2018 World Touring Car Cup: Hungaroring – Preview

by James Bowers

Over the years, the Hungaroring and its fan base has become a staple of international touring car competition. Not only does the track present a particular challenge to the drivers, the atmosphere at the circuit can be infectious too. A quite special characteristic of racing at the Hungaroring is the support that can be heard and seen for local Hungarian talent. In a perhaps similar ilk to the Tifosi at Monza, fans at the Hungaroring have gained the reputation of having an impressive warmth towards their favourite drivers.

Drivers to Watch

In recent history, those cheers from the grandstands have more often than not been for Norbert Michelisz, who must be considered as a national sporting hero at this point. At the world-level of touring car racing, Michelisz has won on his home turf twice. Certainly, he has the pedigree to make that three wins this time around, however it won’t be as straightforward as you might expect.

Admittedly, after the season-opener at Marrakech, his car – the Hyundai i30N TCR – does seem to be the one to beat. In the hands of Gabriele Tarquini, Thed Bjork and Yvan Muller, the i30N was the class of the field. Unfortunately, Michelisz was unable to benefit from the car’s performance. An engine fire and a loose wheel were just a couple of the issues which ‘Norbi’ had to face, and as such, was unable to bring home the sort of results that he may’ve hoped for. But, after initially qualifying quick enough to claim a front row grid position for the first race in Morocco, Michelisz proved that he certainly has the pace to be a front-runner in this year’s competition.

A large factor in Michelisz’s ability to win a race in Hungary effectively comes down to whether or not the BRC Racing Team have managed to cure his car’s mechanical woes. If they have, then Michelisz should be right at the sharp end. However, he won’t have it all his own way; at least not if his team-mate has anything to do with it.

Norbert Michelisz will hope to capitalise on his Hyundai’s performance this time around. Credit: WTCR.

While the home crowd may be cheering for Michelisz, his stablemate at BRC Racing will no doubt be hoping to rain on that particular parade. Having spent a year away from the track to develop the Hyundai, Gabriele Tarquini’s prior experience of the car proved to be a recipe for success in Marrakech. At the opening round of the season, Tarquini walked away with two race wins from a possible three, and a healthy lead in the championship points table. Looking ahead to round two, the veteran Italian will unquestionably be hoping to continue that trend if at all possible.

Away from the Hyundai cohort, a host of other manufacturers will be trying to break the South Korean marque’s early stranglehold on the championship. Leopard-Lukoil Team WRT picked up the win in race two at Marrakech after benefitting from the reversed starting grid. This time around, Jean-Karl Vernay and Gordon Shedden will be looking to get their Audi RS3 LMS TCRs towards the very front on pure pace alone.

Guerrieri and the new Honda Civic FK8 TCR have plenty of potential that’s yet to be reached. Credit: Francois Flamand/DPPI

Likewise, the same can be said for Munnich Motorsport. With a trio of new Honda Civic FK8 TCRs, and three top quality drivers to go with them, there’s plenty of potential in their 2018 project that has yet to be realised. Factory-backed Honda driver, Esteban Guerrieri, will want to bounce back after a rather mixed opening race weekend in Morocco. An improvement on the team’s best result from the North African venue (Yann Ehrlacher‘s fourth place in race three) would certainly be welcome.

The sole Volkswagen-equipped team, Sebastien Loeb Racing, could also be contenders for outright victory. Both of their drivers, Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani, claimed podium results at the Circuit Moulay el-Hassan so the team certainly aren’t far away from being on top.

A final team to mention is Zengo Motorsport. The local Hungarian team perhaps won’t be contenders for the top positions at the Hungaroring, however Zsolt Szabo and Norbert Nagy will want to put on a strong performance for the crowd nonetheless. A good fight in the mid-pack, or maybe even their first points of the season would signal success for the young team and their two Cupra TCRs.

The Wildcards:

An interesting new feature of the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) is the introduction of a formal wildcard system. For the majority of the championship’s rounds, two additional drivers will be welcomed to the starting grid to race alongside the WTCR regulars. The intention is for those two drivers to be of the same nationality as the host venue for that event. As such, with the series heading to the Hungaroring next, two more Hungarian drivers have been added to the entry list.

18 year-old Attila Tassi will be racing a Honda Civic FK8 TCR for HELL Racing by KCMG, a Le Mans-winning team in the LMP2 class. Despite being the second youngest driver in the field, only senior to Boutsen Ginion’s Benjamin Lessennes, Tassi himself is no stranger to success. Last year, he was the runner-up in the 2017 TCR International Series, eventually losing the title to Jean-Karl Vernay at the final event in Dubai.

Ahead of the weekend, Tassi voiced his excitement to test his skills against the world’s elite touring car drivers: “I’m incredibly excited that I will race at the Hungaroring WTCR event with Hell Racing Team. It’s the result of a lot of hard work behind the scenes by a lot of people and I’m thrilled that this has all come together. To race in front of my home crowd in an FIA World Cup event is a dream come true. The level of competition will be higher than anything I’ve experienced in my racing career, but I’m not going there to make up the numbers and will instead push for the absolute best result I can possibly achieve. I can’t wait.

Daniel Nagy will race a Hyundai i30N TCR for M1RA Racing in 2018. Credit: WTCR

Joining Tassi will be ex-Zengo motorsport driver, Daniel Nagy, another young gun at just 20 years old. For 2018, Nagy has joined Tassi’s ex-team, M1RA Racing (which happens to be owned by Norbert Michelisz) where he’ll compete in one of the rapid Hyundai i30N TCRs. Both Tassi and Nagy will be racing against each other for the remainder of 2018 too, as both intend on entering the TCR Europe Series on a full-time basis. Nagy commented: “My main aim this year is being competitive in TCR Europe with M1RA and the Hyundai i30 N TCR, but I am extremely motivated by this opportunity in WTCR, especially in front of a home crowd. I raced on home soil in the WTCC last year for first time and it will be a lifelong memory for me. This time I will drive exactly the same car as the other Hyundai drivers, so I am very curious what I can achieve in this excessively strong competition. I hope I can improve my confidence a bit with a good result one week before the start of TCR Europe.

The Schedule

Day one (28 April):

  • Free Practice 1 (30 minutes)
  • Free Practice 2 (30 minutes)
  • First Qualifying (30 minutes)
  • Race 1 (12 laps)

Day two (29 April):

  • Second Qualifying Q1 (20 minutes)
  • Second Qualifying Q2 (10 minutes)
  • Second Qualifying Q3 (top-five shootout)
  • Race 2 (12 laps, top 10 positions after Second Qualifying reversed to form the starting grid)
  • Race 3 (15 laps, grid formed by combined order after Q3)

Event Coverage

You can live-stream the first race of the weekend for free on the WTCR’s Facebook and Twitter pages, or from OSCARO.com if you live in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland or the USA. On Sunday, Race 2 and Race 3 will be broadcast live on Eurosport, Fox Sports (Latin America), J SPORTS (Japan), M4 Sport (Hungary), OSN (Middle East and North Africa) and 2M (Morocco).

If you’re unable to catch the racing on TV, then be sure to check in on The Checkered Flag.co.uk as we’ll have reports from qualifying and all the races right here on the site.

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