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Race preview: World’s toughest track awaits WTCC racers

The 10th WTCC race to take place in the country

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By Olivier Ferret

21 May 2017 - 20:08
Race preview: World’s toughest track (...)

FIA World Touring Car Championship racers will face a challenge like no other next week (25-27 May) when they try to tame the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife – venue of WTCC Race of Germany and ranked by many as the toughest track on the planet.

Measuring 25.378 kilometres in length and packed with turns, climbs, dips and flat-out straights, the Nürburgring Nordschleife is the ultimate test of driver bravery and skill and one of the highlights of the 10-event WTCC campaign.

Two three-lap blasts await some of international touring car racing’s finest and with the current WTCC season the most open for nearly a decade – there have been five winners from the first six races – a thrilling spectacle is in store in the Eifel mountains next Saturday morning.

Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time winner of the German Grand Prix on the Nordschleife, remembers the circuit with plenty of trepidation. “I called it the Green Hell because that’s what it was. Every time I left my home I wondered if I’d be coming back so it was a seriously threatening race and I don’t think there is a single driver who went into it thinking this is for pussycats. You’d be going towards the Karusell, up a steep hill and there was one high tree you aimed at because the Karussel was down a dip and you didn’t know where to turn. If I stayed on that one fur tree I got the lock on just right and I went over the rise into the Karussel.”

José María López, who scored three WTCC wins at the Nordschleife during his triple title-winning stint, said: “It was the most amazing race of the year. Everything is special about this track and it’s different from anything you have experienced before and to be able to win here was something else. It’s something amazing to be flat out on this track. You have jumps, high-speed corners, a long straight, a long lap, it’s amazing.”

Apart from López, Yvan Muller is the only other driver to have won in the WTCC on the Nordschleife, a feat he achieved in 2015 albeit by a slender margin of 0.173s. Having retired at the end of last season and now development driver and consultant for Volvo’s factory team, Cyan Racing, Muller is only too aware of the Nordschleife’s unforgiving nature when he slammed into Tiago Monteiro’s Honda in last year’s race after the Portuguese driver had crashed out following tyre failure.

WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS

*This year’s WTCC Race of Germany is the 10th to take place in the country and the third held at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

*While there won’t be a German driver on the grid this year, Rob Huff is the next best thing as German team ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s representative. Still chasing his first win of the campaign, expect a major push from the Briton.

*Having topped the support bill last time out in Hungary, the FIA European Touring Car Cup drivers will be on track at the same time as their WTCC counterparts in a unique spit-grid format.

*WTCC Race of Germany is part of the famous ADAC 24h-Rennen event, a week-long motorsport extravaganza, which culminates in the twice-round-the-clock race from Saturday afternoon. Nicky Catsburg is the only driver attempting both events.

WEIGHT FOR SOME CHANGES

The compensation weight carried by World Touring Cars, which is designed to equalise performance using a time-based calculation, has been adjusted for WTCC Race of Germany as follows: Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 30kg; Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 80kg; Honda Civic WTCC: 70kg; LADA Vesta WTCC: 0kg; Volvo S60 Polestar: 80kg.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?

José María López ruled the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife by winning both encounters at FIA WTCC Race of Germany. The Citroën driver charged through from ninth on the grid to claim the Opening Race laurels before converting his DHL pole position into victory number five of 2016 by winning the Main Race. Tiago Monteiro had been leading the Opening Race in his Honda only for a spectacular crash to put him out nearing the end of the final lap. Yvan Muller was also eliminated in the incident, although both drivers were given the all-clear following medical checks. Tom Chilton was a double winner in the WTCC Trophy and second and third overall in the two action-packed races. He also landed the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy – and a TAG Heuer watch – for his 8m47.586s charge around the 25.378-kilometre track. Norbert Michelisz was twice in the top three for Honda, while the works Polestar and LADA squads also scored.

They said what?

Nicky Catsburg (Polestar Cyan Racing): “For me it’s one of the best events of the year because the track is so unique. It’s one of my favourite tracks in the world. It goes through small villages, up and down, big elevation changes, very high speed with different types of asphalt as well. It’s an insanely big challenge. The atmosphere is amazing with so many fans and the circuit has so much history, a place where I would like to be racing for many years to come. Because the lap is so long it’s impossible to get the perfect lap without mistakes.”

Tiago Monteiro (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “It is the most challenging track we go to and probably the most challenging track in the world. It’s definitely a demanding track, special, different to anything else we do. We change our mindset, we change the car a lot, everything is different. It’s only three laps but it’s very intense. I’m going to do as I’ve been doing at every race weekend – start from scratch and do the best possible. Again, qualifying will be important there. We have improved in so many areas, also our top speeds are much better as we saw in Monza. We are confident. It’s not going to be an easy challenge but we’ll try to be strong.”

Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport): “It’s the hardest track ever, 100 per cent sure. There’s no track like the Nordschleife. Of course you have Macau but the Nordschleife is longer so if you make a mistake you have to wait a long time for your next chance. You go to any race track in the world and you get excited but when you go to the Nordschleife you don’t just get excited, you get overwhelmed. It’s completely crazy. There’s always fear. But there should be fear in motor racing when there’s high speed. But it’s different for the Nordschleife. I respect the track and that’s how you have to play it. If you don’t respect the Nordschleife, you don’t get the results.”

Yann Ehrlacher (RC Motorsport): “I drove a Mijet race car for two laps during the VLN test day and I was there a few weeks ago with my road car just to discover the track. I can’t say I can’t wait to drive on the Nordschleife because the driver who says they really enjoy the Nordschleife is not going fast enough. It’s impossible, it’s going to be a big challenge for the young drivers like me, Aurélien [Panis] and Dániel [Nagy] because it’s a hard track and and a mistake is a crash. I thought I was knowing the track perfectly before going there because I have been playing it since I was a kid on PlayStation, playing on Gran Turismo and I was doing this everyday after school and I know the track by heart. But it’s not the same in real life.”

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