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Race preview: World’s toughest track awaits WTCC racers

Race preview: World’s toughest track awaits WTCC racers

19/05/2017 12:00

FIA World Touring Car Championship racers will face a challenge like no other next week (25-27 May) when they try to tame the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife – venue of WTCC Race of Germany and ranked by many as the toughest track on the planet.

Measuring 25.378 kilometres in length and packed with turns, climbs, dips and flat-out straights, the Nürburgring Nordschleife is the ultimate test of driver bravery and skill and one of the highlights of the 10-event WTCC campaign.

Two three-lap blasts await some of international touring car racing’s finest and with the current WTCC season the most open for nearly a decade – there have been five winners from the first six races – a thrilling spectacle is in store in the Eifel mountains next Saturday morning.

Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time winner of the German Grand Prix on the Nordschleife, remembers the circuit with plenty of trepidation. “I called it the Green Hell because that’s what it was. Every time I left my home I wondered if I’d be coming back so it was a seriously threatening race and I don’t think there is a single driver who went into it thinking this is for pussycats. You’d be going towards the Karusell, up a steep hill and there was one high tree you aimed at because the Karussel was down a dip and you didn’t know where to turn. If I stayed on that one fur tree I got the lock on just right and I went over the rise into the Karussel.”

José María López, who scored three WTCC wins at the Nordschleife during his triple title-winning stint, said: “It was the most amazing race of the year. Everything is special about this track and it’s different from anything you have experienced before and to be able to win here was something else. It’s something amazing to be flat out on this track. You have jumps, high-speed corners, a long straight, a long lap, it’s amazing.”

Apart from López, Yvan Muller is the only other driver to have won in the WTCC on the Nordschleife, a feat he achieved in 2015 albeit by a slender margin of 0.173s. Having retired at the end of last season and now development driver and consultant for Volvo’s factory team, Cyan Racing, Muller is only too aware of the Nordschleife’s unforgiving nature when he slammed into Tiago Monteiro’s Honda in last year’s race after the Portuguese driver had crashed out following tyre failure.

WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS
*This year’s WTCC Race of Germany is the 10th to take place in the country and the third held at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
*While there won’t be a German driver on the grid this year, Rob Huff is the next best thing as German team ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s representative. Still chasing his first win of the campaign, expect a major push from the Briton.
*Having topped the support bill last time out in Hungary, the FIA European Touring Car Cup drivers will be on track at the same time as their WTCC counterparts in a unique spit-grid format.
*WTCC Race of Germany is part of the famous ADAC 24h-Rennen event, a week-long motorsport extravaganza, which culminates in the twice-round-the-clock race from Saturday afternoon. Nicky Catsburg is the only driver attempting both events.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017
*Factory teams from Honda and Volvo Polestar go up against leading privateer entrants.
*Revamped and compact calendar (10 events only to reduce costs) features return to iconic venues Monza and Macau, a new track in China, plus a mid-July date for WTCC Race of Argentina.
*More points are on offer to the top 10 in the Main Race as follows: 1=30 points; 2=23; 3=19; 4=16; 5=13; 6=10; 7=7; 8=4; 9=2; 10=1).
*WTCC MAC3, the Tour de France-inspired time trial, continues with two more points for winning.
*FIA World Rallycross-style ‘joker’ lap planned for WTCC Race of Portugal in Vila Real.
*Renewed social media push with several innovations coming during the season.
*Use of 360-degree camera to give viewer the impression they are in-car with the driver.

LATEST DRIVER NEWS
*Factory teams Honda and Volvo Polestar both feature tweaked driver line-ups for 2017. Japanese racer Ryo Michigami replaces Rob Huff at Honda where he will partner Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro. Thed Björk gets two new team-mates: Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami, while Yvan Muller has signed as a development driver for partner team Cyan Racing.

*Huff has returned to ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport after three years away to drive the German team’s Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton continue in Sébastien Loeb Racing-run Citroëns and welcome new team-mate John Filippi.
*There will be family pride at stake for rookie racers Yann Ehrlacher and Aurélien Panis. Ehrlacher is the nephew of four-time world champion Yvan Muller, while Panis’s father Olivier won the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix and commentates on Eurosport France’s WTCC coverage.
*Panis will partner Dániel Nagy at Zengő Motorsport, while Ehrlacher joins new team RC Motorsport, which also includes American Kevin Gleason in its line-up.
*Esteban Guerrieri has secured a partial programme with Campos Racing with work underway to make it a full-season deal following his maiden win last time out in Morocco.
*Like Guerrieri, Tom Coronel will be Chevrolet Cruze-mounted in 2017 after he extended his long-term agreement with inaugural WTCC champion Roberto Ravaglia’s ROAL Motorsport team.

WEIGHT FOR SOME CHANGES
The compensation weight carried by World Touring Cars, which is designed to equalise performance using a time-based calculation, has been adjusted for WTCC Race of Germany as follows: Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 30kg; Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 80kg; Honda Civic WTCC: 70kg; LADA Vesta WTCC: 0kg; Volvo S60 Polestar: 80kg.

WORLD WILL BE WATCHING (THANKS TO 32 TRACKSIDE CAMERAS)
Produced in partnership with _wige, the global coverage of WTCC Race of Germany is made possible through the use of 68 TV signals including 32 trackside cameras, 26 onboard cameras – including two 360-degree cameras – and two helicopter-mounted Cineflex cameras, one of which was flown by a crew who working on the Tour de France each year.

TRACK GUIDE IN 100 WORDS
Germany returned to the WTCC calendar in 2015 following a four-year absence. However, gone was relatively-tame-in-comparison Oschersleben, in its place came the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife, complete with its daunting 25.378-kilometre lap, 64 heart-stopping corners and changeable Eifel mountains weather. Supporting the famous ADAC Zurich 24h Rennen, the event produced two dramatic contests with Yvan Muller beating race-one winner José María López to race-two glory by 0.173s. López was a double winner in the 2016 return when drivers from the FIA European Touring Car Cup joined their WTCC counterparts on track for the two three-lap encounters, albeit from a split grid.

THE LAUDA LEGEND
Niki Lauda was the first driver to achieve a sub-seven-minute lap of the Nordschleife when he qualified his Ferrari for the 1975 German Grand Prix in 6m58.60s. Ironically, the following year it was Lauda who made calls to boycott the grand prix on safety grounds. The race went ahead and the Austrian reigning world champion suffered life-threatening injuries after crashing his Ferrari coming out of the left-hand kink before Bergwerk. The badly burned Lauda famously returned to action six weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix. That accident, which partly inspired the making of the hit movie Rush, meant the 1976 Grand Prix was the last to be held on the Nordschleife.

Norbert Michelisz has received yet more silverware. Twenty-four hours after picking up his trophy for finishing runner-up in the FIA World Touring Car Championship at the FIA Prize Giving event in Paris, the Hungarian was honoured a little closer to home.

The top three drivers in the 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship were honoured in Paris on Friday evening when the stunning Château de Versailles hosted the annual FIA Prize Giving ceremony.

FIA World Touring Car Championship promoter Eurosport Events has broken with tradition by awarding the prestigious WTCC Nürburgring Nordschleife Best Driver Trophy to not one but two drivers after Polestar Cyan Racing’s factory duo, Thed Björk and Nicky Catsburg, tamed planet earth’s toughest race track in spectacular fashion back in May.

Jean Todt has been re-elected as President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) at the organisation’s General Assembly in Paris today.

Thed Björk will be crowned FIA World Touring Car champion for 2017 at the FIA Prize Giving in Paris this evening. Here are some facts about Polestar Cyan Racing’s swift Swede.

The FIA World Touring Car Championship will be replaced from 2018 with new technical regulations, a new format and a new name following a vote of approval by the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris yesterday (6 December).