Norbert Michelisz was crowned King of the WTCR following a dramatic season super-finale in Malaysia last weekend. In the process, he also became the first Hungarian to win an FIA world title. Here, the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse driver, 35, reveals:
*His fears that he wouldn’t even start Race 3 due to a technical issue
*How he contemplated quitting in the aftermath of his 2017 world title defeat
*His strategy to remain calm and relaxed gave him a psychological edge
*How simracing prowess meant his dream of becoming a racing driver came true
*Why he will be a “better driver” when he goes for his title defence in 2020
On winning an FIA world title…
“It’s something I’ve been hoping would happen for a long time because of all titles you want to win, clearly for me it’s this one. It’s just a huge relief after a long season, the longest day of my life. I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night thinking about the three races. And it was like a rollercoaster because Race 1 was quite good, winning the race. In Race 2 the visibility was very bad, I had cars flying all around me, coming from left and right and I went straight on under braking at Turn 9. It was a bit unlucky but I managed to recover some places and climb back to eighth, which was vital for the title. Before Race 3 it looked like I wouldn’t even start, but what matters is we managed to achieve what we really wanted to and it’s time to celebrate. However, the most important thing is to say a huge thank you to my family, to the team and all the Hungarian people who have been supporting me for a bit more than 10 years now.”
On fearing he wouldn’t make the start…
“When the pitlane opened I realised there was a problem. I was more or less rolling to my starting grid position and my mechanics even had to run to push me there. I immediately jumped out of the car and I was discussing with my engineer what to do. The car was sometimes on three cylinders, two cylinders. When I started the engine [again] it sounded awful and when I went on the throttle, I realised something was wrong so I needed to reset again, but then it was working and I was able to start the race thanks to the guys. But starting Race 3 I would not have bet a lot of money that I would be celebrating the title.”
On being embroiled in a frantic lead fight in Race 3 with the title a stake…
“My start wasn’t ideal but I knew I somehow needed to be P3 and avoid doing anything silly. It again started to rain and we had slick tyres on the front. Esteban [Guerrieri] was the one who had to take a risk and he went for it, he did a good move. I just tried to be clever but I realised at that point I didn’t have the pace to follow and people from the back started to come. Then I had a clash with an Audi and thought my rear-left must be bent. I was really in the thick of all the things. Johan [Kristoffersson] and Mikel [Azcona] were behind Esteban but in front of me and they had fantastic pace. Being fourth, I realised something needed to happen because I was flat out and I didn’t have the pace of the guys in front. It was all or nothing, I needed to finish third so I was trying to go for it. But in the end, I saw the guys were giving Esteban a hard time and the key thing was Johan and Mikel were in the two fastest cars.”
On realising that the title could be his…
“Approaching the last corner on the last lap was the only time I believed I could win. Gabriele [Tarquini, my team-mate] was behind me and I knew that I would not have any problems from the cars behind him. I am not a person to get so emotional, but with everything happening at the same time it was just a huge pressure coming off the shoulders in one second when I crossed the finishing line. You understand it’s a dream of yourself, it’s a dream of a lot of people in Hungary.”
On his progression from simracer to World Touring Car winner…
“A bit more than 10 years ago I was sitting at home dreaming about driving a racing car. I really wanted to become a racing car driver somehow. On the inside I felt this was my destiny, but in our [family’s] position, at 18 I realised that probably I was not going to make it. But then I was invited for a test when I was 21. That was 2005 and it was the first time for me driving a racing car because of my gaming results. Year by year I managed to climb a bit higher. Even coming from Hungary to get a works seat was something unbelievable, let alone winning races and being in a position to fight for a world title on two occasions.”
On making up for 2017’s near miss…
“The two weeks after that final race in Qatar in 2017 was one of the worst periods in my career because I was so much down. I really felt it was in my hands, but then it just slipped away. I was honestly thinking about quitting. I have to say I changed a lot during the last two years. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become a father but I realise I am much better in setting my priorities between things in my life. Since I have children, they just fulfil all the things. I don’t want to say the title is not important but my having children is helping me because in the past I was a bit too much pressurising myself, always wanting to know everything, always analysing everything, planning everything. But with experience you realise you are not always in a position to do that and most of the time you cannot prepare for all scenarios. Without the experience in 2017 I would not have won the title this year. And If I look back, if I could pick a script, I would go for this one with all the troubles, all the difficulties, all the wonderful moments with me sitting here and enjoying it.”
On his new approach…
“Becoming a father doesn’t mean it’s less important for me to become world champion but I just changed a lot with my approach. Before becoming a father, you can listen to people a lot and experienced what it might be like. But when you become a father it’s sometimes so intense you discover feelings and approaches from your side which you didn’t understand were inside you. It’s the most beautiful part of my life now but I don’t want to say it’s easy because sometimes it’s very tough.”
On keeping calm…
“This year I didn’t want to be too excited about winning or not winning, it’s about keeping going and doing what we did in the past couple of seasons. Quite strangely [in Malaysia] I managed to keep the strategy to be calm and I felt quite relaxed. Two years ago, before the season finale, I was stressed and the championship was my first thought in the morning. This year I felt only confidence and calmness coming from inside. My only goal was to focus on myself and to get the most out of myself. I am sure this was good for my performance.”
On being the hunted, not the hunter…
“In 2017 I had a very good shot at the world championship but I was the hunter going into the last weekend. I was some points behind but now it was the opposite, I was the one being hunted. This always helps me and I like this position. Coming to the final race leading was like I wanted it to be a couple of race weekends ago. To go to Malaysia with the psychological advantage of leading was better than being behind. The margin was very small so we were not in a comfortable position but it was in my hands and that’s a nice feeling. Of course, if you have a small margin in terms of points then you are under more pressure because you are in the front, you are the one that can lose and fall back. The others, Esteban, Yvan and Thed, were the ones having the possibility to gain a position. But I didn’t mind having a bit of pressure because this always helped me to perform at my peak. Thinking back to my first WTCC races in Hungary, they were a huge amount of pressure, the races in Japan [with Honda]. Somehow these were the weekends, that on average, I was scoring the most race wins, the most pole positions. I kind of had the same feeling in Malaysia, I didn’t mind having the extra pressure.”
On closest title rival Esteban Guerrieri…
“I would honestly like to congratulate Esteban because his performances in Race 2 and Race 3 [in Malaysia] were unbelievably strong. It was a very tough fight and we were going flat out. He had some technical issues but so did I. But all my rivals, Yvan [Muller] and Thed [Björk] too, are at the top of their game.”
On his 2019 season…
“We didn’t start off very good, but the second part of the season made up for that. There is a nice saying, by working hard you can win or you can learn. I’m happy with what I did this season and the important thing is to always be there and then it’s only a matter of time that everything comes together and you can win a championship.”
On his title defence next season…
“I can’t wait to be in the same position again [next year]. I think that this title and the psychological plus from it will make me a better driver for the following seasons. If you win a race you feel you are strong enough to win more races and then the next target is to win a championship [and then more championships when you win one championship].”
Date of birth: 08/08/1984 (age 35)
Place of birth: Himesháza, Hungary
Lives: Pécs, Hungary
Marital status: Married with two daughters
Team: BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse
Car: Hyundai i30 N TCR
#WTCR2019SUPERGRID credentials: WTCC Trophy winner 2012, 2015; WTCR winner 2019
From online to on track: Michelisz’s online racing exploits earned him a test in a Zengő Motorsport Renault Clio at the Hungaroring in 2005. Despite being a total rookie, he ended up 0.2s slower than established racer Gábor Wéber, who recommended him for the opportunity.
One-make maestro: That testing performance earned him a season in the Suzuki Swift Cup in his homeland in 2006. With a career in economics on hold he promptly took the title before adding the Renault Clio equivalent the following season.
New horizons: The SEAT León Eurocup was next and after securing the crown in 2009, he stepped up to the FIA World Touring Car Championship with Zengő Motorsport a guiding light.
Factory chance: After winning the WTCC Trophy for independent racers twice, Michelisz landed a factory Honda ride for 2016, which culminated in an outright title challenge one year later. He eventually finished runner-up to Thed Björk with three wins and three fastest laps.
Did you know? Michelisz joined forces with Hungarian engineer Dávid Bári to establish his own TCR racing team, M1RA.
What pre-race rituals do you carry out before climbing aboard your Hyundai i30 N TCR?
“I drink at least two espressos! Since I am involved with Italian teams, I realise I drink more and more coffee.”
Is there a story behind your number five race number?
“I don’t have any special connections to that number. It was just my first number in WTCC, and more and more fans started to produce their shirts with the number five. When I was asked the question in 2011, I just went for five and I always give the same answer.”
Which two drivers would you like to join you on the ultimate podium, any era, any category?
“I would choose Michael Schumacher because he’s the biggest legend in motorsport. I would have said Sébastien Loeb, but I was already with him on a podium in WTCC. So, I would choose Tom Kristensen because he’s a big legend in Le Mans.”
The WTCR calendar features 10 great venues each season but if you could add one more, what would it be?
“Bathurst. I always wanted to drive on the Nürburgring Nordschleife and in Macau and the other one on the same level was Bathurst. It’s one of the most amazing tracks in the world and if we could have that on the calendar next to Macau, next to Nürburgring it would be the most amazing calendar out of any motorsport category.”
What does the future hold when you call time on your racing career?
“I enjoy being involved in motorsport so much that probably if I didn’t drive, I would look to something outside driving, maybe driver coaching, managing drivers or expanding with M1RA as a team boss. It would be one of these three things.”