WTCR - Event preview: WTCR title chasers turn street fighters in Macau | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WTCR - Event preview: WTCR title chasers turn street fighters in Macau

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08.11.19

Iconic Circuito da Guia hosts latest chapter of action-packed WTCR / OSCARO season *Local wildcard racers join capacity 32-car line-up for famous Guia Race *Hero Huff goes for record-extending 10th Macau victory

Event preview: FIA WTCR Race of Macau
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019

Rounds 25, 26 and 27 of 30, Circuito da Guia, 14-17 November

From Super Suzuka to Mighty Macau, the race to win the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO continues unabated from 14-17 November with the driver and team title battles wide open and hotly contested.

Esteban Guerrieri leads Norbert Michelisz on the #RoadToMalaysia – venue of the season super-finale next month – by six points. But with a maximum of 85 up for grabs on Macau’s ultra-demanding Circuito da Guia street track, a whole host of drivers are firmly in the title mix.

They include third-placed Thed Björk, the 2017 FIA World Touring Car champion, and his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co team-mate, the two-time Macau Guia Race winner Yvan Muller, regarded as the world’s most successful touring car driver.

Mikel Azcona, the top rookie in fifth overall for CUPRA-powered PWR Racing, and Guerrieri’s ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda-equipped team-mate Néstor Girolami remain firmly in contention for title glory. But while a second consecutive WTCR / OSCARO crown remains mathematically possible for Gabriele Tarquini, the Italian is prioritising helping BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team-mate Michelisz to finish the season at the top of the table.  

Measuring 6.120-kilometres in length, the Circuito da Guia is loved and feared in equal measure. It blends tight turns and narrow blasts with long, wide-open straights and sweeping corners – plus gradient changes – to create arguably the most challenging and spectacular street circuits in existence.

Rob Huff, whose nine Macau wins are more than any other driver or rider, is braced for the huge challenge that awaits him and the other 31 drivers that will contest the famous Guia Race.

“Macau absolutely terrifies the life out of me,” said Huff, who drives a Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR for Sébastien Loeb Racing. “There is no room for error, but you want a bit more in every corner. But the difference where you are at and where you want a bit more is a trip to hospital! On every corner. And it’s as simple as that. When you start using the wing mirrors on the walls and you come out of every corner thinking ‘how on earth did I survive that corner’, you’re almost there, not quite, but you’re almost at the point, but then you have to go to another step. You hold your breath for two minutes, 30 seconds every lap.”

Touring car racing has been held in this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for more than half a century, with the famous Guia Race first run in 1972. Having welcomed back the WTCC in 2017 when Huff bagged a record ninth win, Macau hosted the thrilling seven-way inaugural WTCR / OSCARO season showdown in November 2018 when Tarquini beat Muller to the title by three points.

WTCR Race of Macau, which counts as the Suncity Group Guia Race, begins with free practice on Thursday 14 November followed by First and Second Qualifying on Friday 15 November. Race 1 takes place over eight laps from 14h55 local time on Saturday 16 November, with Race 2 and Race 3 scheduled for 08h45 and 11h25 on Sunday 17 November. While Race 2 is an eight-lap affair, Race 3 is run over 11 laps. Click here to view the timetable.

Local wildcards complete 32-car WTCR Race of Macau line-up
Six local drivers have been handed the chance to build their experience in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. Billy Lo from Macau, who made his WTCR debut at his home event in 2018, will be joined by Hong Kong-based drivers James Tang, Kwai Wah Wong, Arthur Law and Terence Tse. These five are the wildcard racers nominated by Macau’s ASN, the Automobile General Association Macao-China (AAMC). Jim Ka To, who made his WTCR debut for all-season entrant KCMG’s offshoot KC Motorgroup at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan last month, completes the wildcard list. Click to view the press release.

Huff goes for record-extending 10th Macau win wary of tough task
Rob Huff will be ‘terrified’ when he bids for a record-extending 10th victory on the streets of Macau. Huff has won the Macau Grand Prix’s legendary Guia Race nine times, an achievement that has crowned him the unofficial King of Macau, as no driver or rider has won in the event’s other categories on more occasions. Click to view the press release.

Macau success fundamental to where I am today, says Priaulx
Andy Priaulx starts WTCR Race of Macau hoping that former glories can provide the impetus he needs to kick-start his, at times, “really frustrating” first season in WTCR / OSCARO. Back in 2005, Priaulx arrived in Macau on the cusp of winning the FIA World Touring Car Championship. He duly delivered, going on to make it a hat-trick of WTCC titles with BMW, including an against-the-odds triumph in 2007. Click to view the press release.

Dahlgren gets WTCR reward with PWR for home title triumph
Robert Dahlgren will make his WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO debut at WTCR Race of Macau as his reward for winning TCR Scandinavia this season. Dahlgren takes over the PWR Racing-run CUPRA TCR campaigned so far in 2019 by team co-founder Daniel Haglöf in a move that’s also designed to bolster Mikel Azcona’s title challenge. Azcona is fifth in the points and top rookie in his first WTCR / OSCARO season for PWR Racing and will be able to count on Dahlgren’s experience and knowledge of the Circuito da Guia, which dates back to 2011 when the Swede topped the first qualifying session. Click to view the press release.

Twenty-four races, 12 winners and a tightly-poised WTCR title tussle
Twelve drivers have won races in 2019, while all seven customer racing brands have celebrated race victories to underline another hugely competitive WTCR / OSCARO season. Click here to view the provisional 2019 standings.

Welcome to the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID
The #WTCR2019SUPERGRID celebrates the fact that of the 26 all-season racers, seven have won 14 FIA world titles, while the others have shared 29 major championships between them.

Gabriele Tarquini, who began his world title defence with the Race 2 win at the season-opening WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco, carries the number 1 on his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. The vastly experienced Tarquini took his second victory of 2019 when he beat team-mate and home hero Norbert Michelisz in the third race in Hungary.

After missing out on the inaugural WTCR / OSCARO crown by three points in a seven-way title decider in Macau last November, four-time world champion Yvan Muller is back in a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China. He took his first wins of the season at Lynk & Co’s home event in September to announce his emergence as a title contender.

Thed Björk partners Muller at Cyan Racing Lynk & Co and started his bid for a second FIA world crown by giving Lynk & Co an historic victory in Morocco. After the Hungary and Slovakia weekends proved frustrating in comparison, the Swede hit back in style with a win double in The Netherlands. The Swede climbed up to third in the rankings with a Race 3 podium in Japan.

Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport Golf GTI TCR), the 2012 WTCC champion, is one of 12 of the 15 winners from 2018 back in action in 2019. After a challenging start to the year, the Briton led in Slovakia and scored his first podium of the season in Japan last month.

BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus, has been forced to miss WTCR Race of Macau due to the fact he’s defending his FIA GT World Cup title from 2018. Rising German star and TCR Asia champion Luca Engstler replaces him at BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team.

Double FIA World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen) became a double WTCR winner with victory in Japan’s third race. However, Macau is unchartered territory.

Like Kristoffersson, three-time WTCC champion Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) is new to WTCR for 2019, but he’s yet to savour the same success as his Swedish rival, although he led in China and was quickest in the opening two phases of Second Qualifying in Japan.

Winner of Race 1 in Marrakech, Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR), topped the standings after the first race in Hungary only for his challenge to unravel when broken steering caused his Race 3 crash. He made amends with a fighting second place in Race 2 at the Slovakia Ring and retook top spot in the title table by winning Race 2 at Zandvoort. Having held first overall throughout the summer, a frustrating Ningbo weekend meant the Argentine dropped to second in the table. But he fought back in style in Japan by winning Race 1 and completing the weekend as the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver. He also won Race 3 in Macau last season.

Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport) had high hopes of his first 2019 victory in Hungary when he lined up on the reverse-grid Race 2 pole. But a clutch issue meant a sluggish start resulting in the Frenchman settling for second ahead of impressive newcomer Daniel Haglöf (PWR Racing), who hands over his CUPRA TCR to Robert Dahlgren for Macau, with the TCR Scandinavia champion making his WTCR / OSCARO debut.

Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and Comtoyou Racing pair Niels Langeveld and Frédéric Vervisch complete the Audi-powered attack with Vervisch winning in Slovakia – the result of an impressive charge from ninth on the grid – and taking a podium double in Germany. In his first season in WTCR / OSCARO, Langeveld took a breakthrough podium in Japan. Shedden won once last season and won’t be giving up on his efforts to emulate that achievement in Macau, where Vernay and Vervisch were both victorious in 2018.

A number of exciting young guns are challenging the established order in 2019. They include Mikel Azcona, who graduated to WTCR as the TCR Europe champion to race a PWR-run CUPRA, and his close rival in recent seasons, Attila Tassi, the 20-year-old Honda-powered KCMG driver. Although Vila Real was unchartered territory for both back in July, Tassi took the DHL Pole Position for Race 3, while Azcona scored a breakthrough win in Race 2. Azcona, the best-placed rookie in the standings, was a podium finisher again in China, where Honda-powered Tassi produced his highest-scoring weekend.

Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne) and Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are already winners in WTCR, but at 26 and 23 respectively, they remain among a list of talented youngsters that also includes Aurélien Panis, who has switched to CUPRA power for 2019 with Comtoyou Team DHL CUPRA Racing and set the fastest lap in Race 1 in China. Ex-single-seater racer Ceccon scored a podium brace in Slovakia, while Ehrlacher led and was the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver in Vila Real.

Tom Coronel, who has extensive experience in Macau, partners Panis at Comtoyou. His fellow Dutchman Nicky Catsburg (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team) is new to WTCR in 2019 having triumphed in the World Touring Car Championship in the past. Benjamin Leuchter made the most of his Nordschleife knowledge to score an emotional home victory in Germany. However, Macau is a trip into the unknown for the SLR Volkswagen driver.

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Honda-powered Argentine Néstor Girolami, another series newcomer for this year, is a WTCC race winner with three WTCR / OSCARO victories also to his name. Having become the first Chinese to score WTCR points in 2018, Ma Qinghua made more history as the first Chinese driver to win a WTCR / OSCARO race when he triumphed in Race 3 at the Slovakia Ring in his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce by Romeo Ferraris.

Tiago Monteiro is in his first full season since serious head and neck injuries ended his hopes of winning the WTCC title in 2017. The Portuguese, a Formula One podium finisher in the past, drives a Honda Civic Type R TCR for Hong Kong-based KCMG. He returns to Macau where he won the Guia Race in 2016 and remains on a high following his emotional home win in Vila Real in July.

Monteiro’s former team-mate, Norbert Michelisz, is second on the #RoadToMalaysia after adding victories in China and Japan to his triumphs in Germany and Portugal for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse. Mehdi Bennani, meanwhile, is playing catch-up in the WTCR / OSCARO standings but will look back to his Guia Race triumph in 2017 for inspiration.

They said what? WTCR drivers on Mighty Macau
This is what some of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID members have had to say about Macau.

Tom Coronel (Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing, CUPRA TCR): “If you say a street circuit already a racing driver starts to get excited. You have Monaco but then you have the next step and it’s Macau. You have the high speed, it’s so tight and it’s easy for somebody in front of you to make a mistake and that will give you a big handicap if you crash into them. Once you’ve touched the barrier and had damage to your car it can be a handicap all weekend. Your confidence will be one step down and you will never get it back, never. Once you have a problem you will carry it like a backpack full with led for the rest of the weekend. You have to get in the Macau mode, feel the atmosphere and taste the track, the bumpiness, to absorb the tension of the whole situation at Macau. This is such a special feeling you never have that at a normal race track.”

Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR): “The most important part of Macau is to do a good qualifying and to do this we need to be competitive and have a good baseline from last year when we could win. To qualify well it’s very important to do Mandarin flat out. It’s a big-balls corner and this can give you extra time for free if you are able to go full throttle in that corner in qualifying. It’s also very important to nail the second sector, the mountain. It’s one of the nicest feelings as a driver to drive that sector in qualifying to the limit because it’s just incredibly challenging and I really like to perform to the best and give everything possible. There is always big risks in Macau but I try to be precise and do the best I can.”

Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR): “I’m really excited about the Macau weekend, always, but the outside pressure gets more and more after I was given the King of Macau title. I’ve had nine wins and people expect you to blitz everyone again. But every year it gets harder and harder. You have to rethink where I can find that extra bit of time [that] I seem to have had all my life in Macau. The WTCR is a professional championship and the level is extremely high, but it’s a record I want to extend. We didn’t have the starts we wanted in the races [last year]. The pace was there and I had a great battle with Esteban [Guerrieri in Race 3]. The Audis could easily overtake on the straights though. That’s not ideal but you have to make the most of it. But I love street circuits, Macau is the street circuit and it seems to have been my baby for more than 10 years and I hope that continues.”

Ma Qinghua (Team Mulsanne, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris): “It’s a second home race for me. It’s always been exciting to race in Macau because of the track, what is around and the people. It’s going to be a tight race and a challenging race. We have a car with the potential to be competitive and we’ve made a lot of progress in the last few races. I was not doing a full season when I raced at Macau last year so this year I will be better prepared. In 2017 I did the quickest lap in the race, but in the past when I raced in Macau there is something always not going too perfect. I never had a chance to put everything together in Macau so fingers crossed for this year.”

Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai i30 N TCR): “Macau for me is probably or the most challenging circuit in the world besides the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Okay, it’s shorter than the Nürburgring, but you have corners where you are doing 230kph with concrete walls on the exit and you need to take a lot of risk to be fast. I always enjoy being there, it’s a very nice place, very nice environment, fantastic track and it’s an intense title battle. I expect Macau to be very important for the championship fight.”

Yvan Muller (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co): “The challenge is 100 times bigger in Macau than anywhere else. But Macau is Macau and we can never predict what is going to happen. In 2007 my car stopped on the last lap when I was in the lead and was the virtual champion. But in 2008 I claimed my first world title in Macau.”

Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS): “I think we’re going to have a very good car, not heavy, which normally makes a big difference. Last year we did a great qualifying with a lot of ballast and won a race. I want to do the same this year, that’s the main target at the end of the season. I feel confident and I am confident my team will give me the best Audi RS 3 LMS, but we have to see what the other guys do, although the long straights are good for our car as we don’t have too much drag. All I can do is drive at 100 per cent.”

All you need to know about WTCR Race of Macau

THE ESSENTIALS
Rounds: 25-27 of 30
Venue: Circuito da Guia, Macau
Date: 14-17 November 2019
Location: 207 Avenue da Amiazade, Edif. do Grande Premio, Macau
Length: 6.120 kilometres
Time zone: GMT +8 hours
Race 1 distance: 8 laps (43.960 kilometres)
Race 2 distance: 8 laps (48.960 kilometres)
Race 3 distance: 11 laps (67.320 kilometres)

WTCR qualifying lap record:
Rob Huff (Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR), 2m29.040s (147.80kph), 16/11/18
WTCR race lap record:
Rob Huff (Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR), 2m31.038s (145.80kph), 17/11/18

THE CHALLENGE
Macau’s 6.120-kilometre Circuito da Guia blends twisty turns and narrow blasts with long, wide-open straights and sweeping corners – plus gradient changes – to create one of the most challenging and spectacular street circuits on the planet. Touring car racing has been held in this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for more than half a century, with the famous Guia Race first run in 1972. Having welcomed back the WTCC in 2017 when Rob Huff bagged a record ninth win, Macau hosted the thrilling seven-way inaugural WTCR season showdown in November 2018 when Gabriele Tarquini took the title.

FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL WITH ROB HUFFF
“Macau absolutely terrifies the life out of me. There is no room for error, but you want a bit more in every corner. But the difference where you are at and where you want a bit more is a trip to hospital. On every corner. And it’s as simple as that. You can’t teach someone to do what I do in Macau. It comes down to a little bit of whether you’ve got it or haven’t got it and that comes down to being a racing driver. Everyone in WTCR has got it, no doubt, but when you start using the wing mirrors on the walls and you come out of every corner thinking ‘how on earth did I survive that corner’, you’re almost there, not quite, but you’re almost at the point, but then you have to go to another step. You hold your breath for two minutes, 30 seconds every lap.”

FIVE MACAU FACTS
1: The first race on Macau’s streets took place in 1954 with the inaugural Guia Race held for the first time in 1972.
2: With nine wins, no driver or rider has won in Macau on more occasions than Rob Huff, who claimed his first Guia Race win in 2008. Huff also holds the Guia Race lap record, a 2m27.009s set in 2014 in a LADA Granta.
3: The Circuito da Guia measures seven metres in width at its most narrow point but 14 metres at its widest point.
4: Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5: Of the 26 drivers racing at Macau with all-season status six are Circuito da Guia rookies. They are Mikel Azcona, Luca Engstler, Johan Kristoffersson, Niels Langeveld, Benjamin Leuchter and Attila Tassi.

PROVISIONAL KEY TIMINGS*
Wednesday 13 November

Macau Grand Prix media event: 13h00-16h00 (Institute for Tourism Studies)
Thursday 14 November
Free Practice 1: 09h00-09h45
Free Practice 2: 13h40-14h10
Friday 15 November
First Qualifying: 08h50-09h30
First Qualifying DHL Media Zone (paddock): 09h30-09h40 (estimated)
First Qualifying press conference (Media Centre): 09h45-10h00 (estimated)
Second Qualifying Q1: 13h35-14h05
Second Qualifying Q2: 14h10-14h25
Second Qualifying Q3: 14h35 (first car starts top five DHL Pole Position shootout)
Second Qualifying DHL Media Zone (paddock): 1435-15h00 (estimated)
Second Qualifying press conference (Media Centre): 15h05-15h20 (estimated)
Saturday 16 November
Race 1: 14h55 (8 laps)
Race 1 podium: 15h30 (estimated)
Race 1 press conference (Media Centre): 15h40 (estimated)
Sunday 17 November
Race 2: 08h45 (8 laps)
Race 2 podium: 09h20 (estimated)
Race 2 press conference (Media Centre): 09h30 (estimated)
Race 3: 11h25 (11 laps)
Race 3 podium: 12h05 (estimated)
Race 3 press conference (Media Centre): 12h15 (estimated)
*All timings are local (GMT +8 hours) and subject to change

Media Pass Collection Counter location:
Opposite Macau Ferry Terminal, far right-hand side as you face the Grand Prix Building

Media Accreditation Centre opening hours:
09h00-18h00: Tuesday 12 November
09h00-18h00: Wednesday 13 November
07h00-18h00: Thursday 14 November
07h00-18h00: Friday 15 November
07h00-18h00: Saturday 16 November
07h00-16h00: Sunday 17 November

Media Centre location:
1F, Grand Prix Building

Media Centre opening hours:
09h00-18h00: Tuesday 12 November
09h00-18h00: Wednesday 13 November
07h00-18h00: Thursday 14 November
07h00-20h00: Friday 15 November
07h00-20h00: Saturday 16 November
07h00-until last journalist leaves: Sunday 17 November
11h00-13h00: Monday 18 November