TouringCarTimes’ Top 30 drivers of 2019: 20 to 11
It is time for the second part of the 13th annual TouringCarTimes’ staff rundown of the Top 30 touring car drivers of the 2019 season. We rank the best touring car drivers in the world from the major national and international BTCC, DTM, Supercars, TCR and WTCR championships.
20 Julien Briché – TCR Europe – JSB Compétition – 4 wins
While there is no comfort in taking the highest number of wins during the season (four), the fact that Briché took on the might of Target Competition in effectively a one-car team and nearly came out on top speaks volumes of the Frenchman’s year. His early season form was outstanding, particularly on a Sunday morning where he took three wins in the first three rounds. A mid-season drop in form and bad luck, most notably at the Red Bull Ring and Oschersleben dented his chances, as did being stripped of an on-the-road victory at Barcelona in the penultimate round. But give Briché credit for taking the title to the very last race thanks to a superlative performance at Monza.
19 Néstor Girolami – WTCR – Münnich Motorsport – 3 wins
Joining Esteban Guerrieri to form an exciting all-Argentinian line-up at Münnich Motorsport Honda, Girolami matched his countryman and team-mate well in the first part of the season, before his campaign began unravelling. After winning three of the opening eight races, it is strange to think that Girolami actually never stood on the podium following his third-place finish in the first Nürburgring race back in June.
Once Guerrieri emerged as Honda’s number one title shot, however, Girolami handsomely played the team game, seeming genuinely intent on helping his compatriot to victory. He duly moved over to hand Guerrieri an early lead in Race 2 of the Sepang finale, and spent the rest of the same race efficiently backing up the competition as Guerrieri went off into the distance. Girolami did have his fair share of bad luck this season, and at times he was the fastest on track, but he really should have beaten at least Azcona or Kristoffersson in the standings to warrant a higher position in the rankings.
18 Fabian Coulthard – Supercars – DJR Team Penske – 2 wins
In the game of metrics and relativity, Coulthard’s season may not have been stunning compared to team-mate McLaughlin’s but to overcome struggles in the #12 car’s side of the garage to help DJR Team Penske clinch the team’s title proved he’s a solid driver for the team. To win two races while McLaughlin was dominating, including at McLaughlin’s standout track of Phillip Island, Coulthard reminded everyone as to why the team have continued to sign him and want to retain him as tail-gunner. Though a move to higher-downforce cars this year may have shown his weaknesses more than before, a solid end to the year will put him in good stead for 2020.
17 Thed Björk – WTCR – Cyan Racing – 3 wins
The 2017 WTCC champion started off well in the new-for-2019 Lynk & Co 03 TCR, taking a second and a win from the opening round in Marrakesh to assume an early championship lead. He then won two out of the three races at Zandvoort, but from then on Björk appeared largely unremarkable. He only scored two podiums from the last 18 races – one of them coming at Macau where Lynk & Co Cyan Racing arguably had the fastest car and won all three races – but to his defense this was partly due to team orders as he began playing a supporting role to Muller.
Come the season finale in Malaysia, Björk remained with an outside shot at the title, although both his and Muller’s chances dropped off a cliff when Lynk & Co proved wildly off the pace. Still, Björk should have been closer to Muller’s speed at Sepang, and will be keen to improve in 2020.
16 Nico Müller – DTM – Team Abt Sportsline – 3 wins
The Swiss driver had his “coming of age” in 2019, going from playing the perfect supporter role to be a championship contender in his own right. Müller was the most consistent driver of the 2019 field, scoring points in all but one race. But he critically faltered at Nürburgring and lost valuable points. Müller should be one to watch again for next year’s title fight, already confirmed by Audi for the 2020 season.
15 Cameron Waters – Supercars – Tickford Racing – 6 podiums
If not for copious amounts of friendly fire through the back half of the year and more than his fair share of bad luck, Waters could’ve been in contention for a top three result in the championship this year. Finishing as the runner-up twice, these results don’t highlight just how strong the Tickford driver was at times, fighting as one of those in contention for the Bathurst 1000 until team-mate Chaz Mostert took them both out of the race. Expect big things from Waters next year as he moves to a team leader role within the outfit.
14 Dan Cammish – BTCC – Team Dynamics – 2 wins
Following a solid first season in the series, Dan Cammish came of age as a touring car racer in 2019 and silenced any of the remaining doubters he may have had. Although it was only in the latter part of the season that he started to grab the headline results, Cammish’s campaign was one based on impressive consistency and it allowed him to become the only driver who could really take the fight to the BMW drivers.
Securing more podium finishes than anyone else was an impressive record, as was the way in which he comprehensively outperformed team-mate Matt Neal. Cammish should also be commended for the way in which he reacted to the disappointment of Finals Day and he will be amongst the favourites for 2020.
13 Mikel Azcona – WTCR – PWR Racing – 1 win
Azcona entered WTCR after winning the TCR Europe series crown last year, and came close to beating Johan Kristoffersson to top rookie honours. In fact, the Spaniard was one point ahead when the chequered flag fell for the last time of the season, but a post-race penalty for tagging Guerrieri demoted Azcona off the Sepang podium – and behind Kristoffersson in the final standings.
Still, this was by all means a breakthrough season for Mikel Azcona. Despite driving for a team also new to WTCR – the small but efficient privateer PWR Racing outfit – Azcona stood on the podium at the first round of the year, and later won on the streets of Vila Real to seal Cupra’s only win of the season. Taking sixth in the standings was no mean feat, especially with team-mate and PWR co-founder Daniel Haglöf down in 23rd. For Azcona to beat the likes of 2018 WTCR champion Gabriele Tarquini, of the same factory-supported Hyundai squad that took Norbert Michelisz to the title, is certainly deserved of a lot of praise.
12 Marco Wittmann – DTM – BMW Team RMG – 4 wins
Wittmann fought as hard as he could during a season in which BMW struggled, with the M4 DTM lacking overall performance compared to the Audi RS 5 DTM. Still, Wittmann managed to score no less than four victories and six top-three results in the season, keeping his title hopes alive until the penultimate round of the season, a strong feat considering the circumstances.
11 Josh Files – TCR Europe – Target Competition – 3 wins
There’s no escaping the fact that 2018 was something of a lean year for Files, who with KCMG Honda scored just one victory all season en route to sixth in the standings. Fast forward to this season as the British driver made a welcome return to Target Competition, with whom he won back-to-back TCR Germany titles in 2016 and 2017, as well as the Middle East crown. A remarkable run of consistency in the Hyundai i30 N TCR and the resumption of a formidable partnership with engineer Albert Deuring meant that Files deservedly claimed the title at Monza.
A crucial cog in the success was the team’s ability to bounce back from potential adversity at key moments in the season. A wishbone failure on the way to the grid for Race 2 at the Hungaroring on the opening weekend was quickly rectified by his mechanics and allowed Files to claim a vital five points. A similar situation following his heavy qualifying crash at Spa-Francorchamps enabled Files to score three points, which ultimately proved valuable in the title fight with Briché.
Positions 10 to 1 to follow on Monday.