WTCR 2018: PRE-SEASON DRIVER QUOTES
Ahead of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO getting underway in Marrakech this week (7-8 April), this is what drivers and team principals said to six leading journalists during the series media launch in Granollers recently.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Thed Björk
Thed Björk, World Touring Car champion in 2017, Yvan Muller Racing driver in 2018. Given your status, how much pressure are you under to win another title and how excited are you about the season ahead?
First I must say I’m very excited. I feel really happy to stand here on the stage with Yvan, who has been one of the big helps that I was able to take the world championship last year so with all of the work like this. Now standing here with so many new drivers, cars I feel excited but I don’t feel the pressure. I just enjoy it and it’s going to be nice.
He will feel the pressure if he breaks my car.
Maybe this is the biggest pressure from Yvan. No, it feels good to soon to start racing again, going to Marrakech, so many cars, so many drivers that wants to win this cup title. it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be a big challenge.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Yvan Muller
Welcome back to full-time driving Yvan for what will be a busy year for you as you’ll also be running the team. Of the two jobs what’s going to be the biggest challenge and why?
My big challenge this year will be to be a team owner, or team principal or team pain because that is something I am not used to. It’s a big challenge. To be a racing driver is something I did all my life and it’s quite easy compared to being a team owner. I’ve owned my team for five years and we did every year only one programme and this year we do three programmes. I have two cars here, two cars in Nogaro and one car ready to leave for Paul Ricard soon. That is my most challenging thing at the moment.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Yvan Muller
You’ll be fighting on track again with a number of former rivals. Even though running the team is your focus, what do you hope to achieve on track in 2018?
To be honest I didn’t think on that question yet because I was so focused my head since three months to put that programme on the road. But we will see in Marrakech. My expectation is more to grow up the team, to give my experience to the team and to see what we can do in the future. Then the race will come naturally on the track I believe.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Jean-Karl Vernay
Winner of the TCR International Series in 2017, you’re now taking on the established stars of the WTCC. How good is this season going to be?
I hope it's going to be great. It’s a really exciting challenge. It’s the best opportunity that these two series are reunited. It’s exciting. It’s going to be really tough fighting against all this experience and these great drivers. But I think we are ready for it. I have a good team-mate, we have a good team and good sponsors and a great Audi RS 3 car. I feel ready but we’ll see next week.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Gordon Shedden
Three races per weekend for the WTCR in 2018. Having experienced the same format in the BTCC for several seasons, what’s the strategy for success?
The strategy is survival. With three races in a weekend is certainly something I’m used to. It takes a little bit of time just to adjust to that. As I’ve said this championship will be one on the bad weekends, the weekends when you’ve got to grind out the results and there’s going to be some weekends when that’s going to play out. It’s going to close with a lot of action. Everyone has got smiles on their faces just now but I’m sure everyone is going to be in close company sooner or later in this championship.
Question from Stéphane Barbe (L’Equipe) to Pierre Dieudonné
Another year and another challenge for your team with a new series and a new car. Based on the results of testing, what can we expect from Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team?
Like everybody in this room we believe we have the right ingredients. We have two great drivers, we have two great cars, the team has experience of TCR from the past two seasons. Of course we are joining the WTCC teams and everybody knows the level is very, very high this season. We go a bit into the unknown, it’s a new challenge for us but like every time we take it with humility, we try our best and what is very pleasing for us at WRT is we’re a young team. I’m not the right person to present it but we have a very young time and it’s a bit sad they are not on stage because in this sport you always need new blood and my role will be just their guardrail but it will be their show, their achievement.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Frédéric Vervisch
A relative newcomer to touring car racing but with the support of Audi Sport Customer Racing behind you, what can you achieve this season?
I’m quite new to front-wheel drive. Last year I had the chance to do the last six races of TCR. Comtoyou helped quite a bit with that and it was we hoped this year would come a new championship with TCR and WTCC involved. It happened and we had quite a good preparation. The goal is quite difficult because like everybody said the names on the list are astonishing. These are people who when I was younger I really looked to so it’s nice to drive against them. I hope the BoP [Balance of Performance] is quite good, then I think we have to be constant and try to not make too many mistakes and I think it will work.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Nathanaël Berthon
It’s fair to say you’re a very versatile driver so what has made you choose WTCR?
Sometimes [it’s good to come to] another series. I feel this new series will be in the future even bigger than it is now. I saw many, many good drivers and many, many good teams and I saw a lot of constructors as well. Maybe in my career it can be a good opportunity for me for the future.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Denis Dupont
You’re racing as part of the RACB National Team. How important is this initiative from the Belgian federation?
Of course I’m very proud of that. In Belgium it’s a big thing because every driver wants to be supported by the Belgian federation. So of course I’m very proud of it. It’s a big help, they brought me here so I need to be really thankful for that. I hope I continue the journey with them for as long as possible.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Aurélien Panis
You’re no stranger to racing at the top level in touring cars. Given that things didn’t work out as planned in 2017 how much unfinished business is there for you?
It’s true last year was a bit difficult for me for the first year with a front-wheel-drive car. But I take a lot of experience last year and I’m really, really happy to be back in WTCR. I am sure I will have a good package to have a good performance with really good team-mates, a really good team in Comtoyou Racing and a really good car so I’m really, really happy to be here this season.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Esteban Guerrieri
From a one-off race to a second full season in world touring car racing, given how strong you finished 2017 what can stop you from winning the WTCR title in 2018?
Firstly, congratulations François [Ribeiro] and all the team [at Eurosport Events] for making this happen. And to Tiago [Monteiro], you’re going to be with me in Marrakech mate. For this year, yeah, what I’m aiming is to work properly with the group of guys we have. They’re a great group of people, we’re all still knowing each other. But I have a very nice team-mate with Yann and of course now James joining us. it’s a very nice line-up and I think first the basis to make us strong as a team and from there we can be very competitive. The Honda Civic Type R, we did six days testing and as a team we worked together very well. I am very pleased with this but having said this all the other teams were doing many laps. They are all very good teams with many good drivers. So, to be honest, I don’t know what expect. As soon as we arrive to Marrakech we will see but the aim is to try to go for good results. But you never know, first it’s step-by-step and to try to make Marrakech a good one.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Yann Ehrlacher
Based on your very impressive rookie season in the WTCC, what can you achieve in 2018?
For sure we have good line-up and nice to meet you James! For sure it’s not usual you meet your team-mate on the stage. But we have a good line-up, we have a good team and we had a good winter to prepare. For sure the aim is quite big, we hope to figure in the front of the field for sure. It will be a nice championship. When you look at all the names on the entry list it will be really nice, to fight with all these guys, all these legends, all these touring car legends so I am really looking forward.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to James Thompson
Welcome back but you must be surprised to be back?
Everybody is as surprised as I was yesterday. I was sat having a beer in Ibiza town and all of a sudden René [Münnich] called and asked if I fancy doing a few races. Well it took me 30 seconds to make up my mind. It’s great and a real surprise. It’s really nice to be back. I remember it being a great team atmosphere from 2016. Everything is a little new but hopefully my experience and a little grey hair will pull me through.
Question from Stefan Ehlen (Motorsport.com) to Dominik Greiner
ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport has signed the two top rookies from the WTCC in 2017. What kind of rivalry will we see between them?
First of all, I must apologise for James for not wearing team clothes but he’s only just come from the airport. Like everyone we have a good line-up. We have two rookies, a legend of touring cars so we’re looking forward to a great season.
Question from José Caetano (A Bola) to Tiago Monteiro
It’s so fantastic to see you back. You won’t be racing in Marrakech but you are on the road to recovery, which is the main thing, right?
First of all, it’s good to see so many friendly faces and seeing you all is really extra motivation. These last few months have been very interesting for me. I’ve read it many times in the past from injured drivers that the support you have from your friends, your real family and this kind of ‘family’ has been really amazing. I honestly can say this is what has pushed me so hard to be here today. Many doctors gave me a year or two years to be back behind the wheel of a car and I did it two weeks ago. Yes, I am not ready 100 per cent but we are not far. We obviously took the decision to miss Marrakech. I want to come back 100 per cent. It’s getting there and it’s really close and at least we have a good vision… a good vision things are going in the right direction… that wasn’t the best choice of words or maybe it was a good choice! So thank you all for the kind words, messages, emails, phone calls. Thank you François for all the support, everybody. I am really excited to be here more than ever with this great team. I did some races with Boutsen Ginion in 2016, which went very well, a great pleasure to be back with them. Reunited also with Tom, which is great fun and I think we’ll have a good season. And yes, [my accident] gave the opportunity to Esteban to do a great season. He took the opportunity and [turning to Benjamin Lessennes] but you can take the opportunity as well for one race - for one race I hope - but enjoy it. I’ll be there to give you a little bit of support if I can. We’ll take it from there. I am very pleased to be here and looking forward to this amazing championship with an amazing level of drivers, teams, brands, it really is an amazing evolution. I’ve been here for 10 years, it’s a great step and I am looking forward to it.
Question from José Caetano (A Bola) to Tiago Monteiro
Benjamin Lessennes will deputise for you while you continue your recovery. As a Marrakech winner what advice have you got for him?
I like this kind of track, street tracks are really my favourite. I did the pole position and won last year and I was really looking forward to being there this year. I’ll miss it but I’ll be there and I’ll give [Benjamin] some tips. He is a great driver. Already two years ago he was very fast and has improved even more since then and matured. But I’ll be there and we’ll talk about it no worries.
Question from José Caetano (A Bola) to Benjamin Lessennes
And turning to you Benjamin, the youngest driver in WTCR aged just 18. What an opportunity for you. Excited or apprehensive and why?
Exactly! Of course I am excited because I have everything to learn, I am not here to prove anything. I have to learn a lot from Tiago, he said he would give me lot of tips. But not just today. When I go in the car I always ask him for some tips. And for Tom, it’s now the third year I know him through the Boutsen Ginion Racing team in TCR Benelux and I hope we can make a good job starting in Marrakech.
Question from José Caetano (A Bola) to Tom Coronel
Completing the Boutsen Ginion Racing driver line-up is Tom Coronel! Tom, you said you made other drivers heroes in the WTCC by not always having the fastest car. Now it’s going to be more of a level playing field so what can we expect from you in 2018?
It’s quite easy that I am here quite some time, since the last race of the season in 2001 in Estoril when I met Gianni Morbidelli on the podium but in a fighting mood! But we’re back. The last few years have been difficult and different and I think I was filling up the field and making other people heroes. But at the moment I’m in good shape, we have the team and the car to be a frontrunner and not in a different style. I’m excited and maybe a little bit more. I know the tyres, I know the tracks so I still have something to play with. But I’m excited as ever. Touring car racing is something that’s in my plan. I had many good opportunities, really good opportunities and turned down factory teams to be here because as long as I can do racing I will do this championship. And if you look at Gabriele [Tarquini] I will have a long way to go!
Question from José Caetano (A Bola) to Olivia Lainé-Boutsen
You’ve called up Benjamin Lessennes to cover for Tiago while he continues to recover from injury. He’s only 18 so what do you expect from him and are you confident he can cope?
Benjamin is with us since two years now and we see him improving and improving so it’s a good opportunity. It will be maybe a difficult first race in this championship but he did some races last year in TCR International and did very well in Spa for example so it’s a good opportunity and a good choice. Let’s see how it will happen.
Question from Anita Tóth (Nemzeti Sport) to Norbert Michelisz
You were so close to becoming World Touring Car champion in 2018 so what would winning the title this season mean to you?
Firstly, congrats to Eurosport Events and the FIA for making this happen, it’s really a privilege for me to be here. Last year was not the luckiest I had so far. And with all the excitement to be honest I forgot what was happening so I’m really looking forward to this season. BRC has been working in a fantastic way with friendly and professional people and I look forward to working with Gabriele again. Of course for us the target has to be to win the championship. Looking at all the competitors, all the friends, with the top-level drivers I know it’s going to be tough. But finishing second last year, the target has to be to finish first this season.
Question from Anita Tóth (Nemzeti Sport) to Gabriele Tarquini
Just how pleased are you to be racing full time again and are you confident you’ve still got what it takes?
Yes, sure, I am very confident because every one wants to win here but I am the leader in age and experience. The target of our team is to win. I was involved in developing this car since the beginning and I am very pleased to join a full season now with BRC and I am very sure to make it happen. We know it will be very tough because the level of the competitors are incredible but we are here to achieve the very top and be on pace since the very beginning. We try to win races and play for the championship.
Question from Anita Tóth (Nemzeti Sport) to Gabriele Rizzo
You’re in charge of two strong drivers in 2018. What will you be telling them before each race?
We don’t need to tell something more to them, they know what they have to do. We are quite a young team at this level but in the last few years we grow up a lot. I would like to thank our company BRC Gas Equipment. For sure we have an amazing line-up of drivers, Gabriele Tarquini, a touring car legend, and Norbert Michelisz, one of the fastest touring car drivers around in the last years. We have a fantastic car in the Hyundai i30 N TCR. We have to prove our team is ready for this, we feel we are ready to fight with this fantastic line-up of drivers and competitors.
Question from Anita Tóth (Nemzeti Sport) to Norbert Nagy
You’ve said that now is the right time for you to step up to a world series. Why and what can you achieve?
This new specification of car is good for the show, the fans and sponsors. I have experience of this car from the ETCC. it’s really amazing how many professional drivers will compete here. And I am really proud to be part of the golden era of touring car racing. I really don’t know what to expect. I will try to make it professional like the other pilots and Zsolt will be my professional team-mate and we will work together like in the ETCC.
Question from Anita Tóth (Nemzeti Sport) to Zsolt Dávid Szabó
From racing online to becoming the final WTCR driver to be announced for 2018. Can you believe what’s happened to you and are you ready?
It means everything for me to stand here. From online racing where I was two years ago if somebody said to me two years ago I would be standing here in 2018 I would not believe them. It’s crazy after one year of racing scoring a point in Macau in the World Touring Car Championship for me it was an amazing year and I hope I can continue this movement and this pace in the WTCR. Maybe I can do some good results so it means everything for me. I would like to thank everybody who is helping me to be here.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Fabrizio Giovanardi
Arguably one of the most successful drivers in the history of touring car racing, what’s brought you back for 2018 and is there maybe a sense you are putting your reputation on the line?
It’s easy to answer. It’s really a line-up that I was looking for. I’ve been three years stopped and I was looking for new motivation and this is the year to be back, to be back and try to bring my experience and follow my old friends like Gabriele, all the old drivers of this line-up.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Gianni Morbidelli
Having achieved so much during your career, what motivates you to keep racing?
You want to talk about the age as well?! I am really proud to be here and to be part of this team, a proper Italian team and I think there is only pizzeria that is more Italian than this! It’s absolutely incredible. Again I am involved in this world championship but it will be very tough because the level of the drivers, level of the teams is very high. It’s a big challenge for us and we will try to do our best but it’s unpredictable at this moment because we don’t know where we will be but for sure we will push hard and for sure we will do a nice season I’m sure.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Michela Cerruti
In Fabrizio and Gianni you’ve recruited one of the most experienced driver pairings. What do they bring to your team and what do you expect from them on track?
We have been taking risks for three years as a factory, as a team, building this Alfa Romeo as a private company and taking part in TCR for the last two years and now being a part of WTCR with such competitive drivers and teams and such a great organisation. With Fabrizio and Gianni, for the first time we wanted to make a safe choice. we wanted experience and performance, we needed professionality and also a good image and reputations to make things big in style like Italians can do very well. That’s what we can do and with them, we can make a big step with the car, we can make a big step as a team and as a factory. I am sure they will help us a lot with that.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Mato Homola
Ten years ago you had no motorsport experience at all and now you’re racing in the WTCR. Can you believe what’s happened to you?
I think it’s a longer history than Zsolt, he’s been two years since driving on a simulator. I started quite late in karting when I was 13 years so it’s not so soon but I knew I had a passion for the motorsport since I was born because my father was driving when I was a child. I always wanted to drive and I always wanted to be first, it was the same in karting and the same in the ETCC and in the TCR series. I am happy. It was always my dream to be in a world championship, at a world level of driving and now I am here so my dream came true and I am really looking forward to this opportunity and this big challenge. There are a lot of good drivers and teams and I am really confident we have a really good package to achieve good results.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Aurélien Comte
You probably know the PEUGEOT 308TCR better than most, how good is this car based on what you’ve experienced in testing?
I’ve been developing the 308TCR from the ‘Cup’ version. The areas we’ve worked on gives good hope the car will offer a competitive package.
Question from Antonio Caruccio (Italia Racing) to Eric Nève
How important is it for your team to be racing in WTCR and are you ready for the challenge ahead?
First of all I would like to thank the team for having me on board this year, especially Christian Jupsin, the team principal. He is placing some objectives to us and relying on my experience in this championship, which I know since 2005. Our goal is to use the package to its best extent and try to avoid any running mistakes, to grab all the opportunity to make the best of what we have and we are looking forward to a very exciting season.
Question from Jack Cozens (Autosport) to John Filippi
Before asking you about your hopes for this season, just talk us through Team OSCARO, the support you get from them and their involvement in the WTCR as Series Presenting Partner?
For me it’s a great opportunity to be in WTCR this year after four years in WTCC. It’s nice to be on the grid and thank you to Team OSCARO for this opportunity. I am very excited to be here tonight and to be in this championship to fight with the best touring car drivers in the world. I will give my best in the test and the first race in Marrakech and try to do the best result that I can.
Question from Jack Cozens (Autosport) to Pepe Oriola
A Spanish driver representing a Spanish brand and driving for a Spanish team. How excited are you by racing in the WTCR in 2018?
Also thank you for François [Ribeiro] to make this crazy championship with a lot of faces that I knew in my past years in the WTCC. It’s going to be a great show this year for all of us so thank you for that. I am happy to represent a new brand, which is Cupra, and in a new championship. I am also happy to be back with a Spanish team because I have been with an English team for the last few years so it’s always nice to be back home and with the facilities they have like a simulator 25 minutes away from my house is something I really appreciate.
Question from Jack Cozens (Autosport) to Adrian Campos Jr (Team OSCARO by Campos)
A young driver line-up but with plenty of experience. What do you expect from them in 2018?
I am expecting them to do a top job. I see the drivers are very motivated. This championship is going to be something very new to me but not from the team. I want to say thanks to everyone for the warm welcome we have received and I am hoping to do a top job this season.
Question from Jack Cozens (Autosport) to Mehdi Bennani
In just over a week the WTCR will begin at your home race. What can fans heading to Marrakech expect from you, your car and the WTCR?
Like everybody the expectation is to win, the only thing they know in Morocco is to win. I know the drivers are at a great level so everybody is fighting to win. It’s a new championship with new cars, new drivers and a new name with WTCR not WTCC. But I have a chance to stay with the same team. I know it’s a big challenge but it gives me more opportunity to be in the same team, with the same people around me to do very well. I have a big challenge. For sure Morocco and other Arabic countries, it’s an honour to host the opening of the WTCR in Marrakech but my expectation was to have two or three races to have a warm-up and then have the race in my country. But it’s like this and we have to do our best. I have a big support from Morocco and many thanks for all the support in Morocco. The only thing I have to do to give back this support is to have a really good result so I hope to be fighting there for a big result and to offer that to Morocco.
Question from Jack Cozens (Autosport) to Jean-Philippe Nicolao (Sébastien Loeb Racing)
With two highly competitive drivers in your team and a technical partnership with Volkswagen Motorsport, how important is 2018?
For SLR for sure we have pressure on our shoulders. we finished third overall last year with Tom. We know what we have to do have a good result and as Mehdi said we are really happy that Mehdi continues with us and for sure Rob Huff, being world champion in 2012, wants to do the best and he expects a lot from the team. Regarding the relation with Volkswagen, they are really serious and involved in this programme so we have everything to do our best.
Rob Huff was unable to attend the media launch due to illness. He said: “I’m really upset to be forced to miss the launch event especially after all the work that’s gone into this new championship, as this season is looking to be one of the best years of touring car racing in at least that last decade, if not longer. The new WTCR looks like it’s going to be incredible right from the get-go, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and racing with a lot of my old friends and rivals from the last few years, as well as a lot of the new guys. With so many manufacturers on the grid, it’s going to be a fantastic show, and I’m proud to be flying the flag for Volkswagen, where our aim is absolutely to win the title, though we know it’s going to be very competitive.”