It’s back. Barely four months after the curtain came down on WTCC season 10, Planet Earth’s finest touring car racing heroes will resume their battle for on-track glory when Argentina hosts round one of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship season from 6-8 March.
And what a season-opener it promises to be with 17 star performers intent on catching world champion José María López. That’s if they can, of course. With a record-breaking 10 WTCC wins in a single season under his belt, Citroën’s Argentine hero is the man to beat having also triumphed at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo three times. “It’s a fresh beginning and everything can change,” said ‘Pechito’. “I try to work the same, be as quick as last year. If I can do that it will be great but it will be very difficult because the competition will be much stronger.”
The last man to beat López on home soil was his Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller, who took race one laurels in Argentina two years ago. Leaner and meaner following an intensive fitness regime over the winter, the Alsace fighting machine has vowed to do all he can to make it five world titles after losing out to López in 2014. “We can’t be unbeatable and I am still the vice-champion,” said Muller. “I hope to fight again for the title but to be world champion is not easy.”
Of his benchmark 78 WRC wins, world rally legend turned WTCC ace Sébastien Loeb scored eight victories in Argentina. After a year of learning the art of going quickly in a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, Loeb will be a more formidable force in 2015. And he’s also clearly a big fan of the WTCC: his own Sébastien Loeb Racing team is running Moroccan maestro Mehdi Bennani in the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy. Ma Qing Hua was a bit-part player in the WTCC last season but the Chinese promise gets a full programme as his reward for an impressive 2014 campaign.
Honda’s Civic WTCC will pack even more punch in 2015 following a busy winter of testing and development. It should put ex-Formula One racers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini closer to the sharp end of the action. While they remain close colleagues, they insist friendships come second to track position. “I was a bit too aggressive when I pushed him out in Moscow last year but this happens when you’re at the front fighting hard,” said Monteiro. “We both think about the whole team but we both want to be first.”
Rickard Rydell has found the lure of a return to the WTCC – where he was a winner in the past –far more appealing than a life spent boating in his native Sweden. He will compete in a Nika International Honda Civic. Norbert Michelisz remains Zengo Motorsport’s big hope in his privateer Civic. Having upset the formbook by outpacing Monteiro and Tarquini in 2014, expect another season of over-achievement from the Hungarian. Racing giant and WTCC podium finisher Dušan Borkovic gets Honda power for 2015 but the Serbian has been struggling to squeeze his 207cm frame behind the wheel and fears his early pace will be compromised while his Proteam Racing engineers finalise a solution.
While there’s been no let-up on the work front from Citroën and Honda, LADA Sport hasn’t stopped either by turning its all-new Vesta into a race-ready yellow peril for British bulldogs Rob Huff and James Thompson to use in their pursuit of more WTCC gold. For the record, no driver has tackled more WTCC races than 35-year-old Huff, who has 225 starts to his name. Mikhail Kozlovskiy completes the LADA line-up but with just two Vestas ready for Argentina, the Russian youngster is being forced to sit out round one.
Yellow is also the colour for Tom Coronel, motorsport’s ultimate adventurer following his Dakar Rally heroics earlier this year. The popular Dutchman, whose ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 will carry major DHL branding this season, drove alone over the entire 9,111-kilometre Dakar route. However, he insists he’ll let his driving do the talking in the WTCC from now on. Team-mate Tom Chilton was first past the post in China last year and will battle Coronel – and several other independent racers – for the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy.
Charismatic Italian Stefano D’Aste is back in the WTCC after a year away racing sportscars. He’s joined the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport team, which plans to add a second Chevrolet to its attack later in the year. Spanish squad Campos Racing’s line-up of French stars John Filippi and Hugo Valente will have a combined age of 42 years, eight months and 28 days when the new campaign begins in Argentina. While Valente has been Cruze-mounted since 2014, Filippi steps up from the old TC2 category to drive the RML-built car for the first time. Grégoire Demoustier, another highly rated youngster, has swapped GT racing for the WTCC and can rely on the expertise of the Craft-Bamboo team, which returns to the series for 2015.
Name: Autódromo Termas De Río Hondo
Location: Avenida Costanera Prolongaciíon – Rincón De Atacama, 4220 Termas De Río Hondo, Santiago del Estero, Argentina
Length: 4.806 kilometres
Race distance: 2 x 13 laps
Lap record (qualifying): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1m43.766s (166.73kph)
Lap record (race): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 1m45.926s (163.34kph)
WTCC appearances: 2013, 2014
Time zone: GMT -3 hours, CET -4 hours
Sunrise/sunset: 8 March, 07h14/19h42
Average temperature: 20°C-31°C
WTCC CALENDAR 2015
Round 1: WTCC Race of Argentina (Termas de Río Hondo), 6-8 March
Round 2: WTCC Race of Morocco (Moulay El Hassan), 17-19 April
Round 3: WTCC Race of Hungary (Hungaroring), 1-3 May
Round 4: WTCC Race of Germany (Nürburgring Nordschleife), 15-16 May
Round 5: WTCC Race of Russia (Moscow Raceway), 5-7 June
Round 6: WTCC Race of Slovakia (Slovakia Ring), 19-21 June*
Round 7: WTCC Race of France (Paul Ricard), 26-28 June
Round 8: WTCC Race of Portugal (Vila Real), 10-12 July
Round 9: WTCC Race of Japan (Motegi), 11-13 September
Round 10: WTCC Race of China (Shanghai), 25-27 September
Round 11: WTCC Race of Thailand (Buriram), 30 October-1 November
Round 12: WTCC Race of Qatar (Losail), 20-22 November* (NIGHT RACE)
*Subject to the signing of event promoter agreement