Wednesday, 19 February 2014

WTCC 2014: The story so far...

With all the hype of the British Touring Car Championship having 7 former champions competing this year on a capacity grid of NGTC cars and the new FIA World Rallycross Championship gaining star talent such as Jacques Villeneuve & Tanner Foust and Works Teams be entered by Ford, VW and Peugeot, both series seem to be putting the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship in the shade almost.

So I thought I'd put something together about what is known so far for the World Championship.

This year, the WTCC goes into a new set of regulations for the car and series itself. The cars still have 1.6 litre turbo petrol engines, but now they produce 380bhp instead of 300bhp. Add to this that the cars now have a slightly more aerodynamic package, they are lighter and you can see that the new TC1 cars will be giving an even better show already.

I've spoken of this in a previous post but this years new regulations are called "Super 2000 2014." However since the introduction of the original Super 2000 Touring Car regulations in 2003, theres been some changes. So to make this easier, The FIA has introduced a new recognition system. TC1 cars are built to the new regulations. TC2 cars are Super 2000 that use the original 1.6 litre Turbo engine that produces 300bhp. These are cars used in the WTCC from 2011 to 2013.

TC2 cars are eligible in the Yokohama Trophy this year but they will be 1.5 seconds slower per kilometre than the brand new TC1 cars. So to give an example, TC2 cars would be 9 seconds a lap slower than TC1 cars on the Suzuka East circuit...

To add to this, the sporting regulations have been updated. Both races will have standing starts. There is no more rolling start for race one. Qualifying will also change. This will be split into three sessions. Q1 will determine who goes through to the top 12 in Q2. Q2 will determine the top 10 to be reversed for the Race Two start. However Q3 will be a one lap Superpole for the top five cars from Q2, to determine who will take pole position for race one. Points will also be scored by thr five cars in Q3 as well. The races will now be a mandatory 60kms in duration. There will also be testing on Friday at every venue except Moscow & Macauu.

Now, due to the new regulations, there are some changes in driver and manufacturer lineups...

First, Citroen Racing have decided to enter the World Championship. They will field three full time Citroen C-Elysse Saloons for Four time WTCC Champion Yvan Muller, Nine time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb and Argentinian TC2000 Champion Jose Maria Lopez. A fourth entry will appear in the Asian WTCC rounds.

Citroen have been testing the car since late last year and have had a full testing programme underway, testing the car at Monza, Abu Dhabi and several other venues. Whilst Loeb and Lopez will learn steeply, Muller is expected to start on the best foot for defending his 2013 Title.

Next, Honda will field four of the new TC1 Honda Civics. Two will be raced by the works team with Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Montiero staying on. Hungarian team Zengo Motorsport will run one car for Norbert Michelisz whilst Italian Team Scuderia Proteam will run a single car for Morrocan driver Mehdi Benanni. Proteam were originally a stalwart BMW WTCC customer team so securing a Honda is new territory for them.

Honda only recently began testing the new car and have admitted that they will be on catchup with Citroen, however they are well up to the task and they are aiming high this year, looking to take race wins and challenge for the Drivers and Manufacturers titles.

Lada is the third manufacturer this year in the WTCC. They are fielding three Lada Granta Sport WTCC ebtries that are updated to the new TC1 regulations. As well as running James Thompson and Michael Kozilovskiy, they are joined by 2012 WTCC Champion Rob Huff. Thompson and Huff are well known as drivers who can help bring the best from a Touring Car and Lada are hoping that all three drivers can pose a serious challenge to Honda and Citroen.

Lada have also just started testing at Magny Cours in France so they will be looking to be fast and reliable from the off. Last year Thompson was capable of regular top six finishes, so more is expected with Huff now on board and a years worth of data from last years championship.

The fourth brand in the WTCC is RML-Chevrolet. Whilst this is not a works programme, RML have taken the decision to build an updated version of the all conquering Chevrolet Cruze to the TC1 regulations. RML will only be building the cars and supplying them to Customer teams with support offered. They will not be running a team as they seek to return in 2015 with a Works effort potentially with another manufacturer.

There could be up to six Cruze's on the grid this year with four confirmed so far. Former BMW customer team ROAL Motorsport has announced that they will run two cars for Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton. Meanwhile Spanish team Campos Racing has announced that they will run two cars for Frenchman Hugo Valente and popular Serbian Dusan Borkovic. There could be two more Cruze's on the grid but there is no confirmation of these yet.

RML have explained they hope to have these cars to their customers in March however never count out a car built by the Wellingborough concern. They know their stuff and I wouldnt be surprised if one of the cars took a win during the season.

Now there will be a fifth effort taking part in the WTCC this season and its been a secret until January. Mike Earle ran Team Aon in the BTCC for ten years until stepping up to the WTCC in 2012 with Tom Chilton and James Nash driving two Ford Focus WTCC's. However with no support in 2013 from Ford, the team closed it doors.

Well in 2014, Mike is back in the WTCC. In January he announced that he was resurrecting the Onyx Race Engineering Brand used in Formula One in the late 1980's to take part in a five year WTCC project. Now there is no confirmation of drivers yet or what car is being used as we await confirmation. Speculation ties young Spaniard Pepe Oriola to the team but we still await who will be driving what for Onyx Race Engineering.

Now with regards to the TC2 Yokohama Trophy entry, nothing has been confirmed. What is known is that Campos intend to field several SEAT Leon WTCC's and thats it possible Engstler and Weichers Sport could return with their BMW 320TC's.

However, the all conquering Chevrolet Cruze has been banned from taking part due to what is seen as a car that has an advantage over the rest. Apart from this, it will be interesting to see who will be fighting it out for Yokohama Trophy honours. There is also a cash prize for the winner of the Trophy as in previous years.

The series will also use different circuits this year as well with a change from the East Circuit at Suzuka to using the full Grand Prix Circuit. The series is also making a debut appearence at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France and a return to the Spa-Francochamps Circuit in Belgium, which the WTCC last used in its first season in 2005.

Now whilst all of this looks to be another Tintop championship that is going to have a bumper year. But for the WTCC there is a price and "Price" is the key word.

The reason is that this year there are currently 16 TC1 seats taken and being raced. However a lot of drivers who want to race in TC1 machinery who are Indepedent Drivers have already complained of the price of purchasing a TC1 Chevrolet and that in many cases its simply not affordable.

For the past few seasons, the WTCC has had a good driver base due to the many Independent drivers that took part and bulked up the field as in the BTCC. But with with the TC1 seats being filled and TC2 not presenting a "competitive option" to many teams, drivers are going elsewhere in 2014.

Stefano D'Aste, Charles Ng,
Michel Nykjaer and Darryl O'Young have already confirmed they will not take part this year. Tom Coronel and Pepe Oriola have also voiced how difficult it is to afford a drive this year.

In fact with the FIA European Touring Car Cup confirming that it will allow TC2 cars to compete with TC3 cars (Normally Aspirated S2000 Touring Cars) in 2014, the ETCC would seem to offer a more competitive option in the immediate future. There has been talk of Nykjaer returning to the ETCC and trying to win a third Cup.

Budget and lack of a Works seat is also another reason as to why tintop legends such as Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi have chosen to race in the BTCC this season. There is also speculation that 2013 WTCC Independent Champion James Nash could return of late...

However, if you remember, the BTCC also went through this change when moving from Super 2000 regulations to NGTC regulations. In 2011 four NGTC cars started the season. In 2014 at least 30 NGTC cars will compete in the BTCC.

So there is hope for more TC1 cars entering the WTCC in seasons to come. RML is seeking a new Manufacturer Contract, Lada plans to introduce the 2015 Priora Model built to TC1 regulations and Volvo is re-entering Worldwide Touring Car series with expanded entries in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship in the past few seasons and a new 2 car entry in the International V8 Supercars Championship, so it possible to see more manufacturer entries and more cars built to TC1 Regs.

So in my humble opinion, things for the WTCC look just as exciting in 2014 as they do for the BTCC, World RallycrossRX and even Formula One.

Trust me on this one, The FIA World Touring Car Championship is looking very good...



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