Event preview: FIA WTCR Race of Slovakia
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO
Rounds 16-18 of 30, Slovakia Ring, 13-15 July
WTCR STARS AIMING TO SCORE IN SIZZLING SLOVAKIA
*Home hero Homola bidding to build on recent WTCR OSCARO success
*Touring car legend Muller heads exciting title battle into second half of season
*FIA championships unite: WTCR and ETRC share top billing at Slovakia Ring
While the FIFA World Cup final approaches, the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO is heading into its second half when Slovakia Ring hosts the action from 13-15 July.
A track with a little bit of everything in terms of corner configuration, the venue close to Bratislava was home to the FIA World Touring Car Championship five times from 2012-2016 and was always a popular fixture, with Gabriele Tarquini describing it as “one of the best tracks in Europe”.
Called up to replace Argentina on the WTCR OSCARO schedule less than two months ago, WTCR Race of Slovakia will bring two FIA championships together with the FIA European Truck Racing Championship joint-headlining an exciting and diverse weekend of motorsport.
As well as opening the latest chapter of what is a closely-matched and intriguing title battle, WTCR Race of Slovakia welcomes an event-winning home hero in Mato Homola, who became the ninth different driver to claim a WTCR OSCARO victory when he triumphed on the streets of Vila Real in Portugal last month.
“This race is big news for me and I’m excited,” said Slovak Homola, who drives a PEUGEOT 308TCR for DG Sport Compétition. “It’s my home race and in comparison to Argentina, where we were going to be racing, Slovakia Ring is 20 kilometres from my home, not thousands of kilometres away. So it’s perfect and it’s also great for Slovakia and Slovakian motorsport. Slovakia Ring provides good, watchable races with a history of overtaking and lots of fans coming to watch.”
After beating Yvan Muller to victory in Vila Real, the expectation on Homola’s shoulders ahead of his home event has risen considerably. “There will be some pressure because I want a good result but it’s part of the game, it’s part of motorsport and I like that,” said the 23-year-old. “If there was no pressure, there would be no chance to win and I wouldn’t want it to be like this.”
Like Muller, Tarquini is a winner at the Slovakia Ring, the Italian taking the inaugural WTCC Race of Slovakia laurels in 2012 and triumphing again at the track the following year. Having won three races out of six at the start of this season, a podium in Vila Real marked a return to form for the BRC Racing Team driver, who failed to score in Germany and The Netherlands.
“I like the track because every corner is different,” said Tarquini, who has recovered from the illness that plagued him during the WTCR Race of Portugal weekend. “We were competitive in Vila Real and I hope in Slovakia we can fight for the top five positions, but it will not be easy for us.”
The three races at the Slovakia Ring will decide who will scoop the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver (MVD) award for the racer landing the most points across the WTCR Race of Slovakia weekend. The TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy and DHL Pole Position Award are also up for grabs.
Operation WTCR Slovakia for Sébastien Loeb Racing after “nightmare”
Sébastien Loeb Racing has been hard at work to get its two new Volkswagen Golf GTI TCRs race ready for Slovakia’s rounds of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. The squad’s original fleet was destroyed when team drivers Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff collided in their battle for victory at WTCR Race of Portugal last month, crashing heavily and triggering a multi-car accident. SLR Team Principal Dominique Heintz explained: “The weekend got off to a great start and we had high hopes after the excellent work carried out by the team in free practice and qualifying. Unfortunately, it quickly turned into a nightmare. But the main thing is that both our drivers, Rob and Mehdi, were okay. The time we spent waiting to find out how they were seemed to go on forever. My thoughts are with them and I wish them both a speedy recovery. We missed out on a weekend in which we should have scored a great result, but now the whole team is motivated to tackle the event in Slovakia. We’ve been burning the midnight oil and it’s extremely rare to have two cars destroyed in the same race. Now we have no other choice but to work hard to present two new cars that meet our standard of quality and get back to our usual top-class level in Slovakia.”
Introducing the WTCR Race of Slovakia wildcards
Local racers Petr Fulín and Andrej Studenič have been handed wildcard status for WTCR Race of Slovakia. Fulín, from neighbouring Czech Republic, won the FIA European Touring Car Cup in 2017, while Slovak Studenič has been competing since 1992 and has enjoyed stints in hillclimb, touring car racing and, more recently, sportscars. He also has experience working as an engineer and coach. They will join the 25 all-season WTCR OSCARO drivers at the Slovakia Ring with 41-year-old Fulín competing in a Cupra TCR under the Fullin Race Academy banner and Studenič, also 41, armed with a Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR run by Brutal Fish Racing. “On one side it was difficult because we had to find the money but, on the other side, maybe it’s the last opportunity for me to be inside WTCR together with great drivers like Yvan Muller and Gabriele Tarquini,” explained Fulín, a race winner in TCR Germany this season. “They are not really old but they could soon decide to finish their career so I said I had to be there. Life is short and we have to enjoy it so we decided to race.” Joining Mato Homola as the second Slovakian driver on the WTCR OSCARO grid, ‘Andy’ Studenič has enjoyed significant success over the years in hillclimb and circuit racing. Starting out as a 16-year-old, Studenič has sampled a wide variety of machinery from a ŠKODA Favorit to a Ferrari 458 GT3. His most recent triumph came at the Slovakia Ring in 2016 when he won the track’s 24-hour event in a SEAT León TCR. “I've only driven this car [Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR] for a few dozen kilometres, which is very little compared to the WTCR competition,” Studenič said. “I do have a lot of racing experience, but not with this type of touring car. However, I hope the two free practice sessions will be enough for us to set up the car and get a clearer view. Naturally we have ambitions, without them we wouldn't be racing at all. However, I have no clue how we'll stand up to the experienced competition.”
New era goes from strength to strength
With a rulebook designed to promote corner-by-corner overtaking, a packed grid featuring four world champions and a host of national and international touring car title-winners, an abundance of young stars, three ex-Formula One drivers and seven customer racing brands, the stage is set for a thrilling spectacle at WTCR Race of Slovakia. In an intriguing twist, WTCR – the new name for the WTCC – gets three races per weekend, plus a second qualifying session. There’s also the ground-breaking TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver award, which goes to the racer scoring the most points during a weekend and live Race 1 coverage on Facebook and at wtcr.oscaro.com, website of the WTCR Series Presenting Partner partner and the world’s leading online retailer of original automotive spare parts.
THEY SAID WHAT? WTCR DRIVERS LOOK AHEAD TO SLOVAKIA
Mato Homola (DG Sport Compétition): “It’s a very complex track because there are very fast corners and very technical corners. Every driver will find their favourite corner. It’s something different to the other tracks, some tracks are really small and narrow but Slovakia Ring is really wide with some fast and slow corners. You can see four cars wide on the main straight and the races are always nice to watch. You have a really high heartbeat in Turn 2 and you need to hit the right point of the apex, otherwise you’re going off. It’s very challenging, very high-speed, approximately 200kph, and fun. I know from history there was a lot of overtaking with really nice, tight racing. There can be slipstreaming and you can also overtake in some of the technical sections. It will be good for the fans.”
Rob Huff (Sébastien Loeb Racing): “Portugal should have been an exceptional weekend for us. My team-mate, Mehdi Bennani, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCRs prepared by Sébastien Loeb Racing were very quick, but unfortunately [accidents] happen in motor racing. Now we just have to look ahead and prepare for Slovakia. As the two cars were destroyed we’ll have two new ones, which means twice as much work for our guys. Our aim is to put on as good a performance as possible to thank them for all the work they do for us. I’d also like to say a big thank you to all the people who sent us messages of support. It’s very touching and makes a big impression to see the number of people who were worried about our health.”
Gabriele Tarquini (BRC Racing Team): “I like the track. There are very fast corners, very tight corners, changes of direction. Every corner is different, making it one of the best tracks in Europe. Turn 2 is one of the fastest corners in the season. It’s very tricky and it’s depending on the wind direction. One day it can be easy-flat, the next day it can be very challenging to be full flat if the wind direction changes. For this reason, it’s a really challenging corner.”
All you need to know: Click here the event guide, timetable and other essential information
Who’s in it to win it? Click here to find out more about the WTCR drivers
WTCR explained? Click here to find out more
Standings: Click here to find out who is in front after the opening three races
For everything else… Go to the online WTCR Media Centre by clicking here
SLOVAKIA RING IN 100 WORDS
Built in 2010 and located 40 kilometres east of the capital Bratislava, Slovakia Ring hosted the FIA World Touring Car Championship five times from 2012. It’s challenging nature, speed variations, elevations and array of corner configurations makes it popular among drivers and fans with 44,300 attending the WTCC event in 2016. Part of the FIM Endurance World Championship bike-racing calendar, Slovakia Ring replaces Argentina on the WTCR OSCARO schedule in response to the South American country’s challenging economic climate. By joining forces with the FIA European Truck Racing Championship, WTCR Race of Slovakia will deliver a diverse weekend of motorsport.
WHO’S ON THE GRID?
World Touring Car champions: Thed Björk, Rob Huff, Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini
WTCC Trophy winners: Mehdi Bennani, Tom Coronel, Norbert Michelisz
WTCC race winners: Yann Ehrlacher, Esteban Guerrieri, Gianni Morbidelli, Pepe Oriola
British Touring Car champions: Fabrizio Giovanardi, Gordon Shedden, James Thompson
TCR title winners: Aurélien Comte, Benjamin Lessennes, Jean-Karl Vernay
Young racing hopefuls: Denis Dupont, John Filippi, Mato Homola, Norbert Nagy, Aurélien Panis, Zsolt Szabó
International racers: Nathanaël Berthon, Frédéric Vervisch
Wildcards: Petr Fulín, Andrej Studeniç
FIVE TO WATCH
1 Yvan Muller: The current WTCR OSCARO championship leader with a 22-point advantage over Gabriele Tarquini and nephew Yann Ehrlacher, Muller is a former winner at the Slovakia Ring, taking top honours during the first of two WTCC races there in 2015.
2 Mehdi Bennani: Like Muller, Bennani also has Slovakia Ring knowledge and came close to winning in 2016, only to be denied by Tiago Monteiro in the closing stages. He’ll be finding his way back following his huge Vila Real accident but the Moroccan is never one to underestimate.
3 Norbert Michelisz: Hungary’s BRC Racing Team driver will be eager to end his WTCR OSCARO victory drought at what is effectively his second home race. Compatriots Norbert Nagy and Zsolt Szabó can expect a similar strong fan following.
4 Gianni Morbidelli: After a Vila Real weekend full of bad luck, Morbidelli will be hoping his track experience from 2014, combined with improvements to his Alfa Romeo Giulietta – and team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi’s Vila Real form – will lead to Team Mulsanne’s first WTCR OSCARO points.
5 Denis Dupont: RACB National Team driver Dupont continues to close on his breakthrough first WTCR OSCARO points. Can The Audi Sport Team Comtoyou Belgian end the European season on a high with a Slovakia top 10?
WEEKEND FORMAT EXPLAINED
In a major change to the previous WTCC race weekend format, each WTCR event will consist of three races – an increase from the previous two plus an additional qualifying session. The points allocation has been changed as follows:
Key: SQ = Second Qualifying; R1 = Race 1; R2 = Race 2; R3 = Race 3
WTCR RACE OF SLOVAKIA IN NUMBERS
5: The World Touring Car Championship, which WTCR OSCARO replaces from 2018, made five visits to Slovakia, a country with car manufacturing plants operated by Group PSA (Peugeot-Citroën), KIA and Volkswagen.
24: All-season WTCR drivers are permitted to use 24 Yokohama tyres at WTCR Race of Slovakia.
3: Behind WTCR Race of Germany and WTCR Race of Macau, the venue of WTCR Race of Slovakia is the third longest of the season at 5.922 kilometres.
12: Slovakia Ring features an impressive 12 configurations, six layouts each with the capability of being used in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.
2m15.512s: Rik Breukers holds the Slovakia Ring qualifying lap record in a TCR car, the SEAT driver setting a 2m15.512s best in June 2016. He also holds the race lap record, a 2m15.756s.
FIVE SLOVAKIA FACTS
1: Modern Slovakia was born as an independent nation-state on 1 January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
2: Audrey Hepburn, Angelina Jolie, Paul Newman, Andy Warhol and Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan all have or had Slovakian parents or grandparents.
3: Slovakia’s capital Bratislava is the only European capital which borders two other countries, Austria and Hungary, while Bratislava and Vienna are the closest European capitals in terms of distance, just 60 kilometres apart.
4: When it opened in 2010, the Slovakia Ring became the country’s first purpose-built circuit. But it’s more than just a track with attractions including an off-road course, hotel and military museum.
5: Apart from WTCR OSCARO racer Mato Homola, Peter Sagen also flies the Slovak flag in international sport as a professional cycle rider for UCI WorldTeam Bora–Hansgrohe.
WHERE TO WATCH THE WTCR
In a significant move First Qualifying and Race 1 will be live on Facebook in most countries, plus at wtcr.oscaro.com in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and USA. Eurosport will broadcast live coverage of Second Qualifying, Race 2 and Race 3, plus highlights of First Qualifying and Race 1. All qualifying sessions and races will be available on Eurosport Player. Live coverage will also be broadcast on Fox Sports (Latin America), J SPORTS (Japan), M4 Sport (Hungary), OSN (Middle East and North Africa) and 2M in Morocco. QIE Live – one of China’s largest live sports streaming platforms with one million active daily users – will stream all remaining WTCR OSCARO events as they happen with the coverage including bespoke content designed to appeal to fans who have yet to experience the exciting on-track action from the WTCR. In addition, highlights are shown on DSPORT in India, FOX Sports across Asia, Garage TV in Spain, Motowizja in Poland, NEO Sports in India, RTBF in Belgium, RTL 7 in The Netherlands, StarTimes across Sub-Saharan Africa, TDM in Macau and Velocity (North America).
More on OSCARO: wtcr.oscaro.com