The World Touring Car Championship has undergone its most significant rule change to-date over the winter in an attempt to make the cars look meaner, make them go faster and make the entire show more spectacular.
Under the new TC1 regulations, the machines are now less like race-prepared road cars and more like proper racing cars. 16 of the new cars – with bigger aero and more power from the engines – have been prepared in time for this weekend’s opening round in Marrakech, built by four different outfits. There are also four older-specification cars, now known as TC2.
We start with Citroen not only because they’re new, and not only because they have the reigning world champion in Yvan Muller, but because they are furthest ahead in the development of their new car. They were out testing long before their rivals, and that has shown in group testing at Valencia.
If Citroen are out front ahead of the others, the intrigue will be offered by their driver line-up, having brought nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb across to join fellow Alsatian Muller. It’s hard to see the touring car newcomer matching a legend of the discipline, but it would also be unwise to rule out the incredible Loeb.
The team’s third full-time driver Jose Maria Lopez also shouldn’t be forgotten. A strong F3000/GP2 driver nearly a decade ago, he’s already enjoyed a successful career as a touring car driver in his native Argentina, winning three TC2000 titles, and won on his WTCC debut in a Wiechers BMW on home soil last year. The new cars should be right up his street, and he’s just about as close to a Formula 1 driver you can get without actually having one – having been signed to drive for the aborted USF1 project.
Chosen as the quickest available driver to appeal to the Chinese market, Ma Qing Hua will join in a fourth car later in the season.
Having only got one full season’s use out of the 2013-spec Civic, Honda have had to upgrade for the new regulations. As before, the factory Castrol-backed cars will be piloted by Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro, with Norbert Michelisz mixing it with them in his Zengo Motorsport entry.
A fourth car is added for 2014, with Mehdi Bennani and Proteam Racing having been recruited to the fold, and hoping to go well on the Moroccan’s home patch at round one.
The JAS Motorsport crew behind the operation will be hoping that the experience they gained last year will enable them to make up for any lack of car development compared to circuit racing newcomers Citroen.
Chevrolet may have pulled out of the WTCC as a manufacturer at the end of 2012 (and GM have even announced plans to end their European operations), but they are the best-represented brand in terms of numbers thanks to the efforts of RML. The firm behind the old factory team has developed a new TC1 edition of the all-conquering Cruze. They won’t run any of the cars themselves, but have built six examples for privateer teams. Even though the cars have only been completed in time for very limited testing on the eve of the season, the Wellingborough outfit knows how to make a quick touring car.
Having raced for RML alongside Muller last year, Tom Chilton transfers over to ROAL Motorsport to join Tom Coronel, with the Dutchman and his Italian team forced to move away from BMW with the German manufacturer not offering a car to the new regulations.
Campos Racing are another European squad to join the RML customer base but with relatively inexperienced drivers in Frenchman Hugo Valente – contesting his first full season – and Serbian Dusan Borkovic – third in the European Touring Car Cup last year.
Munnich Motorsport secured a late deal to take the final two Cruzes, bringing multiple Superstars champion Gianni Morbidelli back to the series to drive alongside team boss Rene Munnich – who was learning the ropes last year after switching from rallycross.
The Russan marque will be using its fourth different car in only its third full season as a manufacturer entry, having upgraded the Granta to the new rules. It has brought in 2012 world champion Rob Huff to form a double act with fellow British driver James Thompson, with Lukoil protege Mikhail Kozlovskiy staying on in a third car.
The late development has meant some early teething troubles, but the team has shown decent progress with its previous cars and it will be hoping for similar with this one.
Two WTCC mainstays make up the TC2 class for Marrakech – the BMW 320 and the SEAT Leon. Franz Engstler continues campaigning a BMW, with Pasquale Di Sabatino returning to the series as his team-mate. Campos continue to run SEATs alongside their new Chevrolets, with ex-single-seater driver John Filippi down for the full season and ETCC champion Petr Fulin joining for the season opener.