For the first time since 2007, the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) will return to the Netherlands this weekend. As part of the Jumbo Racedagen festival at Zandvoort, the WTCR will be the main sporting attraction during an event which features a demonstration by Max Verstappen of his Formula One car. Massive crowds of around 100,000 people are expected at the coastal circuit, and they will no doubt be cheering on their home hero Tom Coronel. Although the likeable Dutchman is very quick, he does have a lot of ground to make up in the drivers’ championship standings. Two drivers who are in prime position to battle for the title, however, are Yvan Muller and Gabriele Tarquini…
Muller vs Tarquini
Back when the series last competed in the Netherlands, over a decade ago, it was very much a BMW vs SEAT championship. That year, Gabriele Tarquini was one of the main contenders for the Spanish marque, and went on to take victory at Zandvoort. Fast forward eleven years, and the Italian veteran will hope to pick up where he left off. In regard to the 2018 championship battle, a good set of results at Zandvoort are much-needed for Tarquini. Having appeared almost unbeatable in Marrakech and at the Hungaroring, he failed to finish a single race at the Nurburgring last weekend. With a total score of zero points from the German set of races, Tarquini relinquished his lead in the drivers’ championship to Yvan Muller – his old 2007 team-mate at SEAT Sport.
Today, although Muller and Tarquini are still equipped with the same car – a Hyundai i30N TCR – they no longer share a garage. Racing for separate teams, their friendly rivalry has been ignited, though neither will admit it. Supposedly being in the latter stages of their careers, Muller and Tarquini have spoken in the past about how this season is about the development of either their team or car. Yet, despite having poured cold water over any question of a title challenge, the pair find themselves first and second in the standings. If actions speak louder than words, then their driving seems to suggest that there’s still plenty of fire in their bellies.
Hyundai Hindered Again
Another week, another Balance of Performance update. Although the aforementioned duo of Muller and Tarquini lead the way in the points standings at the moment, the FIA seems to be doing everything in their power to stop that. Undoubtedly, the Hyundai i30N TCR has been the best car on the WTCR grid this year, and despite being knocked back a peg or two by the change in parity measures placed upon it a few weeks ago, it still managed two race wins out of three at the Nurburgring. Clearly wanting to extinguish the South Korean marque’s stranglehold on the championship, the FIA has now introduced a new set of updated measures to be placed upon the Hyundai for Zandvoort’s races.
Firstly, the i30N TCR will have its ride height increased by twenty millimetres. Given that double TCR Germany champion, Josh Files, has suggested in the past that a ten millimetre change can be worth half a second, this is a pretty significant adjustment. On top of that, the Hyundai will have its power output reduced by 2.5%. To put them at even more of a disadvantage, TCR cars from Alfa Romeo, Audi, Cupra, Peugeot and Volkswagen have all been given weight reductions. While this seems harsh on the Hyundai engineers who have done a fantastic job in creating a car as quick as the i30N TCR, we must remember that the reason behind these changes is largely positive. Ultimately, this should promote closer racing between more equal cars – and that should be a great thing for the spectacle of the series. Over the course of this weekend’s races, we’ll be able to gauge whether these latest regulation changes are spot on, or whether the FIA has gone too far. The pace of the Hyundai teams will certainly be something to keep an eye on.
Can Audi continue their improved form?
On a track like the Nurburgring, the Audi RS3 LMS TCR was always likely to benefit from its ‘three-box’ aerodynamic shape. As a result, we saw strong performances from the Audi drivers, particularly Frederic Vervisch and Nathanael Berthon at the ‘Green Hell’ last weekend. Now, with the WTCR returning to a more conventional style of circuit, we’ll be able to see whether the progress made in Germany was a consequential fluke, or something more promising. Jean-Karl Vernay will certainly be hoping that it’s a case of the latter. Having given up his drive in TCR Europe this weekend (where he’ll be replaced by Jaap van Lagen) to focus on his WTCR campaign, the Frenchman will want to try to place himself amongst the top drivers in the championship standings by taking home a significant points haul. As the reigning TCR International champion, Vernay is also Audi’s lead driver, and so the pressure is now arguably on him to ignite their title challenge as the championship heads into its fourth event.
As the new wildcard tradition continues in the WTCR, two one-off entries have been confirmed for the set of races to be held at Zandvoort. Bas Koeten Racing will run two Audi RS3 LMS TCR cars, complete with a bright orange livery in homage to the national colours of the Netherlands. As previously reported on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk, Prince Bernhard van Oranje – a member of the Dutch royal family, Zandvoort circuit owner and experienced GT racer – will drive one of the cars. He’ll be joined by his 30 year-old compatriot, Michael Verhagen, who currently competes full-time in the Dutch Supercar Challenge.
Verhagen is no stranger to TCR however. With Bas Koeten Racing, Verhagen has previously driven an Audi RS3 LMS TCR in the TCR Germany series, and has also driven a Honda for Boutsen Ginion Racing alongside Tom Coronel in TCR Benelux. Ahead of their entry, team manager Bas Koeten said, “Racing our two Audi RS 3 LMS TCR cars in the WTCR at Zandvoort will be a great experience for our team. Having two Dutchmen in our bright orange cars is a nice addition to the strong WTCR field. I am sure the 100,000 fans that are expected will support our orange cars.”
*All times are given in the local timezone.
Saturday 19th May:
- Free Practice 1: 11:50-12:20
- Free Practice 2: 15:00-15:30
Sunday 20th May:
- Qualifying 1: 08:30-09:00
- Race 1: 16:20-16:50
Monday 21st May:
- Qualifying 2: 08:30-09:20
- Race 2: 12:15-12:45
- Race 3: 16:35-17:10
You can watch the first qualifying session and race 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. Sunday and Monday’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.