Wide-open WTCC season continues in Hungary
National hero Norbert Michelisz aims to make it five different winners in 2017
Future hope Nagy heads home team Zengo Motorsport’s attack
FIA Volunteers’ Day kicks off Hungaroring weekend
The FIA World Touring Car Championship’s all-action global tour stops off in Hungary next week when thousands of Norbert Michelisz-worshiping fans – and their air horns – hit the Hungaroring for international touring car racing at its finest.
Following the spectacular slipstream thriller at the super-fast Monza last month, it’s off to another famous grand prix venue from 12-14 May. But while the speeds won’t be quite as high as they were in northern Italy, WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Hungary is set to deliver some truly memorable on-track drama and excitement. And a national hero will be in the thick of the fight.
Norbert Michelisz, the original online gamer turned real-life racer, is the man most of Hungary will want to win. Driving for the factory Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team, Michelisz is a driver with revenge on his mind after his bid to take the lead of the Opening Race at Monza ended in retirement following a clash with Mehdi Bennani.
The Moroccan, a winner in Hungary last season, will serve a five-place penalty for his part in the incident, while Michelisz will be desperate to claim the victory that got away last time out.
“I would have won quite easily if Mehdi hadn’t turned in on me,” said the 32-year-old Pécs resident. “That cost me the race. Now it’s really important to keep the head down, to work in the same rhythm, with the same kind of approach as before. If we do that we will be a very strong contender for the title and there is still a long way to go.”
Michelisz has won at home in the WTCC twice before, following up his 2012 victory with a euphoric drive to glory in 2015, a performance that helped to secure a step up to the factory Honda team for the following season.
“To win your home race is such a nice feeling and there is a nice pattern actually because 2014 wasn’t good, I won in 2015, last year was not so good, so hopefully after a bad year a good one will follow. I know the competition will be strong but all the good drivers are looking for good competition because, in the end, if you are successful with high-level competition then it gives you an extra boost.”
*With four different winning drivers and types of car from the opening four races, much is expected at the Hungaroring with all the action broadcast live around the world and on free-to-air Hungarian TV channel MTVA.
*The WTCC Race of Hungary weekend is always a big hit with vocal local fans, whose kit list includes air horn, customised national flag and anything bearing the number five, Norbert Michelisz’s race number.
*Tiago Monteiro, Michelisz’s factory Honda team-mate, heads the World Touring Car Championship for Drivers by 15 points over Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk with Björk’s Volvo-driving colleague Nicky Catsburg third and four points ahead of Michelisz. Rob Huff holds a one-point WTCC Trophy lead over Tom Chilton.
*Michelisz will get his own TV channel of sorts during the WTCC Race of Hungary weekend. In a first for the WTCC, a dedicated ‘Norbi Cam’ will follow his progress onboard in both races live on the FIAWTCC Facebook page.
*The WTCC’s established feeder series, the FIA European Touring Car Cup, tops the support bill with three Hungarian young guns in action: Norbert Nagy, Zsolt Dávid Szabó and Anett György. The KIA LOTOS Cup completes the event undercard.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017
*Factory teams from Honda and Volvo Polestar go up against leading privateer entrants.
*Revamped calendar features return to iconic venues Monza and Macau, a new track for WTCC Race of China, plus a mid-July date for WTCC Race of Argentina.
*Reduced schedule – 10 weekends only – means every result counts.
*Main Race longer than before with more points on offer to the top 10 (new scale: 1=30 points; 2=23; 3=19; 4=16; 5=13; 6=10; 7=7; 8=4; 9=2; 10=1).
*WTCC MAC3, the Tour de France-inspired time trial, continues with two more points for winning.
*FIA World Rallycross-style ‘joker’ lap planned for WTCC Race of Portugal in Vila Real.
*New two-day format to reduce costs (Free Practice 1 and 2 now 45 minutes, no Friday testing).
*Renewed social media push with several innovations coming during the season.
*Use of 360-degree camera to give viewer the impression they are in-car with the driver.
LATEST DRIVER NEWS
*Factory teams Honda and Volvo Polestar both feature tweaked driver line-ups for 2017. Japanese racer Ryo Michigami replaces Rob Huff at Honda where he will partner Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro. Thed Björk gets two new team-mates: Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami, while Yvan Muller has signed as a development driver for partner team Cyan Racing.
*Huff has returned to ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport after three years away to drive the German team’s Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton continue in Sébastien Loeb Racing-run Citroëns and welcome new team-mate John Filippi.
*There will be family pride at stake for rookie racers Yann Ehrlacher and Aurélien Panis. Ehrlacher is the nephew of four-time world champion Yvan Muller, while Panis’s father Olivier won the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix and commentates on Eurosport France’s WTCC coverage.
*Panis will partner Dániel Nagy at Zengo Motorsport, while Ehrlacher joins new team RC Motorsport, which also includes American Kevin Gleason in its line-up.
*Esteban Guerrieri has secured a partial programme with Campos Racing with work underway to make it a full-season deal following his maiden win last time out in Morocco.
*Like Guerrieri, Tom Coronel will be Chevrolet Cruze-mounted in 2017 after he extended his long-term agreement with inaugural WTCC champion Roberto Ravaglia’s ROAL Motorsport team.
WTCC TO EMBRACE FIA VOLUNTEERS DAY
The first FIA Volunteers Day will take place on 12 May, celebrating those who dedicate their time to make motorsport possible around the world. Capitalising on a packed weekend of FIA competition – six headline race events will raise awareness and give thanks to the volunteers who carry out the wide variety of essential roles without which the events would simply not happen.
Throughout the day, the entire motorsport community – from volunteers and officials to fans, drivers and members of the media – are encouraged to join in and show their appreciation on social media. Using the hashtag #FIAVolunteersDay on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, people can share photos and stories of themselves in action on the day connecting motor sport volunteers at all levels from all around the world – from club events to world championships.
“This is an opportunity to embrace the day as an occasion to thank all volunteers who support our events at all levels,” said FIA President, Jean Todt. “It will also promote the positive benefits that they gain from their involvement in motor sport, and help attract new people to get involved. “It is important for the FIA to give the appropriate recognition and publicity to acknowledge that each volunteer’s commitment is an essential part in ensuring the safety and success of every motor sport event.”
THE WEIGHT IS
The compensation weight carried by World Touring Cars, which is designed to equalise performance using a time-based calculation, will be adjusted for WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Hungary. The updated compensation weight list appears below: Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1: 0kg; Citroën C-Elysée WTCC: 50kg; Honda Civic WTCC: 80kg; LADA Vesta WTCC: 0kg; Volvo S60 Polestar: 80kg.
THEY SAID WHAT?
Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing): “I like the Hungaroring. I like the challenges of it. It’s really nice to have a big city like Budapest so close. It’s completely crazy to see the Norbert fans there and what they are doing but it’s also nice as a racing driver to feel this atmosphere of course. I have good memories from the track and I look forward to going back there. Last year I had to leave directly from the track to go to the airport. At 18h00 I came directly from the track, parked the car and shut off the engine. At 19h20 I took off with a normal plane from the airport so it’s so good it’s close to the airport because my son was born that night and my wife and son are coming this year.”
Norbert Michelisz (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “Racing in front of the Hungarian fans is amazing. It’s always huge pressure in the week before the races. But as soon as I jump out of the car after the Main Race I cannot wait for the next year to be back in the car racing in front of my fans. It’s the most special feeling I have racing at home. I have so many nice memories since my first podium there in 2011, since my first race win in 2012. I remember the great feeling, just moments and memories for the lifetime. I hugely appreciate all the support I have from my Hungarian fans because it’s really special to have these people standing behind me. No matter what happens they are 100 per cent there and supporting me. It gives me an extra boost many times and extra energy, especially when things are not really going my way.”
Rob Huff (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport): “The Hungaroring is one of the most challenging circuits we do because it’s so complex. It really is probably one of the circuits that has the biggest variants of corners. We tend to go to either fast tracks or slow tracks, the F1-style big open tracks or the little street circuits so to go to the Hungaroring, which is a real combination of all those aspects put together, is a real challenge for the driver especially with the set-up of the car. It’s a circuit I love and I’ve always done well at. I won there in 2013 in the SEAT with ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport and then obviously last year I was pushing for the lead against José María López when, unfortunately, I got a drive-through penalty. And then there’s Budapest, a place I like that much that when I went testing at the Hungaroring earlier this season I cancelled my flight home and stayed for an extra two days.”
Dániel Nagy (Zengo Motorsport): “I pushed hard in the last race at Monza to prepare for Hungary and scored my first world championship point. But Hungary is going to be the most important race for us this year and I would like to give a really big performance. We are competing with last year’s Honda so it’s going to be hard for me although I have very good mechanics, very good engineers and the important thing is the guys at Zengo Motorsport are believing in me. I try to continue to progress and score as many top 10 finishes as possible. Maybe if the rain comes and something happens with the other guys we can score some bigger results.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016
The FIA World Touring Car Championship delivered two dramatic races on a wet day at the Hungaroring, with Mehdi Bennani (Morocco) and José María López (Argentina) triumphing in slippery conditions. Bennani scored his second outright WTCC victory in the Opening Race, leading from start to finish as many big names, including Citroën’s López and Yvan Muller and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Rob Huff, were caught out by the difficult weather.
All four opted for dry-weather tyres and finished outside the points as a result. Tom Chilton made it a one-two for Sébastien Loeb Racing from P10 on the grid ahead of LADA driver Nicky Catsburg and Volvo Polestar’s Fredrik Ekblom for the Swedish make’s best WTCC finish so far. López was lapped in that first race but later took his third Main Race win from as many events to extend the championship lead he claimed with five points for the DHL Pole Position on Saturday. He was pressured by Huff and a fast-starting Muller, who made contact when fighting over second place, leading to a penalty for the Briton. Erstwhile title leader Tiago Monteiro completed the Main Race podium for Honda ahead of Thed Björk (Volvo Polestar). After a turbo failure forced him out of the Opening Race, Norbert Michelisz produced a stunning comeback drive from the back of the grid in the Main Race before a suspension failure late on dropped him from sixth to P10. López claimed the TAG Heuer Best Lap award for the second event running.
TRACK GUIDE IN 100 WORDS
Located less than 20 kilometres northeast of Budapest, the Hungaroring is famed for hosting the first Formula One grand prix behind the Iron Curtain in 1986. Although it has been ever-present on the F1 calendar since, the Hungaroring is established as a regular on the WTCC schedule. And the event’s popularity among home fans has rocketed thanks to the emergence of Honda’s Norbert Michelisz as a local hero, particularly following of his pole-to-flag victory in 2015. Last year’s event was the first on the resurfaced layout, complete with re-profiled kerbing, but rain on race day prevented lap records from falling.
Location: 2146 Mogyoród, Versenypálya 0222/2/3/6, Hungary
Length: 4.381 kilometres
Opening Race distance: 12 laps (52.572km)
Main Race distance: 15 laps (65.715km)
Lap record (qualifying): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 1m46.109s (148.6kph), 23/04/16
Lap record (race): Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée), 1m50.119s (143.223kph), 04/05/14
WTCC appearances: Six
Time zone: GMT +2 hours
Nearest airport: Budapest Airport (42 kilometres)
2016: Opening Race: Mehdi Bennani (Citroën); Main Race: José María López (Citroën)
2015: Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic)
2014: R1: Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée); R2: Gianni Morbidelli (Chevrolet Cruze)
2013: R1: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Rob Huff (SEAT León)
2012: R1: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Norbert Michelisz (BMW 320)
2011: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze)
HUNGARORING FAST FACTS
*The WTCC was the first international championship to try the resurfaced Hungaroring, which boasted a new layer of asphalt of between 3-5 centimetres thick, when it visited in April 2016.
*One of the highlights of the WTCC Race of Hungary build-up is the NagyFutam parade through the streets of Budapest, which this year attracted 250,000 fans, live TV coverage and Russian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas.
*Ex-Formula One driver Gianni Morbidelli scored his one and only WTCC win at the Hungaroring when he triumphed in the second race in 2014.
*Hungary is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It was founded in 896, before France and Germany became separate entities, and before the unification of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
*Hungarian inventions include the Rubik’s cube (Erno Rubik), the ballpoint pen (László Bíró) and the theory of the hydrogen bomb (Edward Teller).