Honda have announced the three drivers which they shall be backing for the upcoming 2019 World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) season.
The impressive Esteban Guerrieri, who finished 2018 as the third best driver in the points standings, will remain with Munnich Motorsport for a second season in one of their Honda Civic FK8 TCRs. Following a highly successful campaign last year, Guerrieri will again hope to lead Honda’s charge and take the fight to Hyundai for victory in the world cup.
He’ll be joined at the German team by Argentine compatriot, and close friend, Nestor ‘Bebu’ Girolami. Girolami – a former race winner at this level – was part of the 2017 Volvo factory squad, but was left without a drive last year after the Swedish marque pulled out due to a shake-up in the championship’s technical & sporting regulations.
Girolami was always keen to get back on the WTCR grid for 2019 though, and has capitalised on an opening at the Munnich Motorsport team. Yann Ehrlacher left the Munnich operation in favour of the new Lynk & Co Cyan Racing programme, while Timo Scheider – who also drove for the team at the end of last year – has chosen to focus on the World Rallycross Championship instead.
In his comments following the announcement, Girolami was evidently very happy to make a return to the series: “I spent the Suzuka race weekend last year with the team and it was very clear from the way they do things that the potential is there to fight for the championship. I’m thrilled to have Esteban as a team-mate because we have a very good relationship. I will give it my very best this year and cannot wait to begin testing.”
Guerrieri added to that, saying: “Last year I had some incredible high points, including winning at the two most difficult circuits on the calendar. Having ‘Bebu’ in the team will be great. We are good friends and have raced against each other for many years. He’s an extremely fast driver and a great team player, which will be incredibly important as we mount our challenge for the title.”
Team boss, Rene Munnich, recently took to the driver’s seat of one of the Civics during the recent TCR Middle East Series event at the Dubai Autodrome. The German claimed victory in two of the three races he took part in during his time in the UAE, and is clearly confident in the Japanese car’s racing credentials having tried them first-hand.
In regard to the announcement of his team’s WTCR commitments, Munnich said: “We are very happy to continue to race the Honda Civic Type R TCR in the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup. Since entering World Touring Cars in 2013, we have gained in competitiveness year-on-year and in the WTCR in 2018 we achieved our best-ever season in the discipline with four race wins and third place in the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships.
“The Civic Type R TCR is an extremely strong car, around which we’re excited to build our programme and in Esteban and ‘Bebu’ we have two front-running drivers who are as eager to challenge for the title as we are.”
In addition to the two Munnich Motorsport-prepared Hondas of Guerrieri and Girolami, a further two Civic FK8 TCRs will be present on the 2019 grid.
Portuguese ace, Tiago Monteiro, has continued his recovery from injuries sustained in 2017 and hopes to be able to complete the full season this time around. Monteiro made his comeback to racing in a Boutsen Ginion-prepared Honda at the Japanese WTCR event last year, and has continued testing the Civic over the winter months.
However, there is uncertainty surrounding which team will run his car, as there are question marks over whether or not Boutsen Ginion Racing will return for the 2019 season. Monteiro’ s team – and his team-mate – will be revealed in the coming weeks.
If Monteiro is back to full fitness, his past performances suggest he could well be a serious contender to win the world cup this year. Honda will certainly be hoping that their top driver of years gone by will be able to properly showcase his undoubted talent this season, but that all depends on how race-fit he truly is after a lengthy time on the sidelines.
Eurosport’s WTCR promoter, Francois Ribeiro, had this to say about Honda’s driver line-up: “Honda’s announcement is not only great news for its customer teams, who can only benefit from having such proven touring car drivers in their line-ups, it’s also really exciting that the level of drivers on the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID has stepped up to an even higher level.”
“It’s really good to have Néstor back in World Touring Car racing and what an intriguing story it will be to have him and Esteban – close friends, compatriots and super-fast drivers – in the same team.”
“We are, of course, so happy Tiago gets a full season. After all the pain and all the fighting, this is the least he deserves and all credit to Honda for giving him this chance to fight for a world title.”