At the Grand Prix circuit near Barcelona (E), final preparations for the opening round of this season’s WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup on 06 and 07 April in Marrakech (MA) took place. Sébastien Loeb Racing, Volkswagen Motorsport and their drivers Mehdi Bennani (MA), Rob Huff (GB), Johan Kristoffersson (S) and Benjamin Leuchter (D) were attending the final two-day test at the 4.655-kilometre Formula 1 circuit with four Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR.
“The focus was on performance tests and fine-tuning the processes within the team, ahead of next week’s season-opener,” says Sven Smeets, Volkswagen Motorsport Director. “Only the race weekend in Morocco will ultimately reveal where we are compared to the other teams, but we are confident and want to score points consistently from the word go, and to challenge for race wins and both titles.”
Sébastien Loeb Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport attended a test with all four cars for the first time in Barcelona. “We are using the days in Barcelona to prepare the cars perfectly for Marrakech,” says Fabrice van Ertvelde, head of the WTCR project at Volkswagen Motorsport. “On the first day of testing, we are primarily focussing on preparing the tyres and spare parts, like the brakes. To finish, we will simulate a race day.”
Back in Barcelona: Kristoffersson takes a new direction
For Johan Kristoffersson, the days in Barcelona are special for several reasons: Not only do they represent the Swede’s final kilometres of testing in the Golf GTI TCR before the start of the season in Marrakech, but they also see him return to a racetrack, of which the reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion has very fond memories.
Just under one year ago, Kristoffersson won the opening round of the World Rallycross Championship at the Formula 1 circuit – but racing in the opposite direction. A further ten wins were to follow en route to his second WRX title. “That is a nice memory, but nothing more than that,” says Kristoffersson. “My focus is fully on WTCR and the season-opener in Marrakech. The field is incredibly strong and I am looking forward to this new challenge.”
Clear expectations for 2019: Leuchter realistic ahead of season
For Benjamin Leuchter, competing in WTCR is a childhood dream come true. “I am incredibly grateful to be here,” says Leuchter. “There are a lot of new things to take in, but I am trying to learn quickly. The team is really helping me.” When asked about his expectations, the Volkswagen driver replies: “The opening round will be very important. After that, I want to improve from race to race and to challenge for a spot on the podium on the Nordschleife.
It is clear to me that, as a rookie, I will not immediately be challenging for victories, otherwise the other drivers must have been doing something wrong in recent years.”
It will be important for the only German WTCR driver to quickly understand the new Yokohama tyre and to get the best out of it. “It is very different to the tyre I drove in TCR Germany,” explains the man from Duisburg. “The Yokohoma tyre immediately has a high level of grip, but it does then deteriorate faster. For this reason, you have to find the optimal grip window even more precisely.” All the drivers are starting with the same level of knowledge, as the tyre is a new development.
Battle of the giants: Huff reckoning with 15 contenders
Rob Huff is a living touring car legend. In 2005, the Brit was one of the founding members of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), the predecessor to the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup. In his opinion, the 2019 season looks like being the toughest in history. “The field is really impressive, certainly the best there has ever been,” says Huff. “Last year, seven or eight drivers were in contention. In 2019, it is sure to be twice as many.”
The 2012 WTCC champion is happy with preparations: “We line up with four Golf GTI TCR this year. That obviously has its advantages for us as a team. More drivers, more data, more opportunities to try things out. I hope that is reflected in results on the track. Mehdi and I punched beneath our weight a few times last year, but if I improve my qualifying performances, we should be able to show the true potential of the Golf GTI TCR this year.”
Season-opener in Marrakech: Home outing for Bennani
One week to the start of season two of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup. On 06 and 07 April, Sébastien Loeb Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport will line up with four Golf GTI TCR for the first time this year at Circuit Moulay el Hassan. One Volkswagen driver is particularly looking forward to the race on the winding street circuit: Local favourite Mehdi Bennani (MA).
“It is a very special week for me and my entire country,” says Bennani. “In Morocco, WTCR is the most important racing series – bigger than Formula 1 – and I want to give the fans an unforgettable weekend.” Last year, Bennani finished second in front of his home crowd – his best result to date at his home circuit.
Media launch: The 2019 WTCR boasts the strongest field ever
During the tests in Barcelona, the season was ceremoniously opened with a media event at the El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria. All the experts agree: The field is the strongest ever assembled in touring car racing. Touring car legends will go up against lightning-quick newcomers from all over the world. Seven of the 26 drivers registered have won FIA titles, including Volkswagen drivers Rob Huff (GB, 2012 WTCC Champion) and Johan Kristoffersson (S, 2017 and 2018 World Rallycross Champion).
And it is an international affair: Drivers from 14 countries have registered. The French Sébastien Loeb Racing team and Volkswagen Motorsport are putting their faith in a quartet from Germany (Benjamin Leuchter), Great Britain (Huff), Morocco (Mehdi Bennani) and Sweden (Kristoffersson). All four drivers are hungry to challenge for top results from the word go in this extremely evenly-matched series. When WTCR made its debut last year, the list of winners of the 30 races featured no fewer than twelve drivers, including Bennani (in Wuhan) and Huff (at the Hungaroring and in Suzuka).
Detailed adjustments: What’s new in the 2019 WTCR
A number of changes await the Sébastien Loeb Racing team and Volkswagen Motorsport in the 2019 season of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup. The first is immediately apparent: The grid will feature four Golf GTI TCR, rather than two – the maximum number of cars permitted per team as of this year. As a team may only consist of two cars, Mehdi Bennani (MA) and Rob Huff (GB) will line up together for the Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Motorsport team.
Johan Kristoffersson (S) and Benjamin Leuchter (D) will drive for the Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen team.
The points system has been enhanced a little and, above all, notably simplified: This year, the first 15 drivers receive points towards the overall standings (in 2018, it was only the top ten). Furthermore, all the races now have the same weighting in the scoring system. For example, the winner of a race always scores 25 points (previously, this was 27 points for race one, 25 for race two, and 30 for race three).
Also new is the fact that the five fastest drivers in qualifying for race one score points. Also, the starting order in Q3 is no longer based on the times from Q2. Instead, the quickest driver may now decide when to head out for his final flying lap.