He’s the young gun in a team of big guns but 21-year-old Honda Racing-supported Attila Tassi isn’t one to be intimidated.
Instead, the Hungarian ace is preparing for his third season of WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup Cup action revved up and ready to push for a breakthrough victory in his Goodyear-equipped Honda Civic Type R TCR.
And Budapest-based Tassi is right to aim high in the knowledge that his fellow Honda-powered racers, Néstor Girolami, Esteban Guerrieri and Tiago Monteiro, will be on hand to pass on their experience and spur him on to greater things − and after he scored his first WTCR podiums in 2020.
How confident are you of more WTCR progression in 2021?
“I’m pretty confident to perform better than last year. Last year I had some ups and downs. At the beginning of the season it was very nice with two podiums. Afterwards it was not so clean races for me and we were sometimes at a disadvantage. But I did my first pre-season test last week and I was very happy to sit back in the car again after more than half a year.”
What was the test like, did it go to plan?
“It was snowing, rainy and sunny so very mixed conditions. We had a snowstorm at one point, it was amazing. But this is the Nordschleife, it’s always unpredictable. We were able to do some running but it was more for having track time, not in terms of set-up to improve the car because in one lap it was dry, the other lap wet, half of the lap it was raining, then it was sunny and then snow.”
But any opportunity to test on the Nordschleife must give you a slight advantage − it’s the toughest track in the world after all?
“Track time there is always good, definitely. I have had six months of not driving a race car and the other point is we start the season on the Nordschleife so it was important. But I wouldn’t say it brings a good advantage because it was really just about getting back into the car and getting used to it and the track. With the weather conditions we were not able to really test anything properly.”
Happy to be starting the season there?
“In the past two years I had some positive weekends there so I am really, really looking forward to it and to achieve as least as good as last year when I had a podium. Hopefully we can be quick but we will see after the practice and qualifying.”
What’s kept you busy since the 2020 WTCR season decider in Aragón?
“I’ve changed my training programme quite significantly. From December, just after Aragón, I am all days of the week playing tennis for two hours and then I am going to the gym to keep in shape and build the muscles to keep fit.”
Why tennis? How does it help you?
“I always liked it. Last year I was only playing one hour but afterwards I really started to like it more and more and decided to play more. I only started playing tennis one year ago but my trainer said in one year I improved quite a lot, so I am happy for that. You can turn off your mind and just play, it’s nice and you get to know nice people. It’s kind of like resting but in a different way.”
Has your new training programme brought about a change in what you drink and eat?
“Most of the time, 90 per cent of the time, I only drink water and try to keep a good diet. As we get towards the season start it’s the most strict it can be. For breakfast I’m having scrambled eggs with ham. After the tennis, between the tennis and the gym, I’m eating a protein bar because it’s only 20 minutes break. After the gym I’m eating rice and chicken with some salad. Then in the evening it’s a light salad, or maybe chicken and rice again.”
As well as a home race at the Hungaroring there’s also hope that fans can return, how good would that be?
“Obviously it got delayed but it’s better to be delayed than deleted. I am happy to race in front of the home crowd and hopefully this year we will have some people in the grandstands. Last year the qualifying was very good. I qualified P2 and the top four was all Hondas so it was amazing for the team. I’m really hoping this year it will be something similar, at least from my side. The races were not the best because my set-up as I wanted it to be was not working the best, but we improved and got to know the car even better and we knew what to change afterwards. For sure this year we will be smarter and have more experience. I’m hoping obviously in my home race I will perform at least better on the races but also in the qualifying because I was only P2 and the first loser!”
How important is a win this season, do you have something to prove or are you still learning?
“I would say I’m still in the learning phase but for sure this will be my third full season in the WTCR. The first year was a full learning year, last year I had two podiums and in a short season it was quite good. This year, definitely, I am aiming for a race win because it’s the next step to take. Then I just have to be constant in each weekend and still I am learning quite a lot. This year my aim is to achieve a race win.”
The Honda Racing line-up is unchanged for 2021, is that a good thing?
“Last year I could learn a lot from them and to keep the same line-up obviously I was very happy about it because I like all three of my team-mates a lot, especially Tiago because who I have known for three years now. But I also like Néstor and Esteban, they are all very experienced, they have a nice past in touring cars so obviously I have a lot to learn from them. And you can always learn some new stuff, it’s never that you know everything, there is always something to improve.”
MORE ON TASSI: REVISIT WTCR FAST TALK, THE BOY RACER HOPING TO BE A TOURING CAR ACER
“When I was a kid, I always watched Formula One and I wanted to try something else [other] than hockey. My parents were scared [of racing more than] they were scared of the hockey and the BMX. At that stage I didn’t think how big the risk was but every sport has a risk to damage yourself. But if you do what you love that’s the best I think. My parents and also my team expected I would be very excited and make some mistakes [when I did my first raced aged 12] but that’s just not my style. I never get too excited because there are some moments if you are too excited you can make mistakes easily. I got spun around, but we calculated in our race strategy that the first race would be very tricky with no experience and lots of cars. But quite soon it was quite manageable.”