The opening two World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) practice sessions at the Slovakiaring have arguably thrown up more questions than answers for spectators. In the 29 degree celsius heat, the drivers had an odd racing surface to contend with over the course of the two sessions. As the WTCR is sharing the venue this weekend with the European Truck Racing Championship, there has been a lot of gravel trap debris and water on the track surface. Therefore, the teams are having to set up their cars to be able to deal with the unusually slippery circuit.
Despite Tom Coronel setting the fastest lap time in the first practice session, Boutsen Ginion Racing have had to overcome some issues with their pair of Hondas during practice. Although Coronel would’ve been happy to see his name at the top of the time sheets in the first session, he would also have been aware that it was entirely unrepresentative. A puncture on the front-left tyre meant that the charismatic Dutchman was forced to switch to fresher rubber, and therefore had an advantage over the rest of the field.
In the second session, Coronel would once again suffer from a front-left tyre puncture, while team-mate Benjamin Lessennes would go through the very same ordeal twice. Clearly, as no other cars have had this issue, the set-up which Boutsen Ginion Racing have been running with thus far is way too aggressive on tyre degradation.
Elsewhere, debutant Kevin Ceccon had a difficult start to life as a WTCR driver. Tasked with filling the boots of the recently departed Gianni Morbidelli, Ceccon was still testing the limitations of his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR. After a very wayward moment through the gravel trap in the first session, causing the Alfa to gallop into the air at one stage, he then went one step further in Practice Two. Taking too much speed into the first corner, Ceccon lost grip in the rear end of the car and then found himself promptly stuck in the gravel trap following a spin, this time for good. The car was returned to the garage, however the 24 year-old was unable to set a lap time.
Trouble for Volkswagen?
Equipped with two brand new cars and 60kg of compensation ballast for their strong pace in Portugal, Sebastien Loeb Racing were uncharacteristically slow. This was perhaps to be expected, however, as the team were effectively having to work from scratch to dial the cars into the circuit (their two original cars having been written-off at Portugal last time out). In the first session, neither Rob Huff nor Mehdi Bennani managed to break into the top twenty, and it was a similar story in Practice Two. Heading into qualifying, it’ll certainly be worth keeping an eye on the team to see whether or not they can make the progress required.
The early favourites
The quickest driver in Free Practice Two, Yann Ehrlacher clearly means business once again this weekend. Having lost the championship lead to Yvan Muller last time out, the Munnich Motorsport driver has set his stall out early at the Slovakiaring.
Elsewhere, Jean-Karl Vernay has once again looked like being the quickest of the Audi drivers, while Esteban Guerrieri also put together a good showing in the second session. Hyundai must not be overlooked either. None of the cars have posted particularly exceptional lap times so far, possibly with the exception of Norbert Michelisz in the first session, however you can’t help but feel as though they’ll be right in the mix during qualifying.
The dark horses
As ever, free practice provided us with some potentially fascinating contenders for strong results this weekend. In both sessions, Pepe Oriola was rapid in the Campos Racing Cupra TCR, while the DG Sport Competition duo of Aurelien Comte and Mat’o Homola have shown very strong pace in their Peugeots so far. Homola, of course, will be particularly keen to do well this weekend in front of his home fans.
A final driver to note is Fabrizio Giovanardi. While his new team-mate Kevin Ceccon found himself in the gravel trap, Giovanardi found himself in sixth place at the end of the second session. The Alfa Romeo looked like a rather handy machine under the command of the experienced Italian racer, however question marks remain as to whether the team can indeed make a significant step forward in qualifying; the sort of step that could’ve prevented Gianni Morbidelli from resigning as one of their drivers.
Qualifying kicks off shortly, so be sure to check out the WTCR Facebook page for live coverage of the action.