*Alternative route in Portugal located at final turn
*Ground-breaking initiative targets overtaking on street track
*WTCC drivers to take ‘joker’ lap once per race
World championship circuit racing is set for a global first when an alternative ‘joker’ lap is used in the FIA World Touring Car Championship at Vila Real in Portugal later this month.
Designed to further spice up the action on the challenging street circuit where overtaking isn’t always possible, the FIA World Rallycross-style concept will require drivers to take an alternative route in both the Opening Race and Main Race broadcast live around the world on 25 June.
Vila Real’s ‘joker’ lap route is located at the final corner, Turn 26, with the full approval of the FIA Safety Department and local authorities. While the right/left flick through a roundabout will still be used in normal racing conditions, the alternative route will effectively take drivers the other way onto the roundabout and through a tighter left/right sequence before they re-join the start/finish straight. The alternative route is expected to take an additional two seconds, which will hand pursuing drivers ample opportunity to overtake.
However, the ‘joker’ lap cannot be taken until the third lap of either race, while drivers will be able to practice the new route during Free Practice 1 and 2 on 24 June.
The ‘joker’ lap location will be highlighted by special branding to make it visible and understandable on TV. A graphic will give viewers instant notification when the lap has been taken, while fans following live timing will be able to determine the ‘joker’ status of each driver.
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, welcomed confirmation of the Vila Real ‘joker’ lap. “The ‘joker’ lap concept works very well in rallycross, and I’m certain it will bring an extra dimension to the WTCC street race in Vila Real. It will open up strategies for each WTCC driver, and might even change the course of the race. Of course we never compromise on safety so we have worked very closely with our colleagues at the FIA and with the authorities in Vila Real to put in place a route that matches our requirements but also conforms to all the rigorous safety standards.”
Tiago Monteiro, who claimed a hugely popular home in Vila Real last season driving for the factory Honda team, said: “It’s great to try new ideas, new options to spice up the show. When you are in pole position you don’t really want the ‘joker’ lap because you don’t want to lose your lead. But if you are not on pole position then there is a new opportunity to overtake.”
Yvan Muller, the four-time world champion and now a development driver for Cyan Racing, the team behind Volvo Polestar’s factory effort in the WTCC, said: “It’s like the WTCC MAC3 [team time trial]. Everyone said ‘ah, it’s a crazy thing’ and so on but it’s something new. And when it’s new and it shows something different, it’s always good. We have to try new things, to bring new positive and attractive elements.”
The ‘joker’ lap route remains subject to a final FIA track inspection on 21 June.
The FIA World Touring Car Championship announced the entry list for the upcoming 2017 season which features the lowest car count in the series’ history.
The 16-car field will be made of six works entries from Honda and Volvo and ten privateer entries, two of which are yet to confirm their full season commitment.
Honda’s factory outfit will enter cars for two familiar WTCC veterans Tiago Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz and for the WTCC rookie Ryō Michigami, a former Super GT champion.
Volvo retained only Thed Björk from last year’s line-up and added Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami to the team.
After the works Citroën team left the scene, all four French cars will be run by privateer outfits. The one most likely to fight for the title is Münnich Motorsport, with Rob Huff as a star driver. The Sébastien Loeb’s team retained Tom Chilton and Mehdi Bennani and added John Filippi to the line-up.
Filippi’s old team Campos Racing made an unlikely return and signed an Argentinean star Esteban Guerrieri. However, the deal at this stage is only signed for half of the season’s ten rounds. The other Chevrolet RML will be driven by Tom Coronel, who remained in the ROAL Motorsport team.
Hungarian outfit Zengő Motorsport will field two Hondas once again. Young Dániel Nagy is the team’s protégé, while Oliver Panis’ son Aurélien will for sure bring some attention. The only new-to-WTCC team on the grid is RC Motorsport, which will field two ex-factory LADA Vestas. The squad will be led by Yvan Muller’s nephew Yann Ehrlacher, while the second driver is yet to be announced.
There are less than four weeks left until the 2017 season kicks off in Marrakech.
*Top South American talent back with Campos Racing for 2017 campaign
*Rookie of the year’s schedule includes home event at Termas de Río Hondo
*Guerrieri: “We can achieve big things”
Esteban Guerrieri’s dream of returning to the FIA World Touring Car Championship has come true with confirmation of a minimum five-event programme with Campos Racing.
The Barcelona-based squad, a mainstay of the WTCC since 2005, has entered its Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 on a full-season basis and signed Guerrieri for the races in Morocco, Italy, Hungary, Germany and Argentina with efforts ongoing for the 32-year-old to complete the entire 10-weekend schedule.
Guerrieri, who excelled in single-seater racing against current F1 stars Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, was the fastest driver of all during the WTCC Race of Argentina weekend last August on what at the time was a one-off appearance with Campos. Since then, the Buenos Aires resident has been working behind the scenes to make his mark on a more regular basis, while also being voted by a selection of WTCC journalists as their rookie of the year.
“After my debut last year I always hoped to come back racing in the WTCC so this means a lot,” said Guerrieri. “I really like the high competition level, the cars are awesome to drive and we’re running on the best circuits around the world so it will definitely be good fun. I already know the guys at Campos Racing, I know what they are made of and this is a great opportunity for all of us as a team. The potential is there I have no doubt and if we get it right we can achieve big things.”
Guerrieri, who will go up against fellow Argentine Néstor Girolami during this season’s world championship, will combine his WTCC campaign with an assault on the Argentine Súper TC2000 series with Citroën, a challenge he’s relishing. “There are no clashes on the calendar but many consecutive racing weekends so an organised agenda and to rest properly will be crucial to face the long flights. But my body is still young enough to cope! The lack of pre-season testing will be the biggest problem. But of course we will try to face that with the right preparation and attention to detail in order to absorb quickly as much information as possible.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “Esteban did great at Termas last year and it could have been so much better for him without the clutch problem affecting his races. He adapted super quickly to the WTCC, the Chevrolet TC1 World Touring Car and Yokohama tyres. He deserves this chance to race in the WTCC and I am happy he can show his talent on other tracks, just like Néstor Girolami will do.”
Ruben Espin, Campos Racing General Manager, said: “We are excited to have Esteban with us in the team. Our role in the last few years has been developing young drivers. Since 2010/2011 when Gabriele [Tarquini], Tiago [Monteiro] and Jordi [Gené] raced for us we were not able to fight for the title. But we are back to show Esteban’s skills and convince sponsors to support us in the second half of the season.”
FOX Sports will follow Guerrieri and Girolami with extensive live television coverage in 50 countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay.
The 2017 WTCC season begins at Marrakech, Morocco, from 7-9 April. WTCC Race of Argentina takes place at Circuito Termas de Río Hondo in the Santiago del Estero region from 14-16 July.
*Big chance for young promise Yann Ehrlacher, Yvan Muller’s nephew
*Second Vesta registered for full season with pro-driver to be revealed at later stage
*Excitement grows with new WTCC season less than a month away
RC Motorsport will rely on Vesta power when it makes its debut in the FIA World Touring Car Championship this season.
Based at Magny-Cours in France, RC Motorsport utilises WTCC race-winning technology and personnel and has signed young French promise Yann Ehrlacher – the nephew of four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller – on the back of several impressive testing performances.
Ehrlacher, 20, was testing at Magny-Cours earlier today (Friday) and is highly rated after claiming two national championships in France and a class win in the European Le Mans Series last season driving for his uncle’s team, Yvan Muller Racing.
“This is such an amazing opportunity for me and I really can’t believe it’s happening,” said Ehrlacher, whose mother Cathy was a successful single-seater racer in the 1980s. “I’ve been really impressed with the car in testing and the team is working really hard too. Obviously there is a lot for me to learn and understand, but I know the team has valuable WTCC experience.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “While we’re pleased a solution has been found for the race-winning Vestas to continue competing in the WTCC, we’re also very excited at the prospect of welcoming another talented rookie in Yann Ehrlacher, who has been trained by Yvan Muller, no less, and has been really fast in testing. Along with Aurélien Panis, the WTCC has two more young drivers with big potential and it will be interesting to watch their progress and performances in 2017 when I am sure they will both make their mark on the championship.”
Ehrlacher will carry the number 68 on his car, the same number used by Yvan Muller in the WTCC in 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, RC Motorsport will reveal the identity of its second driver in the coming weeks.
*Dutchman to race privateer Chevrolet in world championship
*Continuity factor key as several components go unaltered for 2017
*More outright wins the target for highly-motivated privateer
Tom Coronel will race on in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, embarking on WTCC season number 13 in the same ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet he used to win two races outright in 2016.
Coronel, the ever-charismatic, ever-popular and ever-enterprising Dutchman, has been part of the WTCC since 2005, notching up six wins from 268 starts as well as claiming the prestigious independent title on two occasions. He joined ROAL Motorsport, the team co-owned by inaugural WTCC champion Roberto Ravaglia, in 2011 and has driven for the Italian squad ever since.
“I am really proud that I have managed to be on the grid for the upcoming WTCC season,” said Coronel, 44. “This is a nice basis for my 2017 racing campaign. Many things remain the same. The car, ROAL Motorsport with Roberto Ravaglia and Aldo Preo for the seventh year in a row, my regular crew of mechanics led by Pietro, the many loyal sponsors and the characteristic yellow, red and black livery on my car that comes with it, even my starting number remains the same. Technically, there won’t be too many changes on the car, but we all know that the world champions from the previous years will no longer be on the grid as a works team. That will certainly make the championship different. More exciting? I think so, and therefore I hope to do even better than the results I scored in 2016. The sign ‘Eat my dust’ on the rear bumper of my car remains in place and let’s hope that many opponents will get to see this in 2017.”
ROAL Team Principal Roberto Ravaglia, whose WTCC title triumph came 30 years ago this year, said: “I haven’t had such a long relationship with any other driver. As to Tom, it almost seems as if he is part of the ROAL inventory. It is a question of mutual trust and confidence. Last year, we managed to win two races, so for this year, three wins is our goal. Every year, we think that we can’t do any better, yet we manage to do so every time, hence this ambitious goal.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “Tom is a big character both on-track and off it and very active on social media and sponsorship. Although he has been part of WTCC from day one, he’s never one to sit still, always trying to improve himself and his car or coming up with the latest marketing trick or online video. It’s great to have him in the WTCC and we’d like to think there are more wins to come from him and his ROAL Motorsport team.”
The 2017 WTCC season gets underway at FIA WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco in Marrakech from 7-9 April. Coronel claimed the Opening Race laurels on the semi-permanent street track last season, never cracking under pressure from world champion José María López to win at the wheel of his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1.
AFRIQUIA RENEWS ITS SUPPORT OF WTCC WITH RACE OF MOROCCO EVENT PRESENTING PARTNER AGREEMENT
*Prestigious season opener backed by Morocco’s leading fuel station operator
*Home fans primed to cheer local hero and WTCC title contender Mehdi Bennani
*Live domestic and international TV coverage for Marrakech street spectacular
AFRIQUIA, Morocco’s leading fuel station operator, will continue its support of the country’s FIA World Touring Car Championship race weekend by renewing as the Event Presenting Partner of WTCC Race of Morocco from 7-9 April. Part of the Akwa Group, AFRIQUIA will benefit from significant trackside branding, inclusion of its name in the official event title, plus numerous promotional opportunities – such as live national and international television coverage – when the Circuit Moulay El Hassan in Marrakech hosts the prestigious WTCC season-opening event.
In what is a significant year for Moroccan motorsport with celebrations due to take place to mark 60 years since the country’s first Formula One grand prix in 1957, FIA WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco has the honour of hosting the opening event of the new season when local hero Mehdi Bennani is expected to be one of several title contenders in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën CElysée WTCC. François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “We are delighted that AFRIQUIA has renewed as Event Presenting Partner of WTCC Race of Morocco. The Marrakech weekend is hugely popular with all grandstand seats selling out last year and a cumulative audience of 62.361 million watching live on TV around the world. There’s always a strong attendance by local media and, in Mehdi Bennani, there’s a genuine chance of a home winner for the Moroccan fans to cheer.”
WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco is the first of 10 World Touring Car Championship race weekends in 2017 with visits to Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East scheduled between April and December. Mehdi Bennani won the WTCC Trophy title for independent racers last season and claimed his maiden Main Race triumph at the final event of 2016 in Qatar.
WTCC LEGEND MULLER SIGNS FOR POLESTAR FACTORY TEAM
*Four-time world champion joins Cyan Racing as development driver and senior advisor
*Muller to pilot Volvo S60 Polestar TC1 during official Monza testing next week
Yvan Muller, the four-time winner of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, will continue his WTCC adventure after all following his appointment as Cyan Racing’s development driver and senior advisor.
Frenchman Muller retired from full-time driving after last November’s WTCC DHL Race of Qatar where he secured the runner-up spot in the final standings behind then Citroën team-mate José María López.
Since joining the Swedish organisation on 1 January, Muller has attended all pre-season tests, working closely with factory drivers Thed Björk, Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami, as well as with the team on other areas of development.
“I am really glad and proud to have recruited Yvan to Cyan Racing,” said Christian Dahl, CEO of Cyan Racing. “There is no other touring car driver as experienced as him in the world and he is a vital asset to the team. We can already see the progress made, even though our cooperation is still quite new. The plan for the moment is that he is not going to race for us, but rather focus on testing and development.”
Muller is the most successful driver in WTCC history with more titles (four), wins (48), pole positions (29), fastest laps (38) and laps led (571) than any of his rivals. For the past 10 seasons, he has not finished outside of the top three in the final standings.
“To start a cooperation with Cyan Racing is something that I am very pleased with,” said the 47-year-old. “They developed strongly last year for their first season and we have made interesting progress during the winter testing. I look forward to continuing to work with them and developing the car, as well as the team.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, added: “You don’t become the most successful driver in WTCC history by chance and Cyan Racing has pulled off something of a coup by recruiting such a valuable asset. Yvan has made no secret of the enjoyment and satisfaction he gets from developing cars into race winners and without him, I doubt Citroën would have progressed so fast and achieved so much success so quickly. He brought a huge amount to that team and I have no doubt he will make an important contribution as Polestar Cyan Racing aims to win the World Touring Car Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers this season. Maybe there might be an opportunity for Yvan to do a one-off WTCC race – I know the fans would love to see him back racing again.”
Muller will be in action during the official WTCC test at Monza in Italy on 14 March and will continue behind the wheel during the following day’s running at the Italian track.
BENNANI BECOMES LATEST WTCC TITLE CONTENDER
*Moroccan re-signs for Sébastien Loeb Racing
*WTCC Trophy winner has what it takes to go one better in 2017
*Championship challenge begins on home soil next month
The FIA World Touring Car Championship has yet another title contender after Moroccan racer Mehdi Bennani confirmed his 2017 campaign.
Bennani, 33, will embark on his third season with Sébastien Loeb Racing, armed once again with a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC.
In his eighth full campaign in the all-action world championship, Bennani is among eight drivers being earmarked as genuine title challengers in what is expected to be the most open WTCC season for almost a decade.
His status stems from the outright wins he scored in Hungary and Qatar on his way to a career-high fifth in the overall standings last season, plus his capture of the prestigious WTCC Trophy crown for independent racers in the same year.
“I am very pleased to continue this collaboration with Sébastien Loeb Racing,” said Bennani. “To me, stability is an important aspect to prioritise, especially considering how much we’ve learnt together these past two years. We all know how competitive the Citroën C-Elysée is and the team knows exactly how to make it perform to its best.
“I’m starting this new season with yet more confidence than the two previous ones. Of course, we’ll have to wait until the first race to have a true idea of the hierarchy, but I hope we’ll see in our results the improvements drawn from 2015 and 2016. Finally, I am overjoyed to welcome Afriquia as a new sponsor. It is particularly meaningful to me that they are a Moroccan company and I will do my utmost for our association to be rewarded with victory!”
Sébastien Loeb, ex-WTCC racer and co-founder of the Alsace-based team, said: “Mehdi has proven himself to be a key element for our team over these past two years. Keeping him with us was essential. He has integrated into the team perfectly, while at the same time gaining greater knowledge and control of his C-Elysée.
“He has the capacities needed to reach podium places even more often this season. We have prepared for this with two test drives in Navarra, as well as in Monteblanco, in Spain. I am delighted to conclude that with Mehdi, Tom Chilton and John Filippi our WTCC group is once again looking strong.”
“Mehdi was very solid and consistent across the season last year as his results clearly show,” said François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter. “He finished high in the overall standings, won the WTCC Trophy and led Sébastien Loeb Racing last year. There are world title expectations around him this year, and I’m certain his team is also able to support him on that significant step.”
Bennani, who became the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in Shanghai in 2014, has made 170 WTCC starts to date and has three wins, one pole and two fastest laps to his name. He’s also led 86 laps so far and looks set to add to that tally in 2017.
The 2017 WTCC season gets underway at WTCC Race of Morocco in Marrakech from 7-9 April.
Five Mehdi moments
1: Makes WTCC debut on home soil in Morocco in 2009, qualifies P14 and takes a pair of ninths, plus top independent laurels in race one.
2: Scores first outright WTCC win, crossing the finishing line first in Shanghai in 2014.
3: Joins Sébastien Loeb Racing for 2015, narrowly misses out on WTCC Trophy title.
4: Makes light of the Hungarian rain to land his second outright victory in April 2016.
5: Scores first Main Race triumph from his first outright pole in Qatar having wrapped up the WTCC Trophy title spoils at the previous event in China.
Four-time World Touring Car Champion Yvan Muller was seen at the Algarve circuit testing for the factory Volvo team. The Frenchman, however, denied rumors about his full-time return.
The most successful driver in WTCC history announced late last year that he will not continue racing full-time despite receiving drive offers. The news about Volvo test sheered doubts about this statement but Muller reassured his fans that he will not abandon his retirement plans and will not race full-time in WTCC.
“In order to put an end to all speculation, I announced at the end of last year that I had decided to stop my full-time driver career, which was a deliberate choice. That decision is still valid. I have absolutely no intention of repeating a full season as a driver, but I have always said that it is not impossible that I will be driving again occasionally when I feel like it. But today there is nothing planned. As for my professional future, it has been decided for a few months already, but the announcement will be made on time.” – can be read on Frenchman’s website.
It remains unknown why Muller was testing the Volvo and what, if any, role in the team will he have. Volvo denied comment on that matter but revealed that the 2017 line up will be announced in February.
The Swedish team will field three cars for the first time in its history.
After Robert Dahlgren’s retirement earlier this year, the most likely candidates are Thed Björk, Fredrik Ekblom, Nestor Girolami and Nick Catsburg.
Former Super GT Champion Ryō Michigami will join the works Honda World Touring Car Team for the 2017 season, replacing Rob Huff.
Huff, the 2012 WTCC champion, announced his departure last week, as he will return to the privateer Münnich Motorsport team to drive an ex-factory Citroën for the first time in his career.
Despite the fact many long-time WTCC drivers are yet to confirm their return, Honda decided to give their seat to Michigami, whose TC1 experience is limited to the one-off appearance at last year’s Race of Japan. It will be 43-year old’s first full-time ride since 2014.
Michigami will race in the #34 Honda Civic alongside Tiago Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz in cars #18 and #5. All three drivers will conduct a series of testing ahead of the first round in Marrakesh at the beginning of April.
Ryo Michigami: “As a Japanese driver, I’m extremely proud to be given the opportunity to represent a Japanese manufacturer in a world championship.
I’m aware that this season will be a huge challenge for me, but I will use all the experience I have gained during my career in Japan and I am incredibly motivated to perform strongly across the season. I want to make this the pinnacle of my life in motorsport and together with Honda, JAS Motorsport, Tiago and Norbi, I will make the maximum effort possible to achieve this. I would also like to thank everybody in advance for their help and support in 2017.”
LADA could still race in WTCC despite no factory backing.
Just two months ago the factory LADA squad announced that the Russian manufacturer will not return to the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2017, even though driver contracts were already in place. The decision was devastating for the series and a secondary class had to be introduced in order to keep entries above the minimum 16. Thanks to the team boss Victor Shapovalov, we might see Vestas on the grid after all.
Shapovalov’s Russian Bears Racing team competed in WTCC as a privateer entry in 2008, before becoming a factory LADA squad the following year. This might happen again thanks to the agreement between him and the series promoter Eurosport Events, which is reported to be in place. Although LADA won three races in 2016 and established itself as a very competitive car, it is unlikely they will enjoy the same success this year, as without factory backing the team will probably not feature any front-running drivers.
Lada Sport Rosneft finished third in the 2016 WTCC championship behind the strong Honda and Citroen teams. they secured three wins across the season winning both races in Russia courtesy of Nick Catsburg and Gabriele Tarquini and then in Qatar it was Tarquni who took the top step of the podium in Race Two. Dutchman Catsburg managed to finish seventh in the drivers championship with Tarquini two places behind him.
The full 2017 grid for the 2017 WTCC Championship is yet to be confirmed but the news that Lada could be back on the grid can only be good for fans of WTCC.