Sunday, 22 September 2013

WTCC 2014: My concerns for the future...

Earlier this year the FIA announced its new for 2014 Super 2000 regulations for cars entering the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2014.

In a nutshell the new cars will be lighter, faster, more aerodynamic and wider...

Now with these rules came the question: What year do they come into effect?

Originally this was slated for 2015, however with Honda and Lada committed to the WTCC for the next 2-3 years and with Citroen wanting to enter but their decision dependent on when the rules came into effect, it was decided that they would come into force in 2014.

Now with Honda already commiting to providing 4 2014 Honda Civics whilst the current crop of Civics will be upgraded, Lada confirming that their 2 Granta's will be upgraded and possibly joined by a 3rd Granta and Citroen confirming they will have 3 C-Elysse's for Muller, Loeb and a 3rd driver, this still leaves a question over the other manufacturers who have cars present and the problems facing the independent teams for 2014 who dont have the budget to build new cars.

So I thought I'd lay them out for you...

Firstly, SEAT.

Now earlier in the season SEAT introduced the Leon Cup Racer and put it on show from the Salzburgring WTCC event onwards. The car itself looks the part and when the new regulations were confirmed at Porto there were high hopes that we would see the return of a works team from the spanish manufacturer for the first time since 2009.

However 2 weeks ago, SEAT confirmed that they would not be entering the Leon Cup Racer into the 2014 WTCC as the cost of building the car in time for next season would be too high as Citroen already have their car built and testing. They also felt that it would be too expensive developing the car when they are already on the backfoot.

What they did confirm was that they were to going to concentrate on using the Racer model in enhancing the current SEAT Supercopa single make series around Europe, expanding the series into new markets and more support for teams that enter the Single Make Trophy in the European Touring Car Cup.

So, this means that there will be no new SEAT's built to the new rules. What this does is leaves the current WTCC SEAT teams with two options:

A. Move on to a new manufacturer who has plans to have customer 2014 S2000 cars.


B. Leave the WTCC for pastures new.

Now Munnich Motorsport have already said that staying in the series next year will be difficult without a 2014 car, however they have the option of going to the new World Rallycross Championship for next year. Special Tuning Racing have been a SEAT Customer team for the past few years as has Campos Racing or SUNRED Engineering as they were known before. For these teams the options are also become a customer of a new manufacturer or look elsewhere.

STR have raced in the BTCC with the S2000 Leon and the BTCC offers an alternative if they can build an NGTC spec car. For Campos, I would expect a return to Spanish national level racing like the new Leon Cup Racer series mentioned.

But these are educated guesses on my part. Not gospel truths.

Next, BMW.

Now, its well known that support for the WTCC BMW Customer teams has been in short supply since BMW pulled its works team at the end of 2010. Whilst Augusto Farfus and Andy Priaulx tested the 320 TC with the 1.6 litre engine in early 2011, development has been little. The BMW Customer teams have all complained of a lack of straightline speed and BMW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt has made it clear that there is no more development due for the 320 TC as their focus is on the DTM and endurance programmes.

So, at the moment, the same situation faces the ROAL Motorsport, Engstler, PB Racing and Proteam Customer BMW teams. Either sign up for a new manufacturer or leave... But there is a 3rd option...

There has been talk of developing an upgrade kit to allow the 320 TC to be competitive in 2014 guise with some private engine development discussed between the teams. ROAL did mention earlier in the year they would look at other makes but with all races using standing starts in 2014, any BMW entered has a chance as long as its upgrade proves competitive.

I have ranted on before how I think that BMW should've stayed on in WTCC but my hope is that with the new regs in place they will consider a works team return or increase support for their customer teams to be competitive.

Next, Chevrolet.

Now this year all 6 Chevrolet Cruzes have been run as Independent entries: RML, Nika, Tuenti and Bamboo. The Cruze has been the dominant force in WTCC since 2010 and a lifeline for this car and the teams that have run it was presented last week.

After Sonoma, it was reported that RML, who built and own the Cruzes from scratch, are looking at a programme of potentially upgrading up to 6 Chevrolet Cruzes to the new 2014 regulations. There has also been talk of renewed support from Chevrolet but nothing is confirmed.

However were there to be upgraded Cruzes on the grid, they would still be a force to be reckoned with. The car is already a good competitive base to work from. But lets see what happens.

Whilst there has been a positive effect by  moving these regulations forward by a year, there has also been a negative consequence. Before the 2013 WTCC season started, Arena International or Team Aon closed it doors after developing the Ford Focus S2000 cars for the WTCC and racing them in the capable hands of Tom Chilton and James Nash in the 2012 WTCC season.

Now during the winter break, there was talk of backing and support from Ford and rumours linking such names as Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi to a potentail 3 car team with a much upgraded and developed Focus. However this never happened.

But the WTCC Fords found a new home with Rotek Racing, a team that takes part in the german VLN series and co-owned by American Touring Car ace and Team HARD stalwart Robb Holland. In fact earlier this week the two cars were staying at the Team HARD headquarters before being sent of to the german base of the Rotek Racing squad.

Now, Robb and the team have tested the cars with the upgrades in suspension, chassis and engine that were due to be undertaken by Team Aon themselves and were looking to run the cars before the end of this season intending on a full season next year. But with the new regulations already cleared for next year, this has caused Robb and Rotek to pause for thought on the best course of action to take.

Quite simply, an upgrade kit would be expensive, considering the Mk 3 Focus was built and raced in the BTCC in 2011 in its original S2000 form before being updated to FIA S2000 specs. As this is an independent entry, the cost has to be weighed out as to whether this is feasible or not in the long run. Another option would be to race it in the ETCC with a 2 litre Normally Aspirated engine, but again this requires a budget capable.

The final issue to be aware of is that any cars that take part next year but conform to the current 2011 S2000 1.6 litre turbo regs will be uncompetitive. Basically the 2014 cars will have a power increase of 80bhp and are designed to be 1.5 seconds faster...per kilometre.

As pointed out by Yvan Muller over the Japanese WTCC weekend, that means that if he drove his current S2000 Chevrolet Cruze over the same 54 second lap at Suzuka East Circuit as his Citroen C-Elysse 2014 car, the Cruze would be 9 seconds per lap slower.

9 seconds per lap! Both the WTCC races were 26 laps today meaning any current S2000 has no hope of winning a race next year. Now for the Independent that has no other option, thats fine but thats still one hell of a performance hike. There is talk of a possible seperate championship akin to what was the Jay-Ten Cup a few years ago as cars were then being converted from 2 litre N/A to 1.6 Litre Turbos.

Again we'll have to see. Theres also talk of other manufacturers joining next year but again, we'll have to wait and see who.

So whats the outcome of the decision to introduce the new S2000 regulations in 2014 and not 2015?

The answer is two fold:

Its a great outcome because Citroen has entered the fray to bring the manufacturer count in the championship to 3 for the first time since 2009 and there will be a double figure amount of new cars on the grid. It also opens up the driver market as well to allow good drivers a chance at being in these newer cars.


Its also concerning considering how many independent teams there are in the championship that have a customer team relationship using cars that, if kept in their current form, will be uncompetitive by design of the new rules and also making a clear 2nd class behind the newer cars.

This could also mean that stalwart teams that have been the backbone of the WTCC, whilst manufacturers have come and gone, now face an uncertain winter either forging new relationships for new cars, try building their own or go off to pastures new.

I will be following this with interest, as will every fan and media member, over the next few months. I just hope this will encourage a surge of manufacturer growth over the next few seasons and not damage the series further. The WTCC is a great championship and deserves some positive momentum.

Once again I stress that a lot of this post is my own thoughts on what I think will happen based on information already provided by other sources!



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