Honda’s home hero to take on WTCC rivals at historic Vila Real

Only the Nürburgring Nordschleife is harder, says four-time champ Muller

New partnership with TVI means free-to-air coverage for Portuguese fans


FIA World Touring Car Championship drivers will mark the start of the second half of the 2016 season with a street-racing masterclass when the historic Vila Real circuit in northern Portugal hosts the country’s WTCC counter from 24-26 June.

Nicknamed the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the South due to its exciting blend of narrow twists, blind turns, climbs and descents, Vila Real was a new addition to the WTCC for 2015, having hosted its inaugural car race way back in 1931.

With the city located 100 kilometres east of Porto, his home city, local hero Tiago Monteiro has a score to settle after a dramatic high-speed startline crash wrecked the factory Honda driver’s hopes of a home victory last season. “Everybody mentions that because it was a big crash but it doesn’t bother me,” said the grand prix podium finisher turned WTCC race winner. “I would do exactly the same again because there was a gap but then things changed very quickly.”

Having won in Slovakia in April, Monteiro is overdue another WTCC triumph on the back of a troubled spell. A puncture caused a huge crash at the Nürburgring in Germany last month, grip issues cancelled out a strong shot at victory in the Russian rain recently, while his points total has been dented following Honda’s exclusion from the Morocco results for a technical infringement. “To win any race is great but to win at home is really the maximum you can expect in terms of pleasure, reward, excitement,” said the 39-year-old. “It’s really difficult to describe the level of gratitude for everything that’s happening to you at that moment, it’s so fantastic.”

A re-profiling of the first chicane is the only major change to the temporary Vila Real layout for 2016, which Monteiro said is a “five out of five when it comes to driver punishment”. “It’s the ultimate test because you have to be at the limit without being too close to the limit,” he continued. “There is no room for mistakes and the tension you feel compared to a regular track is much more than everywhere else.”

Tiago Monteiro will be in action when Vila Real hosts the Manufacturers Against the Clock team time trial on Saturday 25 June. New for 2016, the Tour de France-inspired competition puts squads from Citroën, Honda and LADA against the clock over two timed laps of the 4.785-kilometre course.

The three makes (Polestar will participate when it enters a third car from 2017) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new tyres. Running in reverse Manufacturers’ championship order, as soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and stops once the last car completes two flying laps.

Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points. And in what is a team-based competition, a mistake by one member can have serious consequences for the rest of the squad, which proved to be the case for LADA in Russia when a jumped-start by Gabriele Tarquini cancelled out victory. And the competition in WTCC MAC3 has been close – even too close to call.

After Citroën won the inaugural event in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their Manufacturers’ championship totals.

This year’s WTCC Race of Portugal marks the start of the second half of what has been another action-packed FIA World Touring Car Championship season. So far, seven drivers representing four manufacturers have won races, three have been on the DHL pole position, nine have set fastest laps and eight have led races. Meanwhile, the new-for-2016 TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy lists five winners – and recipients of a stunning TAG Heuer watch.

The Honda Civic WTCC and LADA Vesta World Touring Cars will take a weight hit for WTCC Race of Portugal. Under the compensation weight system designed to equalise performance in the FIA World Touring Car Championship through a lap time difference in seconds calculation, the five Honda Civic WTCCs entered for the Vila Real street spectacular will run with 60 kilograms of additional weight, with the trio of LADA Vestas carrying 70 kilograms, 10 down on the amount fitted to the five Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs. The Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 hasn’t escaped a weight hike either with the privateer machines running an extra 10 kilograms. However, the Volvo S60 Polestar TC1s will remain at the championship’s 1100-kilogram minimum base weight for the trip to northern Portugal.

The spectacle of the WTCC comes to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK from 23-26 June with World Touring Cars on display for the first time at this year’s event. But it’s an exhibition with a difference. WTCC ART CARS will combine artistic design and motorsport in spectacular fashion as part of an exciting new partnership.

Three designers have been recruited to create the ultimate race car livery, which will be put to the public vote online and during the Festival of Speed. The rules are simple: designers start with a blank canvas and create a unique livery that fires fan interest and truly captures their imagination. There are liveries for the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1, Honda Civic WTCC and Volvo S60 Polestar TC1 and fans voting will go into a prize draw to win a VIP weekend at a WTCC race and backstage passes to the 2017 Festival in 2017. Visit and keep following the WTCC on social media for more information.

NEW FOR 2016
Hello Opening Race and Main Race!
: Gone are Race 1 and Race 2 for 2016, in their place come Opening Race and Main Race with the reverse-grid now used for the first clash of the weekend and the grid for the second event based on the results of Qualifying. WTCC Premium TV: Bringing the WTCC’s video content to fans through mobile apps (iOS and Android) and online, WTCC TV Premium TV is a high-quality, interactive subscription service. Included in the package is the world feed plus a choice of 10 on-board cameras, no geo-blocking, video on demand, plus stats and facts. WTCC Fan Village:

There will be fast-paced entertainment on and off the track in the WTCC this season with the WTCC Fan Village featuring displays, meet the driver sessions, music, merchandising and a WTCC Hall of Fame. Entry is free.New partnerships: TAG Heuer and OSCARO are welcomed as Official Series Partners. JVCKENWOOD’s renewed commitment will bring team radio to TV,Polestar will provide the Official Safety Car, the Volvo V60 Polestar, while a new alliance with the Goodwood Festival of Speed will bring WTCC ‘art cars’ to the annual motorsport extravaganza this month. DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, will present the DHL Pole Position Award at every event. The new TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy goes to the driver setting the weekend’s fastest race lap of all.

World champion José María López and Yvan Muller remain in factory C-Elysée WTCCs. Privateer squad Sébastien Loeb Racing expands to three cars withTom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier joining Mehdi Bennani. Honda:Independent champion Norbert Michelisz gets his big factory break, while Rob Huff joins from LADA. Tiago Monteiro stays put but there’s no drive for Gabriele TarquiniLADA: Gabriele Tarquini continues in the WTCC at LADA after leaving Honda. Hugo Valente is handed a dream works ride after impressing as a privateer. Nicky Catsburg gets a full season. Polestar: Volvo’s performance brand begins its long-term WTCC campaign with two S60 Polestar TC1s for Scandinavian Touring Car aces Thed Björk and Fredrik Ekblom. WTCC Trophy: Bennani, Chilton and Demoustier aside, Tom Coronel is back for WTCC season 12 in his privateer Chevrolet. John Filippi turned 21 in February and gets Yvan Muller as a driver coach. John Bryant-Meisner crosses over from single-seater racing, while James Thompson deputises for René Münnich, who is busy with his World Rallycross duties, which he’s combining with his WTCC campaign. Zengo Motorsport will enter two Hondas for Hungarian youngsters Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy.

Rob Huff, the 2012 WTCC champion, has forged a reputation as the ultimate street racer with 10 round-the-houses victories to his name. He was also a winner on the streets of Marrakech earlier this season but exclusion from the results dictated otherwise. World champion José María López claimed the inaugural WTCC race in Vila Real last season, but while he’s a six-time winner in 2016 he struggled for form last time out in Moscow.

Race wins in 2016:
López 6; Bennani, Catsburg, Coronel, Huff, Monteiro and Tarquini 1

Pole positions in 2016: López 4; Catsburg and Muller 1
Fastest laps in 2016: López 3; Huff 2; Bennani, Catsburg, Chilton, Ficza, Muller, Tarquini and Valente 1
Laps led in 2016: López 43; Huff 38; Catsburg 24; Bennani 22; Tarquini 11; Valente 6; Monteiro 5; Muller 4
All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 47, Huff 28, López 27, Menu 23, Tarquini 21
All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29, López 18, Tarquini 17, Menu 15, Farfus and Huff 11
All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38, Huff 26, López 24, Tarquini 23, Menu 20
All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 569, Huff 344, Menu 297, Tarquini 285, López 266

Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée)

2013: R1: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: James Nash (Chevrolet Cruze)
2012: R1: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze)
2011: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze)
2010: R1: Tiago Monteiro (SEAT León); R2: Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León)
2009: R1: Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León); R2: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320)
2008: R1: Rickard Rydell (SEAT León); R2: Tiago Monteiro (SEAT León)
2007: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Lancetti); R2: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320)

Vila Real

2010, 2012: Portimão
2008: Estoril
2007, 2009, 2011, 2013: Porto

In order to raise money to cover the cost of running the race during its early years, a tax was placed on every kilogram of meat sold in Vila Real.

Modifications to the first chicane to make it faster and up overtaking opportunities has increased the track length ever so slightly from 4.755 to 4.785 kilometres. The qualifying and race lap records will be up for grabs as a result.

Thed Björk, Fredrik Ekblom, Ferenc Ficza and James Thompson will take to the Vila Real streets for the first time in 2016. 2: Home hero Tiago Monteiro became the first Portuguese driver to lead an FIA world championship when he topped the WTCC points following the Slovakia races in April. 3: It was a weekend of firsts when the WTCC visited Russia last time out. Gabriele Tarquini took the LADA Vesta’s first WTCC win, Nicky Catsburg claimed his first WTCC pole and victory, while Ferenc Ficza, having recently turned 20, clocked his first fastest lap and won his first TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy in a privateer Honda.

HOW THEY STAND (after Round 12 of 24)*
1 López 223; 2 Bennani and Catsburg 118; 4 Monteiro 112; 5 Muller 109; 6 Michelisz 105; etc. Manufacturers: 1 Citroën 523; 2 Honda 351; 3 LADA 323; 4 Volvo-Polestar 145. WTCC Trophy: 1 Bennani 109; 2 Chilton 85; 3 Coronel 61; 4 Filippi 49; 5 Demoustier 45; 6 Thompson 37; etc. WTCC Teams’ Trophy: 1 Sébastien Loeb Racing 187; 2 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 61; 3 ROAL Motorsport 58; 4 Campos Racing 52; 5 Zengo Motorsport 20. *Full standings are available at

Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing):
“I have done a lot of street circuits in America and in Sweden we have a small street circuit, but this will be my first time in Vila Real. I really like street circuits but it will be a difficult task to learn the track and get the car as good as possible. But my plan will be the same as it was for all the championships I have won: relax, go out and drive and that will make me as fast as possible. On normal tracks there can be a lot of ways to take the corners. On a street circuit there is one way to be fast. If you have a good car, you can put it close to the wall, be on the edge but be better than some of the other drivers that way.”

Nicky Catsburg (LADA Sport Rosneft): “Vila Real is a super-tough, super-fast thrill-seeking ride. Last year was really, really hard. I didn’t know the track at all and I was still quite young in my WTCC experience. But it’s a really awesome challenge. Normally street circuits are quite slow but Vila Real is the opposite and that just makes it awesome. I had a massive crash last year so I am going to be more careful at first. I just hope it’s not going to be as hot as last year because, for me, it was a little too much and I got so hot in the car.”

Tiago Monteiro (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “There are no room for mistakes on street circuits, you need to find the perfect rhythm and be amazingly focused. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to race at home. Only five WTCC drivers have this opportunity and I am one of them. The support is huge. In the past I won in Estoril and in Portimão and to win at home is really the maximum you can expect in terms of pleasure, reward, excitement. But it needs a lot of effort. It’s really difficult to describe the level of gratitude for everything that’s happening to you at that moment, it’s so fantastic. But it’s very easy to become a hero or zero. Everybody mentions the big crash I had last year but it’s one of those things that can happen.”

Yvan Muller (Citroën Total WTCC): “It’s a street circuit and a street circuit is always a challenge. After the Nürburgring Nordschleife it’s the biggest challenge we’ll face this year. The track is narrow, the speed is quite high and the grip is low. I know with my experience you can crash very often on street circuits and I also know car set-up is a bit more of a compromise on street circuits. It’s going to be hard with 80 kilograms [of success ballast] but it would be nice to have a hot race because it’s been cold all season and raining at every race.”

Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport, WTCC Trophy): “Vila Real is in the same category as Hungary, Morocco and Japan: circuits where I usually do well, so let’s assume that this will be the case again. It will also be the last race in Europe before we move onto Argentina and then Asia.”

Circuito Internacional de Vila Real (

Location: Av. Carvalho Araújo 7, 5000-651 Vila Real, Portugal
Length: 4.785 kilometres Opening Race distance: 13 laps Main Race distance: 14 laps
Lap record (qualifying): To be established following change to track
Lap record (race): To be established following change to track
WTCC appearances: Eight
Time zone: GMT +1 hour Sunrise/sunset: 06h07/20h56 (Sunday 26 June)
Average temperature: 15°C-23°C (June)
The venue: Portugal was back in the WTCC in 2015 at a circuit full of history and intrigue. Racing has been held around the hillside roads of Vila Real since 1931, when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.150-kilometre course in a Ford Model A. Since then races have been run on and off, while the WTCC’s arrival signalled Vila Real’s first world championship meeting. The 4.755-kilometre layout used was a challenging blend of turns, climbs and descents. While a handful of chicanes were installed for safety reasons, the spectacle remained with speeds nearing 240kph on the final downhill section.
The timetable: ?Following Friday’s solitary 30-minute test, Saturday features a rapid-fire schedule with Free Practice 1 and 2, Qualifying and WTCC MAC3 taking place within a seven-hour window. Sunday’s Opening Race is due to begin at 15h05 with the Main Race at 16h15.

With climbs and dips, sweeping turns, blind corners and fast straights, the Circuito Internacional de Vila Real provides a big challenge for the FIA World Touring Car Championship drivers. Home hero Tiago Monteiro is your guide to the 4.785-kilometre lap: “Up hill from the start is very bumpy and flat out to Turn 3. The first braking is for Turn 4, which is taken in fourth gear. It’s very fast actually but very blind because the guardrails are quite high and you cannot see very well.

You lift off a little bit for Turn 5 and you arrive at an important and difficult braking point because the track jumps, it’s bumpy with a low grip level and you slow down to second or third gear to an important acceleration and traction point. Turn 7 is a very fast left corner, not flat but close to being flat with a small lift. It’s very fast up the hill heading to what is for me the nicest part of the track, the long sequence of Turns 8, 9 and 10. It’s fast, challenging with a little bit of camber, which gives more grip. The new chicane at Turn 11 should be a bit faster and wider.

It’s taken in second gear and the exit will be very important because you are heading downhill to the longest straight after the fast Turn 16 and through Turn 17. Braking downhill for Turn 18 is very tricky and the hardest part of the track. It’s bumpy, blind and fast – everything you want really! It’s also very tricky braking for the chicane at Turn 19 because you’re still going downhill. Traction is very important here because Turns 21 and 22 are flat. Turn 23 is another tricky point because you are turning while you are braking but the exit is very wide, which makes Turns 24 and 25 quite easy.

But Turn 26 is tricky, the difficult roundabout chicane, where you are braking and turning at the same time, which is one of the characteristics of the track. There is not a lot of straight braking in Vila Real and that makes the car very unstable in places. Turn 29 isn’t used at the start but during the race. It’s the slowest corner on the track and important to get good traction on the exit for the climb up the hill.”Tiago Monteiro’s track punishment rating: “While the track is a 3/5 because the kerbs are not so tough, the punishment level for drivers is definitely 5/5!”

José María López and Ma Qing Hua helped Citroën extend its winning tally in the FIA World Touring Car Championship to 31 by taking it in turns to triumph on the challenging Vila Real streets as WTCC Race of Portugal delivered action and drama aplenty. In ambient temperatures approaching 30 degrees centigrade and in front of an estimated 180,000 fans over the three-day event, López bossed the opening counter to head fellow C-Elysée driver Sébastien Loeb with Norbert Michelisz third for Honda.

Ma held firm in race two for his first win of 2015 and his second triumph in the WTCC following his historic victory in Russia last season when he became the first driver from China to win an FIA world championship motor race. Behind second-placed Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini completed the race-two podium for Honda but it proved an afternoon to forget for team-mate Tiago Monteiro when the Portuguese was eliminated in a hefty start-line clash with LADA driver Jaap van Lagen. Michelisz made it two Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy top scores as fifth for López meant it was ‘catch him if you can time’ with the Argentine leading the title chase by 55 points heading into the summer break.

- Advertisement -