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Fernandes makes it dois for Portugal in the WTCC

Fernandes makes it dois for Portugal in the WTCC

15/06/2017 14:00

Manuel Fernandes will go from European Touring Car Cup winner to WTCC rookie when he contests his home round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship in Vila Real, Portugal next week (23-25 June).

Fernandes won the inaugural ETCC Race of Vila Real on the challenging street track in the northern Portugal city where he lives last June, but will step up to the big brother WTCC in a third RC Motorsport entry when the championship makes its third visit there later this month.

He will partner season rookies Yann Ehrlacher and Kevin Gleason in RC Motorsport’s exciting line-up, which expands to a three-car operation for the first time.

And his inclusion on the expanded WTCC grid means local fans will have two Portuguese drivers to support this year with Tiago Monteiro, the 2016 WTCC Race of Portugal winner, heading the charge for the factory Honda team as he bids to wrestle back the championship lead.

“I’m really excited,” said Fernandes, who began competing in single seaters and has enjoyed recent success in the Abarth Trophy series. “I missed the opportunity to do this race two years ago but I knew inside that one day if I had another chance to participate I wouldn’t let it go. This is the opportunity to do one thing that I love in a no-pressure environment. My preparation will be on the racing weekend only but it’s my city, a track that I know very well and with no need to get any results. It’s important I enjoy this as much as possible.”

François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “We are very pleased to welcome Manuel, a second Portuguese driver of course, to the WTCC family for his home race. Manuel is a driver with considerable experience and ability. He’s well aware of the level of the WTCC and the drivers but he’s approaching this opportunity in a very sensible way, he has a good team around him and we wish him well.”

WTCC Race of Portugal first took place in 2007 with Vila Real entering the fray in 2015. A circuit oozing history and intrigue, racing has been held on the hillside roads of the city since 1931, when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.150-kilometre course in a Ford Model A. The current 4.785-kilometre layout is a challenging blend of turns, climbs and descents and is dubbed the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the South. While chicanes have been installed for safety reasons, the spectacle remains unaltered with speeds nearing 240kph on the final downhill section.

New for 2017 is the inclusion of the ‘joker’ lap, a first for world championship motor racing. It will require drivers to take an alternative, longer, route once in the Opening Race and once in the Main Race to further spice up the street racing action.

Tiago Monteiro says there can be no slip-ups in the battle to win the 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship.

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Yann Ehrlacher scored a breakthrough maiden FIA World Touring Car Championship victory at WTCC Race of Argentina in mid-July, converting a career-first standing start pole position into victory number one for him and the privateer RC Motorsport team.

Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz triumphed at WTCC Race of Portugal on 25 June as world championship motor racing history was made with the introduction of the ‘joker’ lap.