It's Joker Lap time in WTCR

2022-07-03T11:30:59+02:00July 3rd, 2022|2022, WTCR Race of Portugal 2022|

Vila Real is all set to host the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup’s unique Joker Lap when WTCR racing returns to the northern Portuguese town this afternoon.

Inspired by the FIA World Rallycross Championship and used for the first time in an FIA-sanctioned car race when the FIA World Touring Car Championship visited Vila Real in 2017, the Joker Lap provides a passing opportunity on a circuit where overtaking isn’t always so straightforward.

The Joker Lap is located at the roundabout that helps to form the final corner of the 4.790-kilometre circuit following a fast, downhill section. Instead of keeping to the right, the Joker Lap takes drivers on an alternative and slower route to the left. It adds 86 metres to the full lap and the name of the game is to ensure positions are not lost but, potentially, gained.

It must be taken by all drivers in both races but not during the first two laps following the start or during a safety car intervention or full-course yellow.

Calling the moment at which drivers take their Joker Lap puts the onus on the teams to get the strategy just right, while the pressure on drivers not to slip up is huge, as home hero and 2019 WTCR Race of Portugal winner Tiago Monteiro explained.

“The timing and the decision between you and the team has to be perfect and it can really play to your advantage,” said Monteiro, who races a Goodyear-equipped Honda Civic Type R TCR for LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler. “When you commit to it the adrenalin is crazy because you know you can’t mess it up but at the same time you can’t be too safe, otherwise you’re going to lose a position or you won’t be able to overtake. It’s such a high-energy, high-adrenalin moment for the drivers.

“Two years ago Yvan [Muller] was really close to me and I knew I had to do the Joker Lap perfectly in order to come out in front of him because he was coming quick and I knew if he got in front then I wasn’t going to overtake again. I knew I needed to nail it and my heart went over 200 beats.”

While Monteiro will be a key part of the decision-making process, he relies on his race engineer for guidance when it comes to Joker Lap timing. “The team has a better view of what’s going. I could make the call but the team knows what pace the others are doing and where they are on the track, if they have been blocked or have free air. But you also have to be aware of what’s going on.”

Like Monteiro, Tom Coronel has won on Vila Real’s demanding streets and is a fan of the Joker Lap concept. The Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport driver said: “On street circuits qualification is 80 per cent of the race unless you make a mistake. But you can make yourself quite big and nobody can pass you. With the Joker Lap you can use strategy to win quite a lot but you can also destroy your race and lose some positions so it’s a strategy call and something unique that we have in World Touring Car racing.”

Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Race Engineer Kevin Berry, who guided Yann Ehrlacher to back-to-back WTCR Drivers’ titles, said: “It’s already exciting enough as the engineer on a street track where there are other random jokers thrown in, trips and hazards to watch out for and the Joker Lap just adds in another dimension in terms of strategy so we’ve got to keep the strategy going and work a bit harder. It’s something we’ve be discussing, making plans for what the strategies are, what the scenarios are, but more so we can just be prepared to act during the race.

“It adds a bit of distance and time to the lap and gives us an opportunity to hopefully make up some places and certainly aim not to lose any places.

“There can be debate but we’ll lay out the criteria before and hopefully we’ll know how long it adds to the lap, for example the gap they need to take the Joker and not lose a place but, as engineers operating remotely away from the track, we can’t see where the car is until it comes out of sector two so the drivers have got to be briefed on all the scenarios so they can react and make a decision. We’ll give an instruction on when we believe they should be able to take the joker lap but there may be situations when they need to abort or opportunities where they can react independently without feedback from us. We all have some input but at the end of the day it comes down to the guys on the track to react.”

Race 1 at WTCR Race of Portugal is due to take place at 13h10 local time, with Race 2, the WTCR’s 100th race, scheduled to follow at 17h15.