Chevrolet is aiming to get its defence of the World Touring Car Championship Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles off to the best possible start as the 2011 season gets underway at Curitiba, Brazil.
The RML-run team claimed the two world crowns for the first time in 2010. In 2011 it faces the challenge of attempting to retain these titles while racing under revised technical regulations, with the introduction of the 1.6 litre turbocharged engine.
The team has been hard at work for some time now ensuring it is prepared for these changes. At the same time as the race team was attempting to win the 2010 championship, RML's engine department, led by Arnaud Martin, was busy designing and building the new powerplant. In addition to this the world championship-winning Cruze has had to undergo a 70% redesign, with the new engine impacting on several areas of the car, including cooling, aerodynamics and weight distribution.
Development and testing of the engine began in September last year, with over 4500 kilometres of testing completed prior to the first race in Brazil.
The driver lineup at Chevrolet remains unchanged for 2011, with reigning champion Yvan Muller entering his second year with the team, now with the #1 on his car. Rob Huff has the #2, while Alain Menu will race with the #8, lucky number of the marque's founder Louis Chevrolet, in the brand's centenary year.
A fourth Cruze will be entered by Chevrolet at Curitiba for local hero Carlos 'Caca' Bueno. The Stock Car ace's car will be decked out in an orange livery, with support from Brazilian firms iCarros and Itau Bank. He will be hoping for a better time in front of his home fans than he enjoyed on his WTCC debut with Chevrolet at Brands Hatch last year, where he suffered an engine fire.
Muller has had a busy winter since winning the world title, but his focus is now solely on retaining his crown. “I can't believe the season is starting again,” said Muller. “Since the checkered flag went down in Macau last November, I haven't stopped for a minute. There was a lot of work with the new car, a lot of commitments deriving from winning the title and I also devoted some time to the ice driving clinics I organize, but I enjoyed all of that.
“Now is time to focus completely on the new season, which is pretty unpredictable, because of the new rules and because all manufacturers have been working on their own, so there are even less terms of comparison than usual. The only thing that I can say is that I am very happy with the work we have done on the new Cruze and on the new engine, and that we have progressed a lot in a relatively short time”.
Huff believes that the changes, including those made to the reverse grid system, will make the opening weekend of the season even more interesting than usual. “It's starting all again and I am anxious to be on the track at Curitiba. This is going to be a very interesting season and everybody has been so secretive about their winter work that it is impossible to say at this stage where each one stands. One thing I am really curious about is to see how the new system for Q1 will work. I believe we are going to see a lot of strategizing. For us, the good thing is that we have a very strong car, I think the new Cruze is fast and reliable, and the new engine has really a lot of life, in terms of power and torque.”
Like Huff, Menu is entering his seventh season in the WTCC with Chevrolet. “I feel just great ahead of the new season and I am really happy to be able to have again #8, which brought me luck in the past and is of course so closely linked to my compatriot Louis Chevrolet.
“I must say I am very impressed with the quality of the work done by Chevrolet and RML on the new car. We are going to Brazil with a new engine and a new car that have already reached a very high level of development. The drivability of the new Cruze is excellent and I think we can be optimistic. One aspect that I think will be very important this year is front tyres. With the new engine, front tyres and front brakes will be under greater pressure and this can play a significant role. One will have to manage really carefully these two elements.”
Project Manager Ron Hartvelt added: “We are well prepared to face the new season and the challenge of a new car and engine. A lot of work has been done since we committed the final specifications of the 2011 Cruze last November, despite the very tight turn-around we had between the two seasons. Curitiba will be essential to know where we and our competitors stand, so we will wait to say anything about what the season could look like. I am very curious to see how the new Q1 will unfold. It's going to be an interesting exercise, where everybody will try to be in the top 10 while avoiding at the same time to be in the top 5.”
Chevrolet Motorsport Europe Director Eric Neve summed up the feelings in the Chevrolet camp ahead of the 2011 season. “The best thing we can do is to confirm our World Champions status and start the second century of life of our brand and the 1.6 turbo era of the WTCC by giving GM a second world title,” he said.