There are 2 of the worlds best Touring Cars drivers missing from the 2013 World Touring Car Championship grid and they have a few things in common.
Before I carry on, I want to make it clear that these are my own thoughts and opinions on this subject.
In 2012, both drivers drove an RML built Chevrolet Cruze each, arguably the best S2000 Touring Car in action at this time...
They competed against each other in 2 races of the 2012 WTCC...In equal cars.
One was in contention for the 2012 World Touring Car Championship, while the other was in the hunt for the 2012 Swedish Touring Car Championship...
Both drivers have won the British Touring Car Championship in the Super Touring Era...one of them a double champion...
And both are missing from the 2013 WTCC season.
I refer of course to Swiss driver Alain Menu and Swedish driver Rickard Rydell. Both legends in the history of Touring Car Racing.
Menu was a staple part of the Chevrolet Works WTCC Team when they entered 3 Lacetti's for Menu, Rob Huff and ex F1 and ex DTM Alfa Romeo driver Nicola Larini in 2005. He took wins in the Lacetti and was a formidable force in the Cruze when it replaced the Lacetti in 2009. In fact he was in the hunt to win either the 2011 or 2012 WTCC Titles but bad luck would sideline both attempts. He was a fast driver in his BTCC days, winning races and titles for the Williams F1 led Renault team in 1997 and the Prodrive run Ford team in 2000.
Rydell is a formidable force in a Touring Car as well. He shot to fame in the BTCC in 1994, making his debut in the TWR Volvo team with the iconic 850 Estate and winning the 1998 BTCC Title in the S40. He was a works SEAT driver in the WTCC for several years before taking a break and returning as a Chevrolet Motorsport Sweden driver in the Swedish Touring Car Championship, winning the 2011 title in a Chevrolet Cruze.
However the off season between the end of 2012 to the start of 2013 was cruel for both drivers. Chevrolet announced that they were withdrawing their Works support at the end of 2012 in the WTCC, leaving RML as an independent team for 2013 needing money and their trio of drivers Huff, Muller and Menu looking for drives.
While RML found sponsorship from Lukoil and Aon to keep Muller signed on and Tom Chilton as his team mate, Huff signed up with Munnich Motorsport to drive a SEAT Leon.
Menu was unsure of where he would drive...
Now the shame is that there were efforts to get Menu into a 3rd drive at RML alongside Muller and Chilton and there a backup plan that could've seen him in a Bamboo Chevy had the RML drive fallen through. Alain has explained in recent interviews on various touring car news websites that there was a 3rd team with a Chevrolet Cruze that again needed a budget from Menu for him to race. I'm guessing that was NIKA Racing...and it is a guess.
There was even a rumoured attempt that Menu could've have been in a Works Ford Focus with Fabrizio Giovanardi as a team mate had Arena International/Team Aon become a Works Ford Team...
I just want to make it clear, the Ford Rumour was just that... A Rumour.
But Alain has made one thing clear. When it comes to Touring Car racing, he was well aware that he couldn't raise the budget needed for him to pay for a drive and that he has always been a Works driver. Whether it was Renault/Ford in the BTCC, Opel in the DTM or Chevrolet in the WTCC, he makes no bones that he cant raise a budget and has always been a successful works driver and his honesty is refreshing.
Alain has admitted to testing the prototype car Citroen may base its WTCC Car on should they confirm they will enter the Championship. That alone will get the rumour mongers started that he will be Sebastian Loeb's team mate in a Works Citroen WTCC Team. Just to make it clear, Citroen havent decided yet if they will enter at the writing of this blog.
Its not a bad idea either...
However for 2013, Alain has a full season drive in the F1 supporting series that is the Porsche Supercup. He has said he is open to a return to Touring Cars and his experience in turning cars into title winners is highly regarded. He will be in high demand for 2014...
For Rickard, his missing from a potential WTCC/STCC appearance is a different matter.
In 2011, the Touring Car scene in Sweden has a disagreement over the next set of regulations to replace the highly expensive S2000 regulations. Normally Sweden follows the lead of the UK and its BTCC Series. This has been the case since 1996 when the STCC was formed.
Two options were available. The organisers wanted to use the BTCC's newly announced Next Generation Touring Car egs where the cars are built from spec parts and use 2.0 litre Turbo engines supplied by TOCA. The 2nd option was favoured by the 4 biggest teams in the series who wanted to follow the Silouhette regs and have all cars built to the same regs, same shape and more powerful engines that include a Push to Pass system. This gives the driver a boost to the engine when overtaking another driver for position.
The STCC split and for one year the teams created the Touring car Teams Association League. It was obvious as the STCC and TTA competed for crowds and against each other that only one set of rules could be used for a safe future. One year later in 2012, everyone agreed to follow the TTA regs.
Now Rydell had competed in the S2000 STCC, winning the title against Johan Kristofferson in the biogas powered turbo VW Scirocco in 2011, only for Kristofferson to win it in 2012. It should be noted that the STCC has always suffered with competitors running several types of engine over the years and performance balancing of turbo's and car weights being adjusted to make the racing as equal as possible on track.
However Rydell made his intentions clear in early 2013 that he would not be taking part in the new 2013 combined STCC as he was unhappy with the Silhouette cars. Instead Rydell is commentating on Formula 1 and DTM races for Swedish TV.
Now personally, I think that Rickard should be in the WTCC with NIKA Racing this year as team mate to Michel Nykjaer. Before he joined the team in 2011, in 2007 Rydell drove a 4th works Chevrolet Lacetti in the Swedish WTCC round at Anderstorp. He drove well in Race 1 and he won Race 2 ahead of Menu and Larini...much to Larini's upset...
In 2011 Rydell drove a standard S2000 normally aspirated RML built Chevrolet Cruze with Vicktor Hallrup as his team mate. He won the 2011 title after some controversy in the finale that year. In 2012, Nykjaer replaced Hallrup and NIKA Racing was evaluating an full season entry into the WTCC. Rydell drove his STCC Title winning Cruze at the opening weekend in Monza with a 1.6 litre turbo. He ran in the top 6 of both races and traded fastest laps with the Works WTCC Chevrolet drivers of Menu, Muller and Huff. Rydell and Nykjaer would go on to drive WTCC spec Chevys in the 2012 STCC season with dispensation from the organisers.
Now this year in WTCC, Nykjaer has won 2 races in his NIKA Racing Cruze and it shows that were Rydell able to race, he would be up there too. Consider the facts that he would be in a team that delivered him a car capable of winning a title, a car he has driven for 3 seasons to wins and podiums and is very familiar with and a possible shot at a title against triple WTCC Champion Yvan Muller in the same machinery.
Both Huff and Menu proved that in equal cars, Muller can be beaten...
So as far as I'm concerned, there should be 7 Chevrolet Cruze's on the WTCC grid with Menu in a 3rd RML Car hasseling Muller for a title that Menu deserves whilst Rydell is pushing them both in a 2nd NIKA Racing Cruze.
And the WTCC would be an even better prospect.
However I will again make it clear that these are my own thoughts and opinions about these 2 drivers and that I am happy that they are both still involved in motorsport in 2013.
I do hope that both Menu and Rydell are able to compete in the 2014 WTCC with its new regulations and cars expected to take place. James Thompson has proved that he can make a WTCC Comeback, so fingers crossed that Menu and Rydell can.
Anyway, enjoy the Bank Holiday...and the sun!!