Two-time champion José María López dominated Race 1 at the Nordschleife last year, but the race will mainly be remembered for the Argentinian’s Race 2 performance, grabbing second position on the final lap on the back straight, slipstreaming past both of the Honda Civics of Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini.
“This circuit is fantastic,” said López. “For me, it’s the most important race of the year along with my home meeting in Argentina. I haven’t had a lot of experience with rally cars, but I think the sensations are pretty similar.
“Personally, my favourite part is the final section. In the last few kilometres, there’s quite a fluid sequence of turns and you know whether you’re having a good lap or not. During testing, the final straight was where you could relax a little more. That certainly won’t be the case in the races, because slipstreaming will offer huge overtaking opportunities.”
Honda chasing Citroën for revenge in Germany
With Honda having its most competitive season to date, the Japanese marque will be hoping for success at the circuit where the road-going version of their WTCC challenger, the Honda Civic Type R, holds the front-wheel drive lap record for a production car.
“So far in 2016, the Civic WTCC has been right on the pace at every circuit, regardless of the level of compensation weight we’ve carried, and that gives us a lot of confidence as to what to expect this weekend,” said Honda’s top driver in the points, Tiago Monteiro.
“The handling of the Civic is its main strength, and this will be extremely useful through the many different kinds of corners at the Nürburgring, although overtaking will be tough because the hatchback shape of the car generates more drag than the saloons.”
Two-times a winner this season Rob Huff became the first driver to stop Citroën winning the main race this year in Morocco, and with the Guia Race of Macau no longer a part of the WTCC calendar, the British driver says he’s adopted the Nordschleife as his favourite circuit, in a weekend where he’ll be on double duty, racing a Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Black Falcon in the 24 Hour race.
“I’m going to be extremely busy as I’ll be racing in the Nürburgring 24 Hours as well as the WTCC over the course of the weekend, so while this will be quite a challenge physically and mentally, the benefit is that this will give me significantly more track time than most of the other drivers, which I aim to use to my advantage,” said Huff. “A touring car is actually a much bigger challenge than a GT3 machine at this circuit because you really have to get it on a knife-edge to extract maximum performance. I’m looking forward to putting the Civic to the test.”
Lada and Volvo expected to fare well on the Nordschleife
Lada Sport showed good pace at the circuit last year despite only being able to field two cars due to heavy damage in the first part of 2015, and now with sportscar star Nicky Catsburg driving, they have one driver with strong knowledge of the track, who is also racing in the 24 Hours event, alongside Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente, who have both been racking up the points this season.
Polestar Cyan Racing head in with no compensation weight on their Volvo S60s, and both drivers Thed Bjӧrk and Fredrik Ekblom are familiar with the notorious circuit, with the S60’s profile suiting the track and with 80kg less weight on board than Citroën, it could be the Swedish marque’s chance to shine as long as the rain stays away, which has proven to be Volvo’s Achilles’ heel this season.
There will also be attention on Münnich Motorsport, which again field Sabine Schmitz in the race, another driver who will be competing in the 24 Hours as well. The Top Gear presenter struggled to adapt to the front-wheel drive Chevrolet Cruze last year, but still picked up points in Race 1, fighting off a race-long charge from then Lada driver Jaap van Lagen, and this weekend will have the whole focus of the team with her as a single car entry, with renowned engineer Marco Calovolo, who’s engineered wins for Adam Morgan in the BTCC and for Kia in the CTCC this season on hand.
Record number of cars on track
It will also be a record-breaking day for the WTCC as the field will be combined with the European Touring Car Cup’s, creating the potential for up to 38 cars to be on circuit at the same time.
This could prove to be quite a challenge in practice and qualifying, which all take on a one-hour format for this weekend only, with the speed differential between the top class Super 2000 TC1 cars against the ETCC’s second tier normally aspirated 1.6 litre Super 1600 Ford Fiestas and Peugeot 207s akin to that of a typical sportscar race.
The ETCC’s ten TCN2, also known as TCR class cars of the ETCC, will also be battling at the same time as the WTCC’s top class, with Peugeot bringing their 308 Racing Cup car to the ETCC for the first time with Teddy Clairet and David Pouget racing for the team, which is run by Sébastien Loeb Racing, with the rally star’s team busy supporting five cars during the weekend.
The ETCC field will have a staggered start from the WTCC grid, with the WTCC cars released first with the ETCC grid then forming up and starting a separate ‘race within a race’, with Honda’s Peter Rikli attempting to defend his championship lead against the SEAT León TCR of Krenek Motorsport’s Petr Fulín.