Race preview: Records set to fall as drivers prepare smooth WTCC moves in Hungary

Home hero Michelisz targets more Hungaroring success

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By Olivier Ferret

18 April 2016 - 13:57
Race preview: Records set to fall (...)

Lap records could be broken when the FIA World Touring Car Championship makes a high-speed stop at the revamped Hungaroring near Budapest later this week (22-24 April), less than seven days since Slovakia Ring produced some truly sensational on-track action.

While local hero Norbert Michelisz will take centre stage at the circuit where he first drove a racing car after he was talented-spotted through an online gaming competition, the fully resurfaced Hungaroing creates an exiting prospect for the WTCC drivers. Michelisz lapped the 4.381-kilometre layout for a TV documentary shortly after the improvement work had been completed. He enjoyed the experience. “There are no bumps, it’s completely smooth,” said the works Honda driver, who moved to Budapest last summer. “The new asphalt was more abrasive, so although that will make tyre wear a bit higher than in previous years, there will be more grip. There is a new kerb at Turn 4, which is flatter, and the mid-corner bumps at Turn 5 that unsettled your car have gone. The kerb at the chicane is also lower so you can now take more of the kerb and go a bit faster.”

Michelisz, who has been promoted to Honda’s factory line-up for 2016 after winning his second privateers’ title last season will take to the Hungaroring for testing on Friday third in the WTCC standings following a double podium in France and more points in Slovakia last weekend, an event that didn’t go quite to plan.

“We’ve shown very strong race pace, Tiago has won and taken the championship lead and Honda leads the manufacturers’ standings too,” said the 31-year-old. “For me personally, I’m a little disappointed with sixth and fifth places. My starts were not good and I was quite unfortunate to have a puncture and to receive the push from Thed Björk on the final lap, but that’s racing sometimes. I’m hoping for much better at my home races in Hungary.”

WTCC title battle intensifies

Tiago Monteiro leads the FIA World Touring Car Championship for the first time heading to Hungary after he claimed a win and a second place in Slovakia. But with the compensation weight coming into force for the Hungaroring, the Honda Civic WTCC will have to cope with a new element when it comes to optimising performance. But while the Portuguese is unsure how this will impact his on-track pace, he plans to savour his one-point advantage over reigning champion José María López for as long as possible. “I know it’s going to be tough with the weight balance but it’s a nice feeling to be leading the world championship and I hope it continues.”

Hungaroring braced for more WTCC MAC3 magic

After Citroën won the inaugural WTCC MAC3 contest 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 WTCC Manufacturers’ championship totals. And this is how the Tour de France-inspired team trial competition works. Citroën, Honda and LADA (Polestar will participate when it enters a third car) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with a new set of tyres. As soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and then 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, the fate suffered by LADA last time out.

THEY SAID WHAT?

Thed Björk (Polestar): “While I got some places in the race [in Slovakia] due to punctures and we still have a lot to work, in total, we are closer to the front than I expected this early in the season. I can’t wait for Hungaroring.”

Nicky Catsburg (LADA): “Obviously the weight will play a role but everybody can see we’ve made a clear step. It would have been better if we had scored a bit better in the first two events but let’s see now from Budapest where we are. I did not race there last year so I think it’s going to be more difficult.”

Norbert Michelisz (Honda): “My career started at the Hungaroring and I have a lot of nice memories from there. The wins in the WTCC and my early career means Hungaroring will always have a special place in my heart. There are a lot of spectators, the best fans in the world, and this makes a special atmosphere. When you jump out of the car at the end of the second race you just can’t wait to come back.”

Yvan Muller (Citroën): “We got our starting strategy wrong in the main race. From that moment on, I was out of it, as my car wasn’t set up to drive in the pack. Some of the drivers’ behaviour was a little borderline, but none of that would have happened if I had got a good start! I’m hoping for a better time in Hungary.”

A LAP OF THE TRACK WITH NORBERT MICHELISZ

He’s the driver most of Hungary will want to win this weekend. And with two WTCC victories at the track, there’s every chance that Honda hero Norbert Michelisz will deliver. This is the Budapest resident’s guide to a fast lap of the 4.381-kilometre Hungaroring.

“Turn 1 is one of the slowest parts of the circuit where we have the hardest braking from the highest speed and it’s a place to overtake by out-braking your rivals. It’s not a huge challenge because you’re braking in a straight line but you want to just clip the inside kerb as you accelerate to the slight right-hander before Turn 2. It’s tricky braking for Turn 2 from 200kph slightly downhill. And while you are braking you have to be 100 per cent at the turn-in point to make the ideal line. You have a lot of mid-corner power understeer because the corner is off-camber and you have to compromise your exit slightly to to be flat and on the left-side of the circuit for Turn 3. It’s important to be smooth on the exit for the 400-metre uphill straight towards Turn 4, my favourite corner. It’s one of the fastest corners on the circuit and we have a new kerb on the inside for this year, which is more flat than before. Turn 4 is completely blind. You arrive up hill and at the point where you reach the highest point, you turn the car to the left at 150kph. Because it’s blind you have to be perfect with the turn-in point and keep immediately to the left side to prepare the turn-in point for Turn 5, a long corner slightly uphill. It was a bit bumpy before and this used to unsettle your car but now the surface is completely even. But you still have a lot of understeer mid-corner and exiting the corner. You can overtake here but only if the driver in front as aware to avoid a crash. Turns 6 and 7, or the chicane, is the slowest part of the circuit but probably a bit more than 80kph with the slightly different kerbs but still in second gear. If you can make the guy in front defend into Turn 5 then you have the inside line braking for the chicane. I consider Turns 8 and 9 as one corner because it’s quite flowing and short between the corners. The important point for Turn 8 is not to carry too much speed into the corner, which is easy to do, so you can prepare properly for Turn 9. Turn 10 is flat but you take a tight line and stay to the left on the exit to be ready for Turn 11, which is as fast as Turn 5 but a bit longer and with more space on the outside so you will see people running wide on the exit. Turn 12 is a 90-degree right-hander, which needs a good set-up for the high kerb on the inside. Turn 13, a long left-hander in third gear, is fun with new tyres because you can brake long into the corner but you don’t want to be too greedy on the throttle on the exit. I find the best solution for Turn 14 is a wide entry to have the highest exit speed possible onto the straight. If you take too much speed, it compromises your exit.”

Norbert Michelisz’s perfect passing place: “Braking for the Turn 1 and getting the inside line for the chicane by making the driver in front defend into Turn 5.”

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