It’s all change on the World Touring Car Championship grid for the 2013 season.
Chevrolet have ended their factory participation after dominating the past three seasons, although a number of their all-conquering Cruze machines remain in the hands of private teams.
After running the American manufacturer’s programme since the WTCC began in 2005, RML continue to run a pair of cars this season. Champion in 2010 and 2011 with Chevrolet, Yvan Muller will lead the Wellingborough-based team with backing from Lukoil. Behind the wheel of the strongest car of recent times, the Frenchman stands a good chance of adding a fourth world title to his trophy cabinet.
The biggest challenge to Muller will come from Honda, who begin their first full season in the WTCC after a promising debut with their new Civic in the closing rounds of 2012. The car has undergone significant development since then and after joining his fellow Italians at the JAS Motorsport-run team, Gabriele Tarquini is expected to be in a position to win races from his home race at Monza this weekend. It’s hard to see a title fight between anyone other than veterans Muller and Tarquini.
Teammate Tiago Monteiro drove the car in its first races last year, but the Portuguese racer is likely to play a support role to 2009 champion Tarquini. Yokohama Trophy champion Norbert Michelisz drives a third Honda for Zengo Motorsport, the Hungarian looking to add to his two outright race wins so far.
World champion Rob Huff has managed to return to defend his title with All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport, who join the series with a trio of SEAT Leons after winning the FIA GT1 crown last year. However, even in the hands of Tarquini, the ageing Leon – which first appeared in the WTCC in 2005 – could not challenge the Chevrolets for most of last season. Cambridgeshire ace Huff is therefore likely to have to settle for race wins rather than challenging Muller and Tarquini for the title.
Team manager Marc Basseng was one half of the world champion pairing in GT1 and has some past touring car experience as a Clio Cup champion, while team owner and web entrepreneur Rene Munnich is a four-time German rallycross champion but lacks much circuit racing knowledge beyond his toe-in-the-water entry at Suzuka last year.
James Thompson returns along with Lada, who were making progress in late 2009 when the project was halted. Their second attempt with the Granta model should be stronger, and the car made a promising first pair of appearances in the middle of last year. With an Oreca-built engine, the team has done much more testing since then. Russian Aleksei Dudukalo drives the second car, bringing Lukoil support.
Returning to RML, Muller is joined by Tom Chilton. Hoping to be known for more this year than just ‘Max’s older brother’, the Reigate racer had a difficult baptism in the WTCC last year with the Aon Ford team owned by his father. In an RML-run Cruze he now has the tools to win races, but going head-to-head with Yvan is a brave move.
His teammate from last year James Nash will also drive a Cruze, for Bamboo Engineering. The Milton Keynes ace is not only aiming to take the Yokohama Trophy independents’ title, but also trouble the outright frontrunners. Staying at Bamboo to form an all-British team is Alex MacDowall, the Cumbrian driving a Cruze for the fourth consecutive season across the BTCC and WTCC.
Another Yokohama Trophy contender in a Chevrolet is Michel Nykjaer, who makes a full-time return with the Swedish Nika Racing team. The team has run the successful Chevrolet Sweden entry in Scandinavia and made occasional WTCC apperances, including with Rickard Rydell at Monza last year. Danish driver Nykjaer finished runner-up in the independents’ points in 2011 in a SEAT and scored two top-five finishes in a one-off in a Bamboo Chevrolet in Brazil last year.
Tom Coronel again leads the BMW attack looking for outright wins, and is joined at ROAL Motorsport this year by Darryl O’Young – another leading contender for independent honours who has rear-wheel-drive experience from GT racing.
After claiming his first two outright wins last year, Stefano D’Aste will drive a BMW for his own PB Racing team. Franz Engstler continues alongside Charles Ng for his own Liqui Moly Team Engstler setup, while Mehdi Bennani remains in a sole Proteam Racing BMW having scored his maiden podium finish in 2012.
Fredy Barth makes a full-time WTCC return in place of D’Aste at Wiechers-Sport, while an eighth BMW is entered on a race-by-race basis by the French Anome team, with multiple Andros Trophy champion Jean-Philippe Dayraut behind the wheel.
In addition to the Munnich trio of SEATs, Pepe Oriola now has SEAT Sport support for his Tuenti Racing Team Leon, and consequently is no longer eligible to win the Yokohama Trophy classification he finished second in last year.
Sunred have merged under the Campos Racing banner to run two Leons, with Fernando Monje entering his first full WTCC season after taking the European title in 2012. Hugo Valente will race the second car from Hungary, after making his debut in Shanghai last year. Finally, Lancashire’s Tom Boardman continues with the family-run Special Tuning Racing SEAT team.