Saturday, 18 May 2013

The 2011 European Touring Car Cup... What Could have been...

This year Danish driver Michel Nykjaer races in the WTCC in a NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6 turbo. He's been a double ETCC champion but there was almost a 3rd title, against big touring car opposition...

Just to keep this simple, I'll concentrate on the faster S2000 runners...

Now in the 1980's the ETCC stood for the European Touring Car Championship with the races being around 3 hours long and driver changes.

However in 2005 when it was ressurected as the European Touring Car Cup. It followed the setup of the regulations of the modern WTCC. In Race 1 the grid has a rolling start and the top 8 finishers in Race 1 are swapped for the standing start in Race 2. Points are scored in both races and naturally the driver with the most points wins the title.

There is a difference with the cars that take part. From 2005 to 2011, the cars eligible in both the ETCC and WTCC run to S2000 regulations. However for the 2011 season the WTCC engine regulations were changed from 2.0 litre normally aspirated to 1.6 litre turbo petrol only. The cars eligible from 2005 to 2011 are now known as S2000 Appendix J as per the FIA regulations.

Also, the ETCC is a Multi-Class series with other classes included such as Super 1600, Super Production and the Single Make Trophy for Renault Clio's and SEAT Leon Supercopa cars. So there's plenty of variety.

Now normally the grids aren't too big for the races but in 2012 the FIA increased the amount of races from 2 rounds on Sunday to 10 rounds over 5 weekends with 3 of those weekends being on the support bill of the WTCC. So its a good step up for those looking to attempt the World Championship.

Now in 2011 the ETCC took place at the Salzburgring in Austria, part owned by Red Bull. The main contenders for the Cup that year were European Touring Car Ace Fabrizio Giovanardi driving for the dutch Hartmann Honda Team in a Honda Accord Euro R, a young Pepe Oriola in the SEAT Leon TDI run by SEAT Customer team SUNRED, Michel Nykjaer in the NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze and Tomas Engstrom in a Honda Team Sweden Accord Euro R.

Now Giovanardi has many european touring car titles to his name from the early 1990's up until 2008. Nykjaer and Engstrom were front runners in the Swedish Touring Car Championship however Oriola was in his first WTCC season and was in the ETCC that weekend to gain experience.

During the dry conditions of the two practice sessions on Saturday Giovanardi and Nykjaer traded fastest laps with Oriola and Engstrom always in close company. In Qualifying, the track was drenched with heavy rain and Giovanardi took Pole Position from Oriola.

Nykjaer however had issues in the rain with the Chevrolet Cruze not wanting to start. When he did set a time, it was 10 seconds down on Pole. It was the start of many issues for him and the team.

In the first race the field started behind the safety car for the rolling start and it was Giovanardi who led from Oriola and Engstrom in terrible conditions with the rain lashing down. Bennani and Okyay squabbled in their BMW 320si's in the conditions but were never a formidable force. Nykjaer never featured in the race. He left the pits several laps down, retiring with a puncture and electrical problems.

Giovanardi managed hold Oriola at bay for the majority of the race. It was like seeing David taking on Goliath in the pouring rain. However David didn't win this one. Giovanardi held the young spaniard at bay to take the win, but was impressed at Oriola's race craft and the race long pressure he applied.

In Race 2, the top 8 finishers from Race 1 were reversed leaving Giovanardi 8th, Oriola 7th and Engstrom 6th. With the standing start being the preferred Race 2 beginning, the three of them made easy work of the field of cars ahead. However this time Oriola led from Giovanardi and Engstrom.

Giovanardi did all he could, however he couldn't stop Oriola winning his first ETCC race. But the title would go to Giovanardi, due to the points he took for Pole Position. Nykjaer had another DNF which sealed a bad weekend for him.

So it was a weekend of differing tales for the favoured drivers. Where are they now you ask?

Oriola is in his 3rd season of WTCC, having taken his first win a few weeks back. Nykjaer has raced in STCC taking race wins and being team mate to BTCC Legend Rickard Rydell and also racing in the WTCC, taking his 2nd win today. Engstrom has raced in Sweden with Honda and remains doing that to this day

Giovanardi, however, has had worse luck. After his 2011 ETCC Title, the Italian has struggled to find a works touring car drive or even a regular drive. This reflects the sorry state of Touring Car racing in these days but thats another matter to be discussed another day.

Anyway, I'll leave you with that thought until next time.



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