This week, the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) drivers will arrive at the Nurburgring for arguably their toughest test of the season. A fabled cornerstone of motorsport; even the most casual car enthusiast is likely to have heard about the legendary German race track that goes by the name, ‘Green Hell’. Carving its way through dense forest, the full Nordschleife circuit layout is a picturesque 25.378km rollercoaster ride. With plenty of elevation changes and a whopping sixty-four corners, you have to be at the top of your game to master the Nurburgring.
Battle to watch – Hyundai vs Honda:
At the season opener in Morocco, Hyundai teams were dominant. Gabriele Tarquini won twice in the i30N TCR, but all four cars showed that they had front-running pace. However, at the last event in Hungary, Munnich Motorsport proved that the Honda Civic FK8 TCR had more than enough pace to contend with the South Korean marque’s cars. On their home ground, the German Honda team will be looking to make further inroads into Hyundai’s stranglehold on the championship.
So, which drivers are likely to be the main contenders from either camp? Well, at a track like the Nurburgring, experience pays off. For that reason, it’d be hard to ignore the likes of Gabriele Tarquini and Yvan Muller. Both behind the wheel of a Hyundai i30N TCR (albeit for different teams; BRC Racing and YMR, respectively), Tarquini has been more of a standout performer so far in 2018. The 56 year-old Italian has been in incredible form right from the very start of the season, taking three race wins already en route to a healthy lead in the championship points table.
Tarquini’s stablemate, Norbert Michelisz, will be kicking himself that he didn’t manage to take victory in front of his adoring home fans at the Hungaroring. Undoubtedly, ‘Norbi’ had the pace to do so, but ultimately it was Tarquini who denied Michelisz his fairytale in the final race of the event. Now, he’ll surely want to turn the tables and kickstart his own championship assault. Muller’s team-mate, Thed Bjork – the reigning World Touring Car champion – had a disastrous weekend in Hungary after dropping the ball in qualifying. This time out, the Swede will be looking to get back to the sharp end of the grid.
As for Honda, although Boutsen Ginion Racing are also running the Japanese car, Munnich Motorsport have been the most eye-catching Honda outfit thus far. Scoring a 1-2 finish in the opening race at Hungary, Yann Ehrlacher and Esteban Guerrieri have plenty of speed at their disposal. If anybody is to topple Hyundai, these two would have to be seen as the favourites to do so.
In recent days, the TCR Balance of Performance has been altered by the series’ technical department. The point of these measures is to equalise car performance in order to promote closer, fairer racing. Due to their impressive early season form, Hyundai and Honda have been put at a disadvantage in the new regulations. By comparison, the Cupra, Volkswagen, Audi, Peugeot and Alfa Romeo cars which compete alongside them have been allowed to run at a lower ride height. On top of that, the Cupra TCR (formerly known as the SEAT Leon TCR) has been granted a 10kg decrease in weight. All of this should lead to closer battles in the future.
Therefore, renowned drivers like Rob Huff in the Volkswagen Golf GTi, Jean-Karl Vernay in the Audi RS3 and Pepe Oriola in the Cupra can perhaps all look forward to a more competitive outing this time around.
Following the trend seen at the Hungaroring, two wildcard entries have been granted participation into the Nurburgring round of the World Touring Car Cup. Kris Richard, who competes full-time in TCR Europe behind the wheel of a Hyundai, will pilot a Honda at the Nordschleife circuit. The German-speaking Swiss will drive for KCMG, the same team which entered a Honda for Attila Tassi in Hungary. Richard is no stranger to this track in a front-wheel drive touring car, however. Back in 2016, the 26 year-old was a race winner in the European Touring Car Cup (a championship which has since folded and been replaced by TCR Europe). This won’t be his first appearance in a World Touring Car event either. Last year, Richard made two appearances for Campos Racing in their TC1-spec Chevrolet Cruze.
The second wildcard is 2017 DTM champion, Rene Rast. A driver who needs no introduction, Rast has been a class act for Audi over the course of many years. This will be his first appearance in the World Touring Car Cup, however. The German has spent most of his racing career in powerful rear-wheel drive GT and DTM cars, so may take some time to acclimatise to front-wheel drive. Keeping true to his alliance with Audi, Rast will drive an RS3 LMS TCR for Leopard Lukoil Team WRT, alongside Jean-Karl Vernay and Gordon Shedden. The German marque has stuggled somewhat in the early stages of 2018 (barring Vernay’s victory in Morocco), but with the new Balance of Performance coming into effect, Rast may well have what it takes to give Audi their second race win of the season.
Unlike most World Touring Car Cup events, the Nurburgring round will start on Thursday. The full schedule can be seen below (all times given in local timezone):
Thursday 10th May:
- Free Practice 1: 11:30-12:10
- Free Practice 2: 12:30-13:10
- Qualifying 1: 15:30-16:10
- Race 1: 19:45-20:20
Friday 11th May:
- Qualifying 2: 17:35-18:15
Saturday 12th May:
- Race 2: 11:00-11:35
- Race 3: 12:20-12:55
You can watch the first qualifying session and race on Thursday for free via a live stream which will be posted on the WTCR Facebook page. Alternatively, if you live in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland or the USA, then these streams can be found on OSCARO.com instead. Friday and Saturday’s events will be broadcast live on Eurosport. However, if you can’t watch the racing on TV, we’ll have full reports of all the action right here on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk.