Tom Coronel will start his 32nd season of racing in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup “more sharp” than he’s been for a decade.
Armed with a Comtoyou Racing-run, second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS on Goodyear tyres, Coronel heads to his favourite track, the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife, next month (June 3-5) for the WTCR season opener on a high.
Having navigated twin brother Tim to the finish of the Dakar Rally back in January, Coronel, 49, has since enjoyed a productive pre-season testing mission, had success in the Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) and, earlier this month, outpaced his TCR Europe rivals to qualify on pole position for the opening Slovakia Ring event. This is what the DHL-backed Dutchman has had to say.
Given the love and respect you have for the Nürburgring Nordschleife surely there’s no better place for the 2021 WTCR season to start, right?
“There is no more challenging circuit on planet earth and to start there makes it extra exciting. Normally we start on a normal track, but now we are beginning the season on my favourite track and that helps a lot. It also helps that I did two NLS races and won my class driving for Benny Leuchter’s team, a really cool and fast team, and I know I’m ready. To be honest I’m more ready than I have been in 10 years.”
Why do you feel so ready?
“I can feel the relationship with Audi and the relationship with Comtoyou. We know our strengths and our weaknesses. This means we have been challenging each other how to be 100 per cent prepared and ready for the season. I feel that’s what we’ve done. In TCR Europe in Slovakia I was directly on pole there, I was the fastest in the wet, I also feel in myself, my body and my mind I just feel more ready than in 10 years.”
Some drivers would have preferred to have started the season on a slightly ‘easier’ track. That’s clearly not your view?
“No! Not at all, no, no, no. We have to go to this track anyway so what’s the problem making it the first race, I don’t care.”
How much of a boost did landing that pole position in Slovakia give you?
“It’s the boost. There is [Mikel] Azcona and a few drivers in TCR Europe who have done WTCR. Of course, there is a difference. In WTCR there are 20 drivers who can win the title, I don’t think it’s the same in TCR Europe. But to be there and to be sharp at the moment when you have to be sharp, that has been the case with me. Also, I have not been distracted by many things around me.”
What does that mean?
“This year I am more focused. Normally I have other things around me because I don’t make money from motorsport. But this year I’ve said we will be full 100 per cent motorsport and I can see this is working out with the testing and also in Slovakia. We’ve been testing quite a lot. I’m making a lot of kilometres and all of the things added up together makes me sharper than I have been in the last 10 years. And we can see it because in the test days I was always one of the top ones.”
You’re racing the second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS in 2021. What are your impressions so far?
“It’s the beginning of a new car but it feels better. It’s more consistent during the race runs and we have done a lot of race runs. With the older car I could see it was rough on the front tyres, but this car is more on its toes. That makes me happy of course because it’s responsive, there’s never a bad surprise with this car.”
Estoril replaces Vila Real as the home of WTCR Race of Portugal for this year. You’ve raced there in the past so how good will it be for the WTCR?
“It’s very nice. Two times I have been there I was leading. In 2001, I was leading the Le Mans Series race and I was taken out, go to YouTube, type ‘Coronel Estoril’ and you can see for yourself! I was hit from behind while I was lapping the guy and he hit me in the back on the main straight. And don’t forget my first international touring car appearance was also in Estoril in 2001. The championship was between Patrick Huisman and Peter Kox, they hit each other off and I was leading the race. Then, two corners before the end, Gianni Morbidelli took me out. I made a 360 and finally I finished P3 and we were fighting on the podium. If we did that now we’d be banned for a year, 100 per cent. But it was good for the racing then and it will be the same this year with its long straight, big braking points, good left/right loopings, nice corners where you can squeeze it in between. Of course, I miss Vila Real because I love street circuits and I had a race win there in the past. Vila Real is always special and unique but if there is going to be a substitute, then Estoril is the best choice.”
You’re part of a very strong WTCR line-up for 2021, which includes two old friends, Jordi Gené and Rob Huff. How good is that?
“I text-messaged Huffy and said, ‘welcome home, the place where you belong’. For me, it was strange he was not there last year. This guy has so many records and so many things done in touring car racing. We were always together. He’s one of my good racing mates. And Jordi Gené has been my team-mate for four or five years from the ETCC before the WTCC started. Even when he was not racing with SEAT anymore, I always wanted his preferred set-up because he was always the test driver with the best set-up and that’s his strength. Of course, in racing, Jordi will learn how the game has been played because he has the experience. Even if it’s always difficult when you’ve been out for a while, he will be there because he’s had WTCC wins in the past. And we have to remember the car doesn’t know your age. Experience is the important thing to being fast in touring car racing and to be good with the car.”
Fréderic Vervisch is also back and back at Comtou Racing. What impact will he have?
“I like him a lot, we always chat together, especially at the Nürburgring. He’s always fast there, one of the experts and it’s really nice to have him back.”
Finally, what will make for a happy Tom Coronel at the end of 2021 WTCR season?
“Race wins and top five in the standings. I can do that. As I said I’m more sharp than in 10 years and more prepared than ever. I feel all the details have been looked at, the combination with the team, the combination with the sponsor, with my team-mates, my engineer. I’ve never been as strong.”
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“My older brothers were racing and I was a mechanic for them. They gave me a present of a racing school course, I won the course and there was a scholarship, one season in the Citroën AX Cup paid by Citroën Netherlands. That’s how I started racing because there was no financial backing in the family, the money was not there. I was in the slipstream of Jos Verstappen and finally at home ground [for the Nations’ Cup] I could show there was another name and potential driver. The crowd went mental [when we won], it was completely full with a lot of banners on the home straight.”