Thierry Neuville open to guest drive in World Touring Car Cup

by James Bowers

Hyundai’s World Rally Championship superstar, Thierry Neuville, has revealed that a debut on the world stage of circuit racing could happen in the not-too-distant future.

Neuville has been one of the top names in rallying for many years now, often being the driver closest to toppling the omnipotent Frenchman, Sebastien Ogier. Now though, it appears that the Belgian is attempting to add another skill set to his already impressive driving C.V.

This weekend at the Nurburgring, Neuville is making his sprint race circuit debut in the TCR Germany Series. Driving Hyundai’s “VIP” car for high profile guest drivers, Neuville has been nothing less than sensational. Having taken pole position on his first qualifying attempt, he then went on to take a commanding victory in the first race on Saturday.

That performance seems to have raised a few eyebrows, and as Neuville disclosed to TouringCarTimes, it appears as though further, more high-profile outings – such as in the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) – could well be on the cards.

“We actually talked about it [driving in the WTCR] yesterday at dinner.” he said. “For sure there are opportunities with Hyundai to do what I did here, a VIP start in some of the WTCR events. It has to match with my calendar and this year there’s no time anymore – I’m going to be very busy until the end of the year – but maybe next year there could be an opportunity.”

Neuville wouldn’t be the first rallying ace to make the transition to tarmac either. Current Hyundai WRC team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, raced successfully for Citroen in the World Touring Car Championship between 2014-2015, picking up six race victories during that stint.

In addition, reigning WTCR champion, Gabriele Tarquini, has talked up Neuville’s circuit racing ability. Acting as his mentor this weekend, Tarquini has been thoroughly impressed by what he’s seen, and reckons that Neuville would be in the mix on a WTCR grid.

“Thierry can be in the middle of the pack, for sure,” he told TouringCarTimes. “Perhaps not winning a race, but in the middle of the pack. I think, personally, that the top three-four drivers in TCR Germany are very good and probably would be in WTCR too. And Thierry is winning here.”

“To be honest, I was really surprised about the performance of Thierry,” Tarquini said. “OK, he did some tests, some laps before to try the car, but starting almost from zero is not easy.”

“I’ve been watching his data all weekend and braking points, turning, steering angle, acceleration out of the corners – it was almost perfect. His pace was fantastic in qualifying and he was very clever in the race. The standing start was one of the best in the field and he perfected the safety car restart, something he has never ever done before. He did what an experienced driver would do.”

So, with one of the most experienced touring car drivers in the business giving Neuville his vote of confidence, it certainly seems as though we should keep an eye on this one…

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