With the 2015 World Touring Car Championship about to get underway, theCheckeredFlag.co.uk looks at the 18-car field competing from the opening round in Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina.
The series is now run entirely to the more aggressive TC1 regulations that were introduced last year, with the older and slower TC2 cars entirely phased out. The numbers of Citroens and Hondas built to those rules being entered has increased to five each, while there are again six Chevrolets from RML. Lada meanwhile have developed a new car, bringing two of those to South America and preparing a third in time for round two in Marrakech.
Jose Maria Lopez
#37 – Citroen Total WTCC
Last year, the GP2 race-winner returned to the international scene on a full-time basis with a bang, putting his time in his local TC2000 series to good use to upstage Citroen’s Alsace double act of Muller and Loeb and join them in becoming a world champion. Now able to improve upon any mistakes he might have made as a rookie, he undoubtedly starts 2015 as the favourite and has the benefit of starting on home soil, where his WTCC career began with a reverse-grid win on a one-off appearance in 2013.
#68 – Citroen Total WTCC
The four-time WTCC champion’s move to the big-budget Citroen project for last year was not as straightforward as might originally have been imagined. He was forced to relearn much of what he knew about touring cars last year by the new regulations, and found himself outclassed by Lopez all season long. He’s had the off-season to work on where he’s lacking to Lopez, and anybody who’s followed just a fraction of Muller’s touring car career knows he should never be written off.
#9 – Citroen Total WTCC
The nine-time world rally champion adapted impressively quickly to touring cars at the start of 2014. He won on the opening weekend in Marrakech, was quickest in qualifying at Paul Ricard (but excluded for a safety issue) and had claimed a second victory by round four in Hungary. Despite always gaining more experience, the rest of the season was a little more difficult, and although third in the standings was nothing to sniff at, he’ll hope to progress closer to Lopez and Muller this season.
Ma Qing Hua
#33 – Citroen Total WTCC
Ma’s patchy racing history made him a target for much ridicule when driving an HRT F1 car on Fridays in 2013, but he got his chance with Citroen with some merit after the team tested a series of Chinese drivers. He proved himself as a proper driver by winning on his debut in Moscow, and he later made the podium in Shanghai too. His other three events weren’t so strong, but he’s now had a full off-season to prepare for competing with his more illustrious team-mates on a regular basis.
#25 – Sebastien Loeb Racing
When it was announced that Loeb’s team would be joining the WTCC to run the C-Elysee for customers, it was always going to be a popular seat for the category’s independent drivers. The sole SLR entry for the year has gone to Moroccan Bennani, who has previously driven a SEAT, BMW and a Honda since joining the WTCC in 2009. He took the Honda to his maiden win last year, and having a Citroen should further help his competitiveness.
#2 – Honda Racing Team JAS
Honda were always playing catch-up with Citroen as the result of starting the development of their TC1 challenger relatively late. Bennani and Tarquini delivered them a couple of reverse grid wins at the end of the year, but they must now be a greater challenge in qualifying and the main races. Tarquini was only the third highest-scoring Honda driver last year, but the man who turned 53 on Monday is still going strong.
#18 – Honda Racing Team JAS
The former Jordan F1 racer (and Indy ’05 podium finisher) has raced alongside Tarquini for much of his time in the WTCC, first in SEATs and now at Honda, and last year was probably his most impressive performance yet relative to the Italian veteran. The higher downforce and less weight of the TC1 cars seemed to play to his strengths, and although he didn’t win – robbed of giving Honda a third consecutive reverse grid win at the end of the year in Macau – he did out-score Tarquini and out-raced him often.
#5 – Zengo Motorsport
Rather than either of the factory Honda drivers, it was Michelisz that ran the Citroen trio closest in the standings last year, with the former gamer regularly outperforming the ex-F1 duo in the Castrol-liveried cars while also showing impressive consistency, scoring points in every race he started. He’s more than deserving of works driver status, but he and his fellow Hungarians at Zengo will no doubt continue to be a thorn in the side of the big boys this season.
#98 – Proteam Racing
The 6ft 8in former hill-climber Borkovic contested his rookie season in the WTCC last year aboard a Campos Racing Chevrolet, claiming a second-place finish in race two at Suzuka despite having sustained a hand injury in a Beijing crash that eventually kept him out of Macau. By taking Bennani’s place at long-time WTCC entrants Proteam, the Serbian gets a Civic that should be more competitive and enjoy greater development from the factory.
#19 – Nika International
The 1998 British Touring Car Champion returns to the WTCC for his first full programme since 2009, getting his hands on a Honda run by Nika, the team with which he claimed the 2011 Scandinavian title. He’s a five-time winner in the WTCC but will start the season a little rusty, with he and team lacking mileage in the new car and Rydell having not raced regularly since the end of 2012.
#12 – Lada Sport Rosneft
The 2012 champion was up against it in the Lada Granta last season, but helped the team to really come on the second half of the season. Huff delivered a second-place finish in Argentina before reverse-grid wins in both Beijing and Macau. The brand new Vesta looked like an improvement before it even turned a wheel, and although its testing has been done in private, things already look promising in South America. In Huff, the car has one of the best in the game behind the wheel.
#15 – Lada Sport Rosneft
Double British champion Thompson has been with Lada for the long haul, joining them in 2009 and making the Priora competitive before the brand took over two years out prior to returning full-time last year. Thompson’s BTCC successes were over a decade ago now, and he couldn’t get the same headline results as Huff last year, but if the Vesta’s consistently quick, he shouldn’t be far behind his team-mate. Mikhail Kozlovskiy will continue as the team’s Russian racer once the third Vesta is ready.
#4 – ROAL Motorsport
Coronel was the top-scoring of the Chevrolets last year and remains with ROAL Motorsport, with his car now running in the yellow of DHL. RML did a good job building a TC1 version of the Cruze after the American marque withdrew in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the car can remain competitive versus the factory-developed cars this season.
#3 – ROAL Motorsport
Like Coronel, Chilton remains in a ROAL-entered Cruze for this season. While he was narrowly outscored by Coronel, he was the only driver to stop Citroen winning the main races when he claimed a shock pole and win in Beijing.
#7 – Campos Racing
Frenchman Valente had an impressive first full season in the WTCC last year, and continues in a Campos Racing Chevrolet hoping to build upon the promise of last year. After podiums in Marrakech and at the Hungaroring, the middle of his season was a little quiet, but he made the top three again in Macau. If he can run relative touring car veterans Coronel and Chilton closer this year, he’ll be doing well.
#27 – Campos Racing
Filippi makes the step up to a TC1 Cruze after racing a TC2 SEAT in his rookie WTCC season last year following a couple of seasons driving single-seater machinery in the V de V series. He played second fiddle in class to Franz Engstler all the way through last season, but compatriot and team-mate Valente should offer a good benchmark to him this season.
#26 – All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport
The popular D’Aste returns to the WTCC after a year away, now in a Munnich Chevrolet after spending the first nine years of the series racing BMWs. There’s familiarity at Munnich for D’Aste in the form of team manager Dominik Greiner, previously of Wiechers Sport. Although Munnich won in Hungary last year in the hands of fellow Italian Gianni Morbidelli, the Cruze getting a similar result this year might be tough. Munnich do plan to get a second driver in at some point.
#11 – Craft Bamboo
Bamboo are another to return to the WTCC after a year away, now as part of the partnership they’ve forged with Asian squad Craft in GT racing. Like before, they’re running RML-built Chevrolet Cruzes. Also coming from GT racing is Demoustier, the last of three French drivers in Cruzes this year.