Event preview: FIA WTCR Race of Portugal
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO
Rounds 13-15 of 30, Circuito Internacional de Vila Real, 22-24 June
VILA REAL DEAL: EHRLACHER LEADS THE WTCR CHARGE TO THE HOME OF THE JOKER LAP
*Scenic Portuguese city of Vila Real to host latest chapter of exciting title battle
*Alternative route to increase overtakes and spice up the action on street track
*Yvan Muller’s nephew Ehrlacher tops WTCR OSCARO standings
*Local wildcards Florindo and Rodrigues aim to shine for home fans
Yann Ehrlacher will need to call on all his street-fighting skills when the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO heads to Vila Real in northern Portugal for the ultimate urban test of speed and belief.
Leading his uncle Yvan Muller in the standings by nine points after four all-action events, Ehrlacher is part of a packed line-up of drivers preparing to tame the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the South, as Vila Real has become known due to its fast and challenging blend of turns, climbs and descents.
Without three chicanes on the spectacular 4.785-kilometre lap, average speeds would hit 170kph, such is the breath-taking nature of this iconic street racing venue. Mistakes are harshly punished but the satisfaction of winning is enormous, as Honda’s home hero Tiago Monteiro can attest.
“It’s a moment I will remember forever,” Monteiro said after being roared to Vila Real victory in 2016 by thousands of Portuguese fans. “I will keep it in my head, in my heart, it was very emotional and very important. To win your home race it’s just unbelievable. I could hear people in the car, I mean we have engines, we have earplugs but I could hear people shouting in the last few laps.”
Ehrlacher made his Vila Real debut in 2017 – which coincided with the global premiere of the ‘joker’ lap in a world championship motor race – and left town with a best finish of ninth place in the first of two FIA World Touring Car Championship rounds. He’ll need to do a whole lot better in 2018 to hold his title advantage in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R.
“We can put Vila Real with Macau and Nordschleife in the group of most challenging tracks,” said the 22-year-old Frenchman. “For sure I have to think about the points and it’s better to be the leader than only P5. But only if I come to Macau as the leader will I have some pressure. For now, it’s too early to have pressure. I feel satisfied [to be in this position] but I will be more satisfied if I finish the job at the end of the year.”
Like the bulk of his WTCR OSCARO rivals, Ehrlacher hasn’t raced since 110,000 fans flocked to Zandvoort for WTCR Race of Netherlands from 19-21 May. But he’s kept “in the zone” as he explained: “I’m training five days a week, cycling, running, tennis and badminton, I’ve been doing a lot of simulator training and I’m watching a lot videos from Vila Real, onboards from last year and the Eurosport broadcasts to refresh my mind and keep at the right level. For sure it will be tough to be without any races for a month and be straight in the fight in Vila Real where you have to push a lot to get into the rhythm. But that’s what we have to do.”
The three races in Vila Real 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 Portugal weekend. The TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy and DHL Pole Position Award are also up for grabs.
It’s back: ‘joker’ lap to spice up the Vila Real WTCR action
It’s not just the demanding hillside roads of Vila Real – where racing has taken place since 1931 – that will require Yann Ehrlacher and his WTCR OSCARO rivals to be on top form.
The ‘joker’ lap brought an untried concept to world championship motor racing when it was used at WTCC Race of Portugal in 2017. Designed to further spice up the action on a circuit where overtaking isn’t always possible, the ‘joker’ lap concept requires the WTCR OSCARO drivers to take an alternative route in all three races, although not before the third lap of any race.
Vila Real’s ‘joker’ lap route is located at the final corner, Turn 26, with the full approval of the FIA Safety Department and local authorities. While the right/left flick through a roundabout will still be used in normal racing conditions, the alternative route will effectively take drivers the other way onto the roundabout and through a tighter left/right sequence before they re-join the start/finish straight. The alternative route is expected to take an additional two seconds, which will hand pursuing drivers ample opportunity to overtake.
Inspired by the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the ‘joker’ lap brought an extra dimension to WTCC Race of Portugal in 2017. As well as providing additional overtaking opportunities, it will again lead to different strategies that might change during the course of the races.
To make it visible and understandable on television, the ‘joker’ lap location will be highlighted by special graphics, which will also give viewers instant notification when the lap has been taken. Fans following live timing through the WTCR app will also be able to determine the ‘joker’ status of each driver.
Introducing the WTCR Race of Portugal wildcards
Two emerging talents – including one hometown hero – will join the WTCR OSCARO regulars on the Vila Real grid. Edgar Florindo, a 30-year-old from Vila Real, and Braga-based José Rodrigues, 28, have been selected as the two wildcards for Portugal’s rounds of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. They have been chosen by championship promoter Eurosport Events, in conjunction with motorsport’s world governing body, the FIA, based on performances at national level, their potential as future full-time WTCR drivers or if their participation has the potential to attract additional interest from fans and media. “I feel proud and very satisfied,” said Florindo, who claimed eight consecutive podiums – including two victories – in TCR Portugal last season. “I always like challenges and this is the biggest of my career yet.” Like Florindo, Rodrigues is no stranger to the Vila Real street track. He was a Vila Real winner in 2016 and claimed a podium finish when he made a one-off start in the FIA European Touring Car Cup last season. “Since I was a child, it was a dream to race in an FIA world-level event so I'm really proud,” said Rodrigues, part of Tiago Monteiro’s Skywalker Management company. “It is the result of many years of effort and also the passion of those who have always supported me.”
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 Portugal. 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.
WHAT THE WTCR DRIVERS HAVE SAID ABOUT VILA REAL AND THE JOKER LAP
Thed Björk (YMR): “I’m a big fan of street circuits and I was strong in Vila Real last year. When we had ‘joker’ lap for the first time last year it worked well and I gained positions. You can do a risky tactic or a safe tactic to give you the possibility to overtake. This year there are a lot more cars on the grid so it will be more difficult. We also have to see where we qualify before we can decide the tactic.”
Yann Ehrlacher (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport): “Vila Real is very, very tricky. There are fast sections and, like in every street circuit, there is no place for mistakes. The weather will be very hot so it will be tough for the engine temperature and for the drivers as well. It will be a very challenging weekend. The ‘joker’ lap is very good. It’s something which is new and attracts fans. On a street circuit it’s really hard to overtake so it gives you a good opportunity to overtake.”
Pepe Oriola (Team OSCARO by Campos Racing): “I don’t know the track apart from what I have done on the Campos simulator. But for sure I enjoy street tracks having raced in Macau and Marrakech and also in Singapore in TCR International. At street tracks you get close to the wall without touching it and I guess I have the confidence with the car and myself to get close to the wall and not touch it. That’s why normally I am okay and fast on street tracks. It’s a really important race for OSCARO, the sponsor of our team, because they are trying to get bigger in Portugal and I would like to do a good result for them.”
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
VILA REAL IN 100 WORDS
A street circuit oozing history and intrigue, racing has been held on Vila Real’s demanding hillside roads since 1931, when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.150-kilometre course in a Ford Model A. Safety and financial factors meant races were held on an irregular basis until the WTCC’s arrival in 2015 provided stability and Vila Real’s first world championship-level event. The 4.785-kilometre layout now used is a challenging blend of fast turns, climbs and descents. While a handful of chicanes were installed for safety reasons, the spectacle remains unaltered with speeds nearing 230kph on the final downhill section.
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: Edgar Florindo, José Rodrigues
FIVE TO WATCH
1 Pepe Oriola: WTCR Race of Portugal is as close as it gets to a home WTCR race for the Team OSCARO by Campos Racing Spaniard. And while Vila Real is all-new to Oriola, he has a penchant for doing well on street tracks, based on previous results in Marrakech and Macau.
2 Jean-Karl Vernay: The Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team driver will be hoping the old adage ‘you’re only good as your last result’ holds true in Vila Real following back-to-back wins in WTCR OSCARO and TCR Europe.
3 Rob Huff: When it comes to winning on street tracks, Sébastien Loeb Racing’s former WTCC champion has got it down to an art form with 11 round-the-houses victories during the World Touring Car Championship era. And when it comes to overtaking in Vila Real, Huff has that covered, too, based on his heroic charge from last to fifth in 2017.
4 Tom Coronel: While his home event was unkind to him in terms of results, the Boutsen Ginion Racing-run Dutchman is a former Vila Real winner at WTCC level, a feat matched by rival racers Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz.
5 Norbert Nagy: The Hungarian showed his potential with a pole-winning performance when the European Touring Car Cup visited Vila Real in 2017. He could have taken a win had it not been for a puncture, making a strong result this year high on the Zengő Motorsport driver’s agenda.
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 PORTUGAL IN NUMBERS
11: Nine drivers will be Vila Real rookies when WTCR track action begins with Free Practice 1 on 23 June. They are: Nathanaël Berthon, Aurélien Comte, Denis Dupont, Fabrizio Giovanardi, Mato Homola, Benjamin Lessennes, Gianni Morbidelli, Pepe Oriola, Gordon Shedden, Jean-Karl Vernay and Frédéric Vervisch.
10: The World Touring Car Championship, which WTCR OSCARO replaces for 2018, made 10 visits to Portugal, including three to Vila Real. Estoril, Portimão and Porto also hosted the action.
8: There have been eight different winners from the opening 12 races, while WTCR OSCARO drivers share seven world titles between them.
24: All-season WTCR drivers are permitted to use 24 Yokohama tyres at WTCR Race of Portugal.
2m04.119s: Norbert Nagy’s 2m04.119s at ETCC Race of Vila Real in 2017 is the fastest qualifying time in a TCR-specification car. However, no TCR-powered driver has lapped the circuit quicker than Francisco Abreau, who set the standard of 2m03.982s during a national race last July.
VILA REAL FIVE FACTS
1: Vila Real played host to F3 single-seaters in the 1960s before sportscar racing came to the fore. Chris Craft and David Piper won a six-hour event in 1969 driving a Porsche 908.
2: During the 1980s touring car racing thrived at the circuit before a fatal accident in 1991 forced the authorities to intervene due safety concerns. Racing resumed on a shortened layout in 2007, with a revival meeting attended by Sir Stirling Moss, who competed at Vila Real in period.
3: The name Vila Real (Royal Town) comes from King Denis of Portugal founding it in 1289.
4: In order to raise money to cover the cost of running the race during its early years, a tax was placed on every kilogram of meat sold in Vila Real.
5: Originally a 7.150-kilometre layout complete with river crossing via a bridge, the first WTCC event in 2015 used a 4.755-kilometre version of the course. However, modifications to the first chicane to make it faster and up overtaking opportunities increased the track to its current length of 4.785 kilometres.