Muller can overhaul Citroën team-mate López with strong result
Honda and LADA boosted ahead of Slovakia Ring return
Big breaks for home hero Homola and Argentine adventurer Girolami
Life moves fast in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Less than one week after the WTCC thrilled Russia with two electrifying races, the focus turns to Slovakia from 19-21 June and the halfway point of the all-action 2015 season.
Run first in 2012, WTCC Race of Slovakia made history last year when heavy rain forced the cancellation of the second race, the first time that a WTCC event had fallen foul of the elements. But while it’s hard to forecast the weather, predicting the results in Slovakia will be an even taller order given the competitive nature of the world’s premier touring car series.
From 10 rounds, five drivers have claimed race wins, while a further six have visited the podium. All three official manufacturers active in the WTCC – Citroën, Honda and LADA – have claimed top-three finishes with privateer Chevrolet drivers also enjoying podium success in 2015.
And the title chase is also tightly poised with defending champion José María López’s advantage trimmed to 35 points after the Argentine ace posted his first non-score of the year last time out in Russia. Four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller is the driver in the ascendancy following his third win of the campaign at the Moscow Raceway. He has high hopes of catching his Citroën team-mate. “At the moment it’s too many points but the season is still long and everything is still possible,” said Frenchman Muller.
Sébastien Loeb won the only race in Slovakia to survive the deluge last season. The nine-time world rally champion is experiencing an indifferent run of form at present meaning a return to winning ways next week would serve as a timely boost for the French ace ahead of his home round of the WTCC at the end of the month. China’s Ma Qing Hua completes the factory Citroën line-up and will make his Slovakia Ring debut.
Honda arrives in Slovakia on a high following Tiago Monteiro’s first win of 2015 in Russia where team-mate Gabriele Tarquini scored his maiden podium of the season. LADA’s prospects are also on the up after Rob Huff finished runner-up in the second ROSNEFT WTCC Race of Russia. Championship newcomer Nicky Catsburgalso impressed with fourth in race two. Jaap van Lagen completes the revitalised LADA attack.
In addition to the established frontrunners there will be a home hero for local fans to cheer with Slovakian rising star Mato Homola making his debut in a TC1 car in what will be a busy weekend for the 20-year-old. As well as the pair of WTCC races, Homola will contest the supporting rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Cup in which he will challenge for victory. See Mato Homola Q&A for more information.
Another talented newcomer set to create a stir in Slovakia is Néstor Girolami. The reigning Súper TC2000 champion from Argentina used to race – and beat – José María López when they raced against each other in South America. Girolami will drive a Honda Racing team Sweden Civic WTCC in the first of two planned appearances after regular driver Rickard Rydell agreed to step down for the weekend.
Mehdi Bennani: Returning from Russia loathing rather than loving following a troubled weekend, it’s Operation Season-Back-On-Track time for Morocco’s finest, now third in the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy.
Tom Chilton: There were no such problems for the ROAL Motorsport driver in Russia after the Briton headed home with a Qualifying Q3 appearance and a Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy victory under his belt. He credited set-up changes to his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for his form hike.
Tom Coronel: Once again, expect more qualifying tactics from the Dutchman, who will target ninth or 10th in order to secure a front-row start for the reverse grid second race, which he reckons gives him his best chance of adding to his win tally in the WTCC.
Stefano D’Aste: Valentino Rossi’s former team-mate when he raced motorbikes, D’Aste is overdue a strong result following frustrating trips to Germany and Russia. He was fifth on his Slovakia debut in 2012.
Grégoire Demoustier: In his first season of WTCC competition, Demoustier continues to prioritise building his experience over pushing flat out for top 10 finishes. He raced at Slovakia Ring during his stint in FIA GT1.
John Filippi: Having turned 20 in February, Filippi is still the WTCC’s youngest driver despite the presence of fellow 20-year-old Mato Homola in Slovakia. The Corsican was fourth in TCT2 at the Slovakia Ring in 2014.
Hugo Valente: With the Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s now carrying 40 kilograms in compensation weight holding him back, Valente settled for points instead of podiums in Russia, even though his outright pace suggested he’s capable of plenty more.
Q&A: MATO HOMOLA
The 20-year-old rising star, who will drive a Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 in WTCC Race of Slovakia next week, looks ahead to his dream coming true when his country hosts rounds 11 and 12 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship.
You said in 2014 it would be a dream to race a TC1 car in the WTCC. Now that dream is coming true for your home race, how does that make you feel?
“It’s my big dream. We don’t have so much budget, so I have to thank my family and my sponsors. But also François Ribeiro from Eurosport Events, who has been very important in my participation in the WTCC and SEAT Slovakia, who support me in the ETCC and allowed me to take this WTCC wildcard entry.”
What’s made you work so hard to get his drive?
“Since the end of last season we wanted to join the WTCC but we didn’t manage it because of the money. But we thought it would be really good to show my potential and show the Slovak fans I can be a hero by doing this race. I tested a TC1 car last year but really that was quite far away now and I don’t have a test before the race. It helps that the SEAT León I race in the ETCC is front-wheel drive and I obviously know the circuit.”
Racing in the WTCC and ETCC during the same weekend will keep you busy. How will you cope?
“We knew from the beginning we will have two championships in one weekend. It’s possible to manage it. Sometimes there will not be much time between the sessions so it will be tough. But at least I will be in the racing mode and maybe that will be an advantage. I trained a lot mentally and physically because I knew this dream could come true. I believe I’m prepared. I just hope the weather is dry but not too hot.”
What has the interest in Slovakia been like since you announced you’d be doing the WTCC race?
“From the fans and the press I see I have some good support and the TV is also supporting me. It’s great to show that motorsport can connect to the people even though it’s not so long that we have a circuit in Slovakia. I hope this is a new era for motorsport in Slovakia and I am the one starting it.”
Where do you think you can finish in the races?
“It will be really tough but if I can do the maximum of my ability and give the maximum from my side then I will be happy. I Invite the Slovak fans to create a great atmosphere.”
Name: Slovakia Ring
Location: 800 Orechová Potôn 930 02, Slovakia (40 kilometres east of Bratislava)
Length: 5.922 kilometres
Race distance: 2 x 11 laps
Lap record (qualifying): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 2m03.912s (172.05kph), 11/05/2014
Lap record (race): Gabriele Tarquini (Honda Civic WTCC), 2m12.918s (160.39kph), 28/04/2013
WTCC appearances: Three (2012, 2013 and 2014)
Time zone: GMT +2 hours
Sunrise/sunset: 04h51/20h55 (Sunday 21 June)
Average temperature: 13°C-24°C (for June)
DID YOU KNOW?
Slovakia is the world’s largest producer of cars per capita with a total of 571,071 cars manufactured in the country in 2007 alone. KIA, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Volkswagen all produce cars in Slovakia.