As a long-term member of the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team line-up, Portugal’s Tiago Monteiro, 40, is a firm contender for FIA World Touring Car Championship honours in 2017. He discusses new team-mates, title rivals and the WTCC’s return to Macau.

Apart from testing, how have you kept busy during the winter months?
“I had some time off with my family over Christmas and the New Year. It was good, just enjoying time with my kids and my family. After that we started shaking down the cars, and there were some PR and marketing activities. I’ve been all over Europe since the beginning of January. I even had one day of skiing for a photoshoot. Now it’s going to be full on until [the first race in] April. When I look at my agenda, February is very busy with testing and PR, it’s non-stop. March there are not a lot of days off and then the first race will arrive very soon.”

What do you think of the new Honda driver line-up with Ryo Michigami joining the team and Rob Huff taking up a new challenge elsewhere?
“The first time we were together was in testing. It’s new but it’s not that new, because we already know Ryo from last year when he did some testing and a race with us. Because it was not a race weekend it doesn’t seem that different so far. It isn’t the biggest difference not having Rob there – many times in testing we were not together. But I’m very glad for him he’s found a good opportunity. I think he will be a strong competitor, no doubt about it.”

Will you be there to help Ryo?
“Of course, that’s what we’re here for. I’ve done that already in testing. We’re here to help him to be up to speed. He has the talent and the experience. He just needs to learn this car, which is very different to what he’s used to. He’s proven he can learn fast and be up to date.”

You’ll obviously need him to be quick for WTCC MAC3. What do you think of WTCC MAC3? Have you enjoyed it, has it been a good challenge?
“It’s been much more fun than I expected. The impact with the points last year was too low and it’s changing for this year, which is definitely a good idea. It is really a challenging thing for the drivers, it’s interesting but also stressful. If the show is good for the fans, then it’s a great tool and it should stay. And we need Ryo to be up to speed and I am quite confident he will be. Of course, there will be some tracks that he doesn’t know but he should be okay.”

Macau and Monza are back for this year – you must be very pleased with Macau in particular because it’s like a second home race for you given the Portuguese influence?
“I am, I am, I am very pleased with Macau. I was so disappointed when Macau left the championship. To have it back is great. As you know, I was there last year to win the Guia Race because I love it so much. Macau deserves to be in this championship and vice-versa. Monza, although it’s a great name and story, it’s not the most exciting circuit. The races can be exciting but it’s not perfect for the drivers with long straight lines and hard braking. Okay, there’s one great chicane, but I am not a big fan but that’s the way it is. It’s a bit frustrating we’ve lost tracks where we were very strong. Paul Ricard we always won there, Slovakia and Moscow. But that’s the way it is and we have to deal with that.”

The WTCC also goes back to the NĂĽrburgring, which was obviously a difficult event for you last year. Do you have any fears about returning following your accident in 2016?
“No fears no, but the Nürburgring is always a challenge. The fact I had the accident is okay. Right after the accident I went back in the car and things were good. In my experience in motorsport I have not had too many big accidents. It’s part of the game and thank God it hasn’t affected my physically or psychologically. Of course, I will always think about the crash, but it was a place where you wouldn’t really crash but for a mechanical problem. It’s a challenge going back with or without the crash.”

If you don’t win the title this year, who will win it?
“Of course Norbi [Michelisz] will be probably my main competitor in the same team, same car and he can fight for the world championship. But I have no doubt Rob [Huff] in the Citroën will be a very strong competitor. Even if it’s not a works team the car is still faster than us at the moment. He has the material upper hand, no doubt about it. I don’t discount Volvo because they have been really coming back strong. They’ve worked hard and I know they’re signing some good drivers. They are reinforcing the whole team. I cannot say how they have been testing, but I am sure they will be a strong competitor. Right now, I will say Rob and Norbi will be my main competitors, but let’s not forget Volvo.”

And what about testing, reason to be optimistic?
“It’s looking positive. We have a lot of new things on the car, both aerodynamic and engine-wise and all the hard work that has been done over the winter looks great in terms of numbers. Now we have more testing before the first race so things will come bit by bit to the car.”

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