Four-way title fight headlines Sepang season-finale
The World Touring Car Cup will go down to the wire this weekend in a dramatic title climax at the Sepang International Circuit, as four of the sport’s star drivers prepare to battle it out for the most esteemed prize in international touring car racing.
Leading the charge ahead of the season-finale, which takes the WTCR contingent to Malaysia for the first time, is Norbert Michelisz. The Hungarian sits atop the charts thanks to an impressive season aboard his BRC Hyundai i30 N TCR – but is being challenged by three equally committed rivals.
Honda’s Esteban Guerrieri enters the weekend just nine points down on Michelisz, and with the advantage of being the only title contender with previous experience of the Sepang track. Guerrieri tested at the former Malaysian Grand Prix venue earlier this year, and although Honda struggled at the most recent round in Macau, a 10kg compensation weight break is lending the Japanese marque further hope ahead of the finale.
Cupra is the only other car to drop weight for this weekend.
Lynk & Co Cyan Racing pair Yvan Muller and Thed Björk are the final two championship protagonists. The man of the moment following his two victories in Macau, the experienced Muller is in pursuit of his fifth world touring car title, hoping to deny Michelisz and Guerrieri a potential first.
Muller is just two points behind Guerrieri and eleven adrift of Michelisz, while 2017 WTCC champion Björk is faced with the slightly more complicated task of cancelling out a 28-point deficit if he is to clinch the title.
With 85 points up for grabs in Malaysia, however, none of the four can be properly coined an outsider, setting the stage for a truly memorable four-way showdown.
Adding to the end-of-year atmosphere will be a WTCR first in terms of the event schedule. For the first time in the championship’s (albeit short) history, all three of the weekend’s races will take place on the same day.
It all comes down to three Sunday contests, each staged against a different backdrop and in varied ambient conditions. The opening race is scheduled to run in daylight, Race 2 will play out at dusk, and the potentially all-deciding Race 3 will make use of Sepang’s newly installed floodlights to run at night.
In parallel to the title fight, there is also a huge quarrel going on for fifth in the championship standings. A mere 16 points separate Cyan Racing’s Yann Ehrlacher, who currently occupies the position, and SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson in eleventh place. Also in the hunt for fifth are outgoing WTCR champion Gabriele Tarquini (Hyundai), top 2019 rookie Mikel Azcona (PWR Cupra), Néstor Girolami (Honda), SLR VW’s Rob Huff and Jean-Karl Vernay (WRT Audi).
Both Huff and Vernay are among the handful of drivers to have previously raced at Sepang. Huff claimed pole position at the track in the opening round of the TCR Malaysia championship back in January of this year, while Vernay clinched a brace of fifth-place finishes on a TCR International series outing in 2016. KCMG Honda’s Attila Tassi, meanwhile, took seventh and ninth in those same races.
Tassi’s KCMG team-mate Tiago Monteiro is another driver armed with Sepang experience, having contested two Malaysian Formula 1 Grands Prix in 2005 and 2006. Over in the Alfa Romeo camp, meanwhile, Team Mulsanne pair Ma Qinghua and Kevin Ceccon – who twice finished on the podium in Macau last month – have both raced at Sepang in GP2.
As for the teams’ championship, Cyan Racing Lynk & Co (Muller/Björk) have established a healthy lead at the top of the tables. The Swedish/Chinese outfit heads BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse (Michelisz/Tarquini) by 72 points, and Münnich Motorsport (Guerrieri/Girolami) by 88.
There are four wild card entries for the finale. Hyundai Team Engstler are fielding Malaysian duo Mitchell Cheah and headline-making MotoGP rider Hafizh Syahrin, while Viper Niza Racing are providing a Cupra TCR for fellow local Douglas Khoo. Completing the wild card quartet is Brazil’s João Paulo de Oliveira aboard a KCMG Honda Civic Type R TCR.
On-track activity gets underway on Friday with practice and qualifying. There are no sessions on Saturday (which is instead devoted to a round of the FIM road racing Endurance World Championship), with the three all-decisive races then following suit on Sunday as previously explained.
All times local (CET+07:00)
Friday 13 December
Free Practice 1: 10:00-10:45
Free Practice 2: 12:45-13:15
First Qualifying: 15:15-15:45
Second Qualifying Q1: 19:30-19:50
Second Qualifying Q2: 20:00-20:10
Second Qualifying Q3: 20:20
Saturday 14 December
No WTCR action
Sunday 15 December
Race 1: 15:15 (9 laps)
Race 2: 18:15 (9 laps)
Race 3: 20:10 (12 laps)