Race preview: Title battle wide open as WTCC heads to Slovakia
From 10 rounds, five drivers have claimed race wins
Life moves fast in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Less than one week after the WTCC thrilled Russia with two electrifying races, the focus turns to Slovakia from 19-21 June and the halfway point of the all-action 2015 season.
Run first in 2012, WTCC Race of Slovakia made history last year when heavy rain forced the cancellation of the second race, the first time that a WTCC event had fallen foul of the elements. But while it’s hard to forecast the weather, predicting the results in Slovakia will be an even taller order given the competitive nature of the world’s premier touring car series.
From 10 rounds, five drivers have claimed race wins, while a further six have visited the podium. All three official manufacturers active in the WTCC – Citroën, Honda and LADA – have claimed top-three finishes with privateer Chevrolet drivers also enjoying podium success in 2015.
And the title chase is also tightly poised with defending champion José María López’s advantage trimmed to 35 points after the Argentine ace posted his first non-score of the year last time out in Russia. Four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller is the driver in the ascendancy following his third win of the campaign at the Moscow Raceway. He has high hopes of catching his Citroën team-mate. “At the moment it’s too many points but the season is still long and everything is still possible,” said Frenchman Muller.
Sébastien Loeb won the only race in Slovakia to survive the deluge last season. The nine-time world rally champion is experiencing an indifferent run of form at present meaning a return to winning ways next week would serve as a timely boost for the French ace ahead of his home round of the WTCC at the end of the month. China’s Ma Qing Hua completes the factory Citroën line-up and will make his Slovakia Ring debut.
Honda arrives in Slovakia on a high following Tiago Monteiro’s first win of 2015 in Russia where team-mate Gabriele Tarquini scored his maiden podium of the season. LADA’s prospects are also on the up after Rob Huff finished runner-up in the second ROSNEFT WTCC Race of Russia. Championship newcomer Nicky Catsburg also impressed with fourth in race two. Jaap van Lagen completes the revitalised LADA attack.
In addition to the established frontrunners there will be a home hero for local fans to cheer with Slovakian rising star Mato Homola making his debut in a TC1 car in what will be a busy weekend for the 20-year-old. As well as the pair of WTCC races, Homola will contest the supporting rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Cup in which he will challenge for victory.
Another talented newcomer set to create a stir in Slovakia is Néstor Girolami. The reigning Súper TC2000 champion from Argentina used to race – and beat – José María López when they raced against each other in South America. Girolami will drive a Honda Racing team Sweden Civic WTCC in the first of two planned appearances after regular driver Rickard Rydell agreed to step down for the weekend.
Mehdi Bennani: Returning from Russia loathing rather than loving following a troubled weekend, it’s Operation Season-Back-On-Track time for Morocco’s finest, now third in the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy.
Tom Chilton: There were no such problems for the ROAL Motorsport driver in Russia after the Briton headed home with a Qualifying Q3 appearance and a Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy victory under his belt. He credited set-up changes to his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for his form hike.
Tom Coronel: Once again, expect more qualifying tactics from the Dutchman, who will target ninth or 10th in order to secure a front-row start for the reverse grid second race, which he reckons gives him his best chance of adding to his win tally in the WTCC.
Stefano D’Aste: Valentino Rossi’s former team-mate when he raced motorbikes, D’Aste is overdue a strong result following frustrating trips to Germany and Russia. He was fifth on his Slovakia debut in 2012.
Grégoire Demoustier: In his first season of WTCC competition, Demoustier continues to prioritise building his experience over pushing flat out for top 10 finishes. He raced at Slovakia Ring during his stint in FIA GT1.
John Filippi: Having turned 20 in February, Filippi is still the WTCC’s youngest driver despite the presence of fellow 20-year-old Mato Homola in Slovakia. The Corsican was fourth in TCT2 at the Slovakia Ring in 2014.
Hugo Valente: With the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s now carrying 40 kilograms in compensation weight holding him back, Valente settled for points instead of podiums in Russia, even though his outright pace suggested he’s capable of plenty more.
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