Citroën C-Elysée WTCC takes on the Nurburgring and the Nordschleife
"It’s the most important race of the year"
For the fifth round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, José María López and Yvan Muller are heading for the legendary Nürburgring. Having won there in 2015, the Citroën Total drivers will be looking to repeat their triumphant exploits on the Nordschleife this time around.
Ever since it first appeared on the FIA WTCC calendar, the Nürburgring has been the most prestigious meeting of the season. The 25.378 km course with 64 official turns, combining the Grand Prix circuit and the Nordschleife, has attracted plenty of superlatives. A lap can be completed in just under nine minutes, with a 68% full throttle ratio and 79 gear changes. The top speed of over 260 km/h is the highest of the season, and the average speed recorded by Pechito Lopez in qualifying last year – 176.6 km/h – was also a record for the discipline.
“For what it’s worth, the long straight at the Nürburgring is the same length as the entire Marrakech circuit we raced on two weeks ago,” explains Yvan Muller. “Generally, people say you need to have done a hundred laps to really get to know the Nordschleife. And I’m not convinced you can ever really fully get to grips with such a circuit! You need to strike the right balance between risk-taking and the time you can gain. In particular, you need to focus on the big curves leading into the long straights. If you take your foot off the gas slightly when you should be going at full tilt, you can lose entire seconds!”
“This circuit is fantastic. For me, it’s the most important race of the year along with my home meeting in Argentina,” says José María López. “I haven’t had a lot of experience with rally cars, but I think the sensations are pretty similar. You’re thrown about from one side to the other, your car jumps up and down… and yet this is a track. It is nicknamed “the Green Hell” for a reason! Each lap lasts over eight minutes, and you can’t relax at any stage. Personally, my favourite part is the final section. In the last few kilometres, there’s quite a fluid sequence of turns and you know whether you’re having a good lap or not. During testing, the final straight was where you could relax a little more. That certainly won’t be the case in the races, because slipstreaming will offer huge overtaking opportunities.”
Last year, Pechito was the driver to make the biggest impact. Having secured pole position in 8m37.327s, the man at the wheel of Citroën C-Elysée WTCC n°37 won the first race before finishing second in race 2, just inches behind his teammate Yvan Muller!
“That win surprised me, as I didn’t really feel that I had found my feet on the circuit,” Yvan admits. “My experience grew as the laps progressed, and driving on the Nordschleife is now a pleasure. I came back a few weeks ago for a day, which enabled me to get back in the groove. That’s important, because the way you drive is really what makes the biggest difference here.”
“It’s a bit like a street circuit: you gradually build your confidence,” agrees José María López. “I’ve done a lot of work on the Citroën Racing simulator, with a full day during which I completed thirty or so laps. We had a good setup last year, but the engineers have kept on working to try to improve it. Once again, we will be carrying the maximum ballast of 80 kg. As there are not many very slow turns here, that weight will penalise us less than elsewhere, but we will still have to contend with inertia on the big bends.”
Citroën goes into the fifth round of the season leading the Manufacturers’ World Championship, 39 points clear of the second-placed team. José María López also leads the Drivers’ standings, with a 14-point advantage, while Yvan Muller lies in sixth position.
Due to the exceptional nature of the circuit, the meeting will take a rather different format than normal. The three free practice sessions will each be extended to one hour, with no refuelling. The three-stage qualifying system will be replaced by a single one-hour qualifying session, with bonus points awarded to the top five. The two races, which will take place on Saturday morning as curtain-raisers for the 24 Hours Nürburgring, will each last three laps.
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