Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tourings Cars: FIA TCN-1 or TCR... You Choose...

The World of Touring Car racing faces an interesting choice of regulations from 2015 thanks to some recent changes and news over the past few weeks...

So I've decided to compare the two different types of Touring Car regulations on offer, known as the TCR International series and the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship's NGTC regulations, now known as FIA TCN-1...

Earlier this year Marcello Lotti, who ran the FIA World Touring Car Championship for 9 years, announced he was setting up a new International Touring Car championship that would take place in 2015 with a flagship International series, using a model that is based on the successful GT3 form of motorsport that would be transferred to Touring Car racing along with elements and ideas that he used in the WTCC as well.

He named originally named this the "TC3 International Series" however recently that changed to the "TCR International Series" for reasons that I will explain later.

Now with his experience of building up the WTCC from a successful three year stint running it as the FIA European Touring Car Championship between 2002 & 2004, to it becoming the FIA World Touring Car Championship and running until the end of 2013, Lotti knows what works and also has his race format already set out as well as the technical regulations for the series.

Now so far the TCR regulations have proven a popular option for different markets to choose to run in either 2015 or in 2016. Domestic TCR Series or Promotional Classes have been announced in Portugal, Italy, the USA and the BeNeLux region along with the already confirmed International Series and the Asian series as well.

So TCR looks quite healthy so far. There are benefits to having different series around the world running to the same regulations that remind me of the old SuperTouring Days. With cars being built to the TCR regulations, it will open up a market for these cars to be sold on as different and new teams around the world look to either build cars or buy cars to compete in TCR.

Already I can feel a tinge of excitement as I recall the height of the SuperTouring Days when the FIA ran three consecutive World Cup events between 1993 and 1995 with almost 40+ drivers from around the world competing in near equal tintop machines. This is something that could end up happening if TCR takes off in the manner it promises to, but the idea of a TCR World Cup is wild speculation at the moment.

I can even feel a tear in the eye...


There is another form of Touring Car racing already in use that could rival TCR and also has the backing of the FIA:

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship's "Next Generation Touring Car" regulations...

At the recent December meeting of the FIA World MotorSport Council, the decision was taken by the FIA to endorse and support the use of two types of Touring Car Regulations for other countries to adopt and use in an attempt to reduce costs for teams and drivers to take part in and for organisers to run those series. The FIA chose the NGTC regulations from the BTCC and decided to rename them as "FIA TCN-1" or Touring Car National - 1. The second set of regulations to be endorsed and promoted are the more Production based Argentine Touring Car Championship regulations or now known as FIA TCN-2 for domestic championships looking for a cheaper alternative.

The FIA also reclassified the structure of its Touring Car hierarchy to clear up any confusion about what tintops are eligible where. The FIA WTCC uses TC1 regulation cars exclusively from 2015. The European Touring Car Cup will use TC2T ( 1.6 litre Turbocharged S2000 cars) and also TC2 (2 Litre Normally Aspirated S2000 cars) alongside the other classes. Now with the FIA endorsing the new TC3 concept, a name change was needed to avoid confusion that the TC3 series could be part of the hierarchy. So the name was changed to TCR.

So the FIA Touring Car Comission now has its progression system in place, something that Alan Gow and Jonathan Ashman have wanted for a long time as heads of the FIA Touring Car Commission, allowing drivers and teams in national TCN-1 or TCN-2 national championships to compete with a common set of regulations and have a clear view of progression up the ladder to the ETCC and later the WTCC. This is something that has been missing in Touring Cars for many years since the demise of SuperTouring and the change from Super 2000 to TC1 in the WTCC whilst Single seaters and Rallying have had a clear progression in place for a long time.

Now effectively there are two lots of regulations that are on offer for the different countries/markets to use. The benefits of NGTC are something I've written about before, but in a nutshell, you have one company producing spec parts for the car such as Gearbox, Rollcage, ECU, Aero and other parts whilst a spec engine is also on sale to competitors who cant build their own power units. This then allows one supplier for spares etc and help keeps the cost down. The teams are responsible for choosing the shell and model of the car they wish to race and building the shell.

The BTCC has seen the benefits of this since Series Boss Alan Gow's introduction of the NGTC regulations back in 2011 when just five full NGTC cars were raced whereas as this year a full 31 car grid of full NGTC cars competed as most rounds. Again in a recall back to the SuperTouring days, if different countries adopt these regulations, it opens up a market for ex BTCC cars to be sold on whilst new cars are built by suppliers to teams wishing to enter the new domestic FIA TCN-1 championships.

Now currently there are no new FIA TCN-1 championships announced, but give this some time. The FIA only just gave this the green light so it could be that over the next 12 months we could see new championships appearing in Europe or Scandinavia. History has shown for example that the Swedish Touring Car scene has often followed the BTCC in its regulations and it spent between 2011 and 2013 deciding if NGTC was the way to go, causing a split in the tintop scene and the creation of the TTA series that has gone on to become the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, using the TTA regulations.

As far as race formats go, both the TCR and NGTC sporting regulations offer variety. TCR has announced a format of 2 60km races in duration whilst the BTCC holds 3 races on raceday of around 40 minutes in duration. However there is nothing to say that other markets will enforce these and only time will tell if they do.

As far as the cars and equipment being used, there are similarities. Both regulations support 2 litre Turbocharged Petrol engines, whilst TCR also offers the chance for 2 litre Turbo-Diesels to be used as well. Aerodynamic packages are provided by the organisers, keeping the advantage to a minimum whilst only the bodyshell of the model being used would be different. Both series offer spec parts or specify production parts only to be used and both series have a balance of performance system in place using weight to penalise a winning car and allow a close form of exciting racing where no one model of car dominates.

So, as you can see, there isn't much to choose from in the differences between TCR and FIA TCN-1, apart from the fact that the TCN-1 regulations have been in use since 2011 and quite successfully too. What Touring Car racing has needed to do for some time is to reduce costs and bring back the teams and drivers to the tintop arena. TCN-1 has succeeded in doing this in the UK whilst TCR looks just as promising with its wide European prescence for 2015 and 2016.

Theres one final point I want to make as I know my readers in the UK will ask this question:

Can TCR work in the UK?

My answer to this is No. The BTCC has re-established itself as one of Europes strongest series again, thanks to the success of the NGTC/FIA TCN-1 regulations. Thats also the reason as to why there is no UK round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship or the FIA European Touring Car Cup. Such a strong domestic series can often deter a World/European championship event from needing to take place, often because there is less popularity or knowledge for an FIA event than there is for the BTCC. Another reason as to why there is no UK round in the WTCC is because the manufacturers who compete have no interest in the UK car market and for them racing Touring Cars that win means they need to race where the car markets offer the best sales and thats a trend thats been in force for many years now. As for TCR, it just can't compete right now and it wouldn't survive against the BTCC.

But thats why the FIA chose the NGTC regs to promote as one of two sets of dedicated tintop regulations to be adopted from now on. If it works, don't fix it... Promote it so it can work just as well elsewhere and become more popular and even stronger.

Either way my final thought on the debate of TCR or TCN-1 is this. Pretty soon almost every country that holds a Touring Car Championship (Except Australia's V8 Supercars and Germany's DTM) will be exclusively running either a TCR Series, FIA TCN-1 or TCN-2 Championship and with so many Championships running in common, that can only be good for Touring Cars for the future. As to the most popular set of regulations... Well we'll find that out over the next few years.

Thank you for reading.



Friday, 19 December 2014

FIA EuroRX 2015: The Interest is growing...

Up until 2014, The European Rallycross Championship was the highest accolade in Rallycross circles to compete in and win. It started in 1973 and in 1979 Rallycross legend Martin Schanche won the first official FIA European Rallycross Championship.

Fast forward to 2013 and the series was reinvented as RallycrossRX, with a new promoter installed and increased media coverage. This move reignited interest in International Rallycross and this led to stars such as Tanner Foust, Ken Block and Petter Solberg joining the series. Russian Timer Timurzyanov beat off the competition to win his second EuroRX title whilst interest soared for 2014.

With the creation of a World Championship in 2014, the EuroRX was scaled back to five events that ran on the same five weekends and locations as WorldRX events, allowing for privateers to fight for the title. This led to entry lists of at least 40 Supercars at events such as Lydden Hill in the UK, Estering in Germany and Holjes in Sweden... To name a few...

So why the increased popularity of a five event FIA European Championship and why the increased interest for for 2015?

Well... Let me enlighten you...

First of all, the biggest attraction are the regulations. Currently all of the major European Domestic Rallycross Championships use the Supercar regulations which are:

2 litre Turbo powered Supercars, engines capable of producing 600bhp in 4 Wheel Drive monsters that are capable of beating the current F1 cars off the line...

The best part is that if you are running, for example, a Mk2 Ford Focus in the British Rallycross Championship for a full season, the same car can be used in EuroRX/WorldRX events.

I should explain to avoid confusion that EuroRX events take place at the same venue and on the same weekend as WorldRX, giving the drivers a chance to race the works supported teams and other privateers from their own domestic championships with a chance at FIA Title glory.

Next, its the chance to race against the best in World Rallycross. This year, EuroRX saw such talent as Tanner Foust and Ken Block go up against the likes of Henning Solberg, Robin Larsson, Jerome Grosset-Janin, Tommy Rustad and Johan Kristoffersson with Larsson beating the competition and winning the FIA European Rallycross Championship in Italy on the same weekend that Petter Solberg won the World Rallycross Championship. Now because of this, Larsson has already announced his intention to take part in WorldRX in 2015.

Not only that but talents such Larsson, Kristoffersson and Grosset-Janin made it from the Heat stages at various events through to the Semi-Finals and even the Final, where in the UK Larsson finished second behind WorldRX regular Andreas Bakkerud whilst Kristoffersson made the podium in his Scandinavian VW Polo Supercar behind event winner Topi Heikkinen in the Works Supported VW Polo Supercar. (Although he was later disqualified...)

But its EuroRX of late that is garnering the interest from many drivers. Tommy Rustad has announced that he will campaign a VW-Marklund Motorsport built VW Polo Supercar for next years EuroRX instead of his usual Volvo C30 Supercar. 2014 French Rallycross Supercar Champion Fabien Pailler has also confirmed he will contest EuroRX 2015 in a Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar, a similar machine to the Albatec Racing and Hansen-Peugeots campaigned this year in WorldRX.

Another Rallycross regular looking to join EuroRX next year is Knut Ove Borseth who has announced plans to run a two car team under the banner 'Drive for Life RX' which caters for children who do not fit into the traditional education system and giving them experience within motorsport. The intention is to run two Mk2 Ford Focus' during the season.

Finally the third point of the enticement of EuroRX is the exposure a driver can recieve, both on track and off. Earlier in 2014 at Loheac in France, at the end of the first days action with Heats One and Two completed there were four different regular French Rallycross drivers inside the top 12. Jerome Grosset-Janin, Gaetan Serazin, Fabien Pailler and Christophe Wilt were all in the top places that, if they stayed there after Heats Three and Four, would have granted a place in the Semi-Finals or The Final. As it was Grosset-Janin was the only french driver who made it to the Semi's.

Theres also the explosion of social media thats followed the reinvention of RallycrossRX. Drivers and teams are now taking to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like to update fans with their progress over a weekend, any announcements regarding plans for the future and also give the fans a chance to interact with them.

Petter Solberg launched his own app that not only chronicled his 2013 EuroRX and also his WorldRX journey but also his sons journey as he makes his way through the ranks of Rallycross, learning the trade of offroad motorsport. So whether its Tweets or Apps, the fans can now follow the action even closer in Social Media, but it also allows the chance for teams and drivers to lure in new sponsors and offer more exposure.

For example, a driver contests an entire season in a Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar in the French Rallycross Championship, sponsored by a french company. However, that same driver also contests the five round FIA European Rallycross Championship which visits the UK, Germany, Norway, Belgium and Italy, allowing new markets and countries to see the sponsors on the car and the the other EuroRX cars. If that driver has a good weekend in the results, it opens up a new arena of possibilities for new sponsors which in turn allows progression to the WorldRX for the following year if thats the plan.

So its a huge benefit to Domestic Rallycross drivers who take part in EuroRX and its now clear to see why there is so much interest already in the series for next year.

Keep an eye on this one, 2015 is going to be a very competitive year for EuroRX.

All the best,