Preview: Can Monteiro keep it neat on Portugal’s WTCC streets?
Honda’s home hero to take on WTCC rivals at historic Vila Real
FIA World Touring Car Championship drivers will mark the start of the second half of the 2016 season with a street-racing masterclass when the historic Vila Real circuit in northern Portugal hosts the country’s WTCC counter from 24-26 June.
Nicknamed the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the South due to its exciting blend of narrow twists, blind turns, climbs and descents, Vila Real was a new addition to the WTCC for 2015, having hosted its inaugural car race way back in 1931.
With the city located 100 kilometres east of Porto, his home city, local hero Tiago Monteiro has a score to settle after a dramatic high-speed startline crash wrecked the factory Honda driver’s hopes of a home victory last season. “Everybody mentions that because it was a big crash but it doesn’t bother me,” said the grand prix podium finisher turned WTCC race winner. “I would do exactly the same again because there was a gap but then things changed very quickly.”
Having won in Slovakia in April, Monteiro is overdue another WTCC triumph on the back of a troubled spell. A puncture caused a huge crash at the Nürburgring in Germany last month, grip issues cancelled out a strong shot at victory in the Russian rain recently, while his points total has been dented following Honda’s exclusion from the Morocco results for a technical infringement. “To win any race is great but to win at home is really the maximum you can expect in terms of pleasure, reward, excitement,” said the 39-year-old. “It’s really difficult to describe the level of gratitude for everything that’s happening to you at that moment, it’s so fantastic.”
A re-profiling of the first chicane is the only major change to the temporary Vila Real layout for 2016, which Monteiro said is a “five out of five when it comes to driver punishment”. “It’s the ultimate test because you have to be at the limit without being too close to the limit,” he continued. “There is no room for mistakes and the tension you feel compared to a regular track is much more than everywhere else.”
WHY WTCC MAC3 WILL BE THE REAL DEAL IN PORTUGAL
Tiago Monteiro will be in action when Vila Real hosts the Manufacturers Against the Clock team time trial on Saturday 25 June. New for 2016, the Tour de France-inspired competition puts squads from Citroën, Honda and LADA against the clock over two timed laps of the 4.785-kilometre course. The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third car from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new tyres. Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps. Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory. And the competition in WTCC MAC3 has been close – even too close to call. After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals.
A FIRST HALF FULL OF WTCC ACTION AND EXCITEMENT
This year’s WTCC Race of Portugal marks the start of the second half of what has been another action-packed FIA World Touring Car Championship season. So far, seven drivers representing four manufacturers have won races, three have been on the DHL pole position, nine have set fastest laps and eight have led races. Meanwhile, the new-for-2016 TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy lists five winners – and recipients of a stunning TAG Heuer watch.
WTCC MAKES GET WEIGHT GAINS FOR VILA REAL
The Honda Civic WTCC and LADA Vesta World Touring Cars will take a weight hit for WTCC Race of Portugal. Under the compensation weight system designed to equalise performance in the FIA World Touring Car Championship through a lap time difference in seconds calculation, the five Honda Civic WTCCs entered for the Vila Real street spectacular will run with 60 kilograms of additional weight, with the trio of LADA Vestas carrying 70 kilograms, 10 down on the amount fitted to the five Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs. The Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 hasn’t escaped a weight hike either with the privateer machines running an extra 10 kilograms. However, the Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s will remain at the championship’s 1100-kilogram minimum base weight for the trip to northern Portugal.
THEY SAID WHAT?
Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing): “I have done a lot of street circuits in America and in Sweden we have a small street circuit, but this will be my first time in Vila Real. I really like street circuits but it will be a difficult task to learn the track and get the car as good as possible. But my plan will be the same as it was for all the championships I have won: relax, go out and drive and that will make me as fast as possible. On normal tracks there can be a lot of ways to take the corners. On a street circuit there is one way to be fast. If you have a good car, you can put it close to the wall, be on the edge but be better than some of the other drivers that way.”
Nicky Catsburg (LADA Sport Rosneft): “Vila Real is a super-tough, super-fast thrill-seeking ride. Last year was really, really hard. I didn’t know the track at all and I was still quite young in my WTCC experience. But it’s a really awesome challenge. Normally street circuits are quite slow but Vila Real is the opposite and that just makes it awesome. I had a massive crash last year so I am going to be more careful at first. I just hope it’s not going to be as hot as last year because, for me, it was a little too much and I got so hot in the car.”
Tiago Monteiro (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “There are no room for mistakes on street circuits, you need to find the perfect rhythm and be amazingly focused. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to race at home. Only five WTCC drivers have this opportunity and I am one of them. The support is huge. In the past I won in Estoril and in Portimão and to win at home is really the maximum you can expect in terms of pleasure, reward, excitement. But it needs a lot of effort. It’s really difficult to describe the level of gratitude for everything that’s happening to you at that moment, it’s so fantastic. But it’s very easy to become a hero or zero. Everybody mentions the big crash I had last year but it’s one of those things that can happen.”
Yvan Muller (Citroën Total WTCC): “It’s a street circuit and a street circuit is always a challenge. After the Nürburgring Nordschleife it’s the biggest challenge we’ll face this year. The track is narrow, the speed is quite high and the grip is low. I know with my experience you can crash very often on street circuits and I also know car set-up is a bit more of a compromise on street circuits. It’s going to be hard with 80 kilograms [of success ballast] but it would be nice to have a hot race because it’s been cold all season and raining at every race."
Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport, WTCC Trophy): “Vila Real is in the same category as Hungary, Morocco and Japan: circuits where I usually do well, so let’s assume that this will be the case again. It will also be the last race in Europe before we move onto Argentina and then Asia.”
A LAP OF THE TRACK WITH TIAGO MONTEIRO
With climbs and dips, sweeping turns, blind corners and fast straights, the Circuito Internacional de Vila Real provides a big challenge for the FIA World Touring Car Championship drivers. Home hero Tiago Monteiro is your guide to the 4.785-kilometre lap: “Up hill from the start is very bumpy and flat out to Turn 3. The first braking is for Turn 4, which is taken in fourth gear. It’s very fast actually but very blind because the guardrails are quite high and you cannot see very well. You lift off a little bit for Turn 5 and you arrive at an important and difficult braking point because the track jumps, it’s bumpy with a low grip level and you slow down to second or third gear to an important acceleration and traction point. Turn 7 is a very fast left corner, not flat but close to being flat with a small lift. It’s very fast up the hill heading to what is for me the nicest part of the track, the long sequence of Turns 8, 9 and 10. It’s fast, challenging with a little bit of camber, which gives more grip. The new chicane at Turn 11 should be a bit faster and wider. It’s taken in second gear and the exit will be very important because you are heading downhill to the longest straight after the fast Turn 16 and through Turn 17. Braking downhill for Turn 18 is very tricky and the hardest part of the track. It’s bumpy, blind and fast – everything you want really! It’s also very tricky braking for the chicane at Turn 19 because you’re still going downhill. Traction is very important here because Turns 21 and 22 are flat. Turn 23 is another tricky point because you are turning while you are braking but the exit is very wide, which makes Turns 24 and 25 quite easy. But Turn 26 is tricky, the difficult roundabout chicane, where you are braking and turning at the same time, which is one of the characteristics of the track. There is not a lot of straight braking in Vila Real and that makes the car very unstable in places. Turn 29 isn’t used at the start but during the race. It’s the slowest corner on the track and important to get good traction on the exit for the climb up the hill.”
Tiago Monteiro’s track punishment rating: “While the track is a 3/5 because the kerbs are not so tough, the punishment level for drivers is definitely 5/5!”
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