Let WTCC battle recommence: all-new Ningbo braced for action

Recently-opened venue provides exciting level playing field

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By Olivier Ferret

9 October 2017 - 22:08
Let WTCC battle recommence: all-new (...)

The 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship fires back into life in China from 13-15 October when the all-new Ningbo International Speedpark stages the latest instalment of this wide-open and hugely exciting title chase.

With the summer break over and four race weekends remaining, the 2017 WTCC season is building up to a thrilling climax as seven drivers remain firmly in contention for the coveted FIA crown. They include Volvo Polestar pair Thed Björk and Nicky Catsburg, for whom the event takes on added significance: Chinese company Geely Automobile owns the Swedish manufacturer.

Located some 200 kilometres south of Shanghai, Ningbo – a major industrial hub and port – is the third city in China to host the WTCC since the championship first visited in 2011. The state-of-the-art track measures 4.015 kilometres in length and will mark unchartered territory for the WTCC pack, with the exception of Rob Huff, when Free Practice begins on the morning of Saturday 14 October. The 2012 WTCC champion will also contest the China Touring Car Championship races at the venue during the same weekend and will aim to capitalise on the extra track time on offer.

The decision to switch locations was born of the desire to find a made-to-measure touring car venue capable of delivering an even greater spectacle than before. Having sampled the layout on the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team’s simulator, Norbert Michelisz has identified a number of overtaking opportunities. “I’m expecting some really good racing,” he said. “You already have three places where it’s possible to overtake. And if you decide to go for a move the door opens for the one being attacked to fight. For me this is the key for good racing. At this circuit it’s possible to have this. The circuit is more technical than I expected. The layout seems quite straightforward but driving I have to tell you there are some really tricky parts.”

While Michelisz, currently third in the title chase, has spent recent weeks hard at work preparing for WTCC Race of China, his factory Honda team-mate and championship leader Tiago Monteiro has been recuperating following a testing a crash at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last month. The Portuguese, who holds a 12-point title advantage over Thed Björk, has spoken about the accident and his recovery. Click here for more information.

WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS

*While the battle to become FIA World Touring Car champion is wide open, the world championship for makes is also tightly poised with Honda just eight points ahead of Volvo Polestar.

*It’s also a close-run thing in the WTCC Trophy for independent racers with Mehdi Bennani, Tom Chilton and Rob Huff heading to China equal on points.

LATEST DRIVER NEWS

*Felipe De Souza makes his return to the WTCC in a third RC Motorsport entry. De Souza made his WTCC debut in 2011 and was a regular at the end-of-season Asia races. He’s yet to sample a top-of-the-range TC1 World Touring Car, introduced in 2014, although that will change at WTCC Race of China and again at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan from 27-29 October.

*Having become the eighth different winner in this year’s WTCC with his maiden triumph in Argentina, Yann Ehrlacher competes in China for the first time having spent the summer racing for his uncle Yvan Muller’s European Le Mans Series team. He partners American Kevin Gleason and the returning De Souza at RC Motorsport.

*Zsolt Dávid Szabó’s impressive WTCC debut in Argentina didn’t go unnoticed with the Hungarian set for the remainder of the season with Zengő Motorsport after the renowned talent-backing team rewarded 21-year-old’s potential. Dániel Nagy continues to drive the squad’s second Honda.

*Rob Huff has been keeping busy with outings in the British and China Touring Car Championships. He was a podium finisher in the former and a winner in the latter. The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver also took part in the Goodwood Revival event in the UK.

*Thed Björk, Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami took turns to support Prince Carl Philip of Sweden’s Swedish GT Championship bid during the summer with Polestar Cyan Racing, while Björk has returned to his karting roots to maintain his fitness.

*Sébastien Loeb Racing pair Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton have won in the WTCC in China, while their team-mate John Filippi started on the Opening Race pole in Shanghai last season.

*Meanwhile, the French squad has announced the addition of China’s best racing driver, Ma Qing Hua, to its WTCC Race of Macau line-up next month.

*Ryo Michigami is swapping steering wheel for microphone in his role as expert commentator on J SPORTS’ coverage of the Japanese Super GT series from Thailand this weekend.

*Esteban Guerrieri’s Argentine Súper TC2000 bid has taken in four races since his home round of the WTCC in mid-July. He’s currently P13 in the points.

*Tom Coronel has also enjoyed a busy summer of racing, taking in events in his native Netherlands and at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany.

HONDAS TO RUN HEAVY IN THE WTCC

Honda’s Civic WTCC will carry the maximum 80 kilograms of compensation weight when the FIA World Touring Car Championship resumes in China next week. Designed to equalise car performance in the WTCC, the FIA’s weight ruling uses a lap time-based calculation made following the last two events in Portugal and Argentina. It represents a 20-kilogram weight rise from the amount carried by the Japanese machines at WTCC Race of Argentina and could put Honda’s title chasing drivers at a disadvantage compared to their rivals from Polestar Cyan Racing. The Swedish make, which is battling Honda to win the coveted FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers, will also have more weight to contend with than in South America, albeit 10 kilograms less than Honda. But despite the weight increase, factory Honda driver Norbert Michelisz has high hopes of a successful trip to China. “The car will be heavier, which is not helping us. But regardless of the weight I expect us to be strong.” Meanwhile, the four Citroën C-Elysée WTCC drivers, John Filippi plus title contenders Mehdi Bennani, Tom Chilton and Rob Huff, are boosted with confirmation their cars will be 30 kilograms lighter, dropping from 80 to 50 kilograms. The Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s and LADA Vesta WTCCs will carry zero compensation weight at the Ningbo International Speedpark from 13-15 October. The full compensation weight listing follows:

Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 0kg (no change from previous race)
Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 50kg (-30kg)
Honda Civic WTCC: 80kg (+20kg)
LADA Vesta WTCC: 0kg (no change)
Volvo S60 Polestar: 70kg (+10kg)

THEY SAID WHAT?

Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing): “It’s kind of a home circuit for us and we have a lot of fans in China. It’s a really nice feeling and it’s a good place to have a race. Because the track is completely new we have to be prepared for something unexpected. I am focused on doing what I can to learn the track as quickly as possible, together with my team-mates, but also to get the most speed out of the car as quickly as possible. It’s no different to any other track, because the focus is always the same. It just makes it more interesting when it’s something new. I’m just really happy to be in the title fight and I hope it will be like this for the rest of the year. We’ve seen it’s not easy to win this year like it was for José María López before. It’s much closer now and that makes it interesting. Hopefully we can be fighting until the last race.”

Norbert Michelisz (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “I feel we have a strong momentum. Our car will be heavier in China, which is not helping us. But regardless of the weight I expect us to be strong. Across the whole season we have put in a lot of effort in improving the engine, in improving the chassis, the level of downforce, the suspension. Sometimes you find a bit here and then you find a bit there. That was the case throughout the summer. When you progress with all the updates it’s getting more and more difficult to find big steps. But we have to be ready for all the circumstances. We have been doing a lot of testing of different parts but it’s not always about performance. It’s also about making the car better for different types of circuits, for different circumstances. In the end it’s key for winning the championship because if you can work out how you can get most out of the car on all the different types of circuits with all the different circumstances it’s the best way to score the most amount of points.”

Tom Chilton (Sébastien Loeb Racing, WTCC Trophy contender): “China holds good memories as one of the places where I’ve had a win. The fans are always great with a big crowd and loads of atmosphere. I love the challenge of turning up and learning the circuit quickly. You can spend time on a simulator but it’s very hard to gauge braking points and turning-in points and spatial awareness. To be join first in the world championship in my class is amazing but I’m only sixth in the main class and I really want to get up to the front.”

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