into the summer at the top of the standings, albeit a slender three points ahead of fellow Hyundai runner Yvan Muller with Michelisz firmly in contention in third, closely followed by Yann Ehrlacher (Münnich Motorsport Honda) and Jean-Karl Vernay (WRT Audi), who beat Tarquini to second in Race 1 behind Oriola.
In a weekend of firsts, Norbert Nagy scored his and Zengő Motorsport’s maiden podium with second in Race 2, with his Cupra sandwiched by Tarquini and Muller. Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed Team Mulsanne’s Alfa Romeo’s first WTCR points with fifth in Race 1. Having replaced Gianni Morbidelli after the Italian quit the team over its poor results, it was ironic that new teammate Kevin Ceccon was sixth in Race 3 in his touring car debut. Denis Dupont took his first points with eighth in Race 2. Frédéric Vervisch beat Thed Björk to third in a Race 3 photo-finish.
Balance of Performance
The Race of Slovakia will see the first round of compensation weight changes take place, with the Honda Civic entries not surprisingly declared the fastest of the car models on the grid after the opening events in Morocco and Hungary. Münnich Motorsport duo Néstor Girolami and Esteban Guerrieri sit 1-2 in the Drivers’ Championship standings having won two of four pole positions and three of the six races to-date.
The field’s four Honda runners will remain on the maximum 60 kilograms of compensation weight the entire field started the season with, while all rival customer car brands will run with reduced ballast to varying degrees.
Three car models – the Lynk & Co 03 TCR, the Audi RS 3 LMS and the Cupra León TCR – were calculated to be 0.2 seconds a lap slower than the Honda Civic and awarded a 20 kilogram compensation weight reduction.
Last year’s WTCR championship winning car, the Hyundai i30 N TCR, was one-tenth of a second slower and will run with 30 kilograms less compensation weight at the Slovakia Ring. The BRC Racing team won two races there last year and its weight reduction could play in its favour once again in 2019.
Despite its cars posting the fastest lap in three of the six races, the VW Golf GTI was calculated to be 0.4 seconds a lap slower than the Hondas. Its four Sébastien Loeb Racing entries will run with 20 kilograms of compensation ballast.
The slowest car in the field was the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce, which unlike its rivals has just two cars on the grid. The new cars, piloted by Ma Qing Hua and Kevin Ceccon, have been lower midfield runners at best and claimed just three points’ finishes in their twelve combined starts. As a consequence, the pair will run without any compensation ballast this weekend, putting their cars’ base weight at almost 100 kilograms less than the Hondas.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Slovakia – Balance of Performance|
|Manufacturer – Model||Logo||Time Diff.||Power||Ride Ht||Comp Wt||BoP Wt||Total Weight|
|Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||0.0sec||100.0%||80mm||60kg||10kg||1,335kg|
|Audi RS 3 LMS||0.2sec||100.0%||70mm||40kg||-10kg||1,295kg|
|Cupra León TCR||0.2sec||102.5%||70mm||40kg||-30kg||1,275kg|
|Lynk & Co 03 TCR||0.2sec||97.5%||80mm||40kg||30kg||1,335kg|
|Hyundai i30 N TCR||0.3sec||97.5%||90mm||30kg||10kg||1,305kg|
|Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR||0.4sec||100.0%||70mm||20kg||-30kg||1,255kg|
|Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce||0.6sec||100.0%||80mm||0kg||-20kg||1,245kg|
The Slovakia Ring Form Guide
The Race of Slovakia round will run to an unusual format. Sharing double-billing with a round of the FIM Endurance World Championship motorcycle racing series, the WTCR field will stage its practice and qualifying sessions on Friday and all three of its races on Sunday. An early retirement to an accident or a major mechanical failure could dramatically derail a driver’s weekend, particularly with there being just a one-hour gap between Races 2 and 3.
Those concerns aside, the question on everyone’s lips will be whether Münnich Motorsport’s strong start to the season will continue. With its Hondas and those of sister outfit KCMG running at maximum compensation weight compared to the rest of the field, their early run of form could well be threatened.
Championship leader Néstor Girolami will return to the venue where he made his FIA World Touring Car Championship debut in 2015 and scored a point in his very first race. While a winner in his native Super TC2000 touring car championship, the Argentine was largely unknown outside his homeland at the time. Today he has a 10-point lead in the title race over teammate Esteban Guerrieri.
“Slovakia was where it started and I can’t wait to come back. It won’t be easy but hopefully I can still be in the lead at the end of the weekend,” he said ahead of this weekend’s event, having claimed victory in back-to-back races at the preceding Race of Hungary round.
The grid will welcome another teenage driver in the form of Luca Engstler, who will make his FIA WTCR debut as a wildcard. The son of long-time WTCC privateer owner/driver Franz Engstler, the young German will race in the family’s Hyundai i30 N TCR that it runs for him in the TCR Europe series.
The 19-year-old is following in his father’s footsteps and already has an impressive CV, winning the TCR’s Malaysian, Asian and Middle East titles in 2018.
“I am so happy to get this opportunity and I am really thankful for the support,” he said. “To join an official FIA series at 19 years old is just amazing. There is a bit of pressure and I am already kind of nervous, but I try to take the positive and learn a lot.”
Images via FIA WTCR Media