WTCR season finale at Macau – It’s all come down to this…
Seven drivers head to Macau this weekend with a chance of winning the first World Touring Car Cup, marking a monumentally successful first year for the championship.
While the WTCR is still a championship with an abbreviation that confuses many, the successful splice between the World Touring Car Championship and the TCR International Series has heralded 14 different winners from the first 27 races, and each of the seven manufacturers entered has has at least one appearance on the top step of the podium thanks to the success of the championship’s Balance of Power and compensation weight system, albeit often criticised and certainly not as yet perfect.
This title battle itself has seen a remarkable mix of motor racing greats, new and not so new, find themselves in contention for the title.
The points leader and firm favourite is Gabriele Tarquini. Tarquini, who made his Formula 1 debut in 1987, won his first BTCC title in 1994, and won the 2009 WTCC title at the age of 48, which many perhaps expected would be the sign-off moment of his career, goes to Macau as the championship favourite at the age of 56.
Tarquini, effectively Hyundai’s factory entry, and driving for the heavily Hyundai supported BRC Racing Team, was rescued by Hyundai after he was left on the sidelines following Lada’s withdrawal from the WTCC in 2016, a year after he was dropped by Honda.
His chief rival is “young challenger” Yvan Muller. A sprightly 49-year-old who is chasing his fifth world title with his own race team – running in the same Hyundai i30 N TCR as Tarquini, but with his team’s infrastructure supported heavily by Cyan Racing, the developers of the incoming Lynk & Co race car from Volvo owners Geely Group.
Muller is 39 points behind, which isn’t as much as it sounds with 87 points available over the course of the weekend. Indeed the two drivers were tied for the lead just two races ago.
Muller’s team-mate, last year’s world champion and four-time Scandinavian champion Thed Björk, is also in close contention, another 14 points back.
Should the Hyundais falter, set to pick up the pieces is Pepe Oriola, with the 24-year-old Spaniard having had a very strong run during the last half of the season. Often helped by low compensation weight due to the relative performance gap between Hyundai and Oriola’s SEAT-based Cupra TCR, Oriola has a lot of experience at Macau, and is a true threat for the title should anything go wrong for the South Korean marque.
Three other drivers are also in outside contention. Former Macau winner and last year’s TCR International Series champion Jean-Karl Vernay has had a strong tilt at the title, and Vernay, with the Audi RS 3 LMS of Team WRT should be a strong contender, but unfortunately a recent run of good qualifying and race performances for the Audi mean the German saloon is carrying the maximum possible compensation weight this weekend of 60kg and is likely to struggle against many of its rivals who’ve had their weight reduced, including the Hyundais.
Honda driver Esteban Guerrieri is the Japanese marque’s only hope for the title, but he’s 78 points away from Tarquini going in, with the fourth Hyundai driver Norbert Michelisz just one point further back. This means both drivers need almost perfect weekends, of a nature not seen this year, with their rivals having a complete disaster in order to stand a chance of lifting the trophy.
Also a likely threat to the available points on offer is “King of Macau” Rob Huff, who after a nightmarish middle of the season has fallen out of contention for the title, but with nine wins to his name at the track, and with his Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR having lost some weight this weekend, the Briton will be all out chasing at least victory ten if not 11, with no thought spared for the championship contenders.
The 25-car fixed entry will also be joined by six Macanese wild card entries, bringing the field to a season’s high of 31 cars.
31 cars around the tight streets is set to be a challenge, and the two capacity TCR regulation Guia Races of 2015 and 2016 we’re notoriously incident heavy and full of red flags, and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s more of the same this year over the three races, also a first for Macau.
A compact timetable means the WTCR cars are out early for qualifying on Friday, and also for the final races on Sunday, with the 2018 champion set to be confirmed before midday, giving him plenty of time to change into his party outfit before the traditional champions’ celebration at the Macau Tower.
While Gabriele Tarquini, with his 39 point lead, is the safe bet, the safe bets don’t always pay out at Macau.
No – Driver – Nat – Team – Car
5 – Norbert Michelisz – HUN – BRC Racing Team – Hyundai i30 N TCR
6 – Rui Valente – MAC – PCT Racing Team – Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
7 – Aurélien Comte – FRA – DG Sport Compétition – Peugeot 308TCR
8 – Norbert Nagy – HUN – Zengo Motorsport – Cupra TCR
9 – Tom Coronel – NED – Boutsen Ginion Racing – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
11 – Thed Bjork – SWE – Yvan Muller Racing – Hyundai i30 N TCR
12 – Rob Huff – GBR – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
16 – Luigi Ferrara – ITA – Team Mulsanne – Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR
20 – Denis Dupont – BEL – Comtoyou Racing – Audi RS 3 LMS
21 – Aurélien Panis – FRA – Comtoyou Racing – Audi RS 3 LMS
22 – Frédéric Vervisch – BEL – Comtoyou Racing – Audi RS 3 LMS
23 – Nathanaël Berthon – FRA – Comtoyou Racing – Audi RS 3 LMS
25 – Mehdi Bennani – MOR – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
27 – John Filippi – FRA – Campos Racing – Cupra TCR
28 – Kevin Wing Kin Tse – MAC – Teamwork Motorsport – Audi RS 3 LMS
30 – Gabriele Tarquini – ITA – BRC Racing Team – Hyundai i30 N TCR
31 – Kevin Ceccon – ITA – Team Mulsanne – Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR
36 – Lo Kai Fung – MAC – TSRT Zuver Team – Audi RS 3 LMS
42 – Timo Scheider – AUT – Münnich Motorsport – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
48 – Yvan Muller – FRA – Yvan Muller Racing – Hyundai i30 N TCR
52 – Gordon Shedden – GBR – Team WRT – Audi RS 3 LMS
55 – Ma Qing Hua – CHN – Boutsen Ginion Racing – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
60 – Filipe Souza – MAC – Champ Motorsport – Audi RS 3 LMS
66 – Zsolt Szabo – HUN – Zengo Motorsport – Cupra TCR
68 – Yann Ehrlacher – FRA – Münnich Motorsport – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
69 – Jean-Karl Vernay – FRA – Team WRT – Audi RS 3 LMS
70 – Mat’o Homola – SVK – DG Sport Compétition – Peugeot 308TCR
74 – Pepe Oriola – ITA – Campos Racing – Cupra TCR
77 – Lam Kam San – MAC – Champ Motorsport – Audi RS 3 LMS
86 – Esteban Guerrieri – ARG – Münnich Motorsport – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
99 – André Couto – MAC – MacPro Racing Team – Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR
Thursday 15th November
09:05 / 02:05 – Free Practice 1
13:30 / 06:30 – Free Practice 2
Friday 16 November
08:50 / 01:50 – Qualifying 1
13:35 / 06:35 – Qualifying 2
Saturday 17 November
14:25 / 07:25 – Race 1 (8 laps)
Sunday 18 November
08:20 / 01:20 – Race 2 (8 laps)
11:00 / 04:00 – Race 3 (11 laps)