Race preview: WTCR Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Azcona aiming to reign in Spain

2022-06-19T21:48:32+02:00June 20th, 2022|2022, WTCR Race of Spain 2022|

The heat will be on when MotorLand Aragón hosts the fourth weekend of the action-packed 2022 WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup season from June 25-26 with the ambient temperature expected to peak just below 40 degrees centigrade.

And while the searing heat will challenge the teams and volunteer marshals working trackside, temperatures onboard the Goodyear-equipped TCR cars from Audi, CUPRA, Honda, Hyundai and Lynk & Co are expected to top 60 degrees centigrade, making WTCR Race of Spain not only a test of speed but also physical and mental endurance.

With a 10-point advantage in the provisional standings, home hero Mikel Azcona is the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader after wins at Circuit de Pau-Ville last month and at the Hungaroing just last week at the wheel of his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse-run Elantra N TCR.

Azcona’s success in Race 1 in Hungary was his fifth since he stepped up to the WTCR in 2019 as the winner of the TCR Europe title. The result has helped to put him in a position that he hadn’t imagined would have been possible heading into the 2022 campaign.

“If I am honest I did not expect [to be leading] because we all know how tough the WTCR is and how difficult it is to be in front,” said Azcona, who turns 26 on Qualifying day at MotorLand Aragón. “But with the change to Hyundai Motorsport and BRC, the expectations before the beginning of the year were better than in previous years because we already saw that the Hyundai cars were very competitive, and I was saying to myself I had a better chance to be in the top positions. But to be leading is just incredible, it’s the first time I am leading a world series and it’s giving me extra boost. I’m very happy, very excited and very motivated to work and keep going on this line.”

While Azcona’s team-mate Norbert Michelisz has yet to hit the form that carried him to the 2019 WTCR title, Azcona has excelled since he swapped CUPRA for Hyundai technology. Spanish brand CUPRA helped to make Azcona a star and powered him to three of the five WTCR race wins he’s taken to date but its focus on the ETCR FIA eTouring Car World Cup, which is promoted by Discovery Sports Events, the same organisation behind the WTCR, was a catalyst for Azcona’s switch to a new customer racing department for 2022.

“Leaving CUPRA was difficult because [we were working] together with a very good relationship,” said Azcona. “It’s also a Spanish brand and I’m a Spanish driver. It was a difficult decision but, at the same time, I had to think of myself and my future. Sometimes it is not easy to do changes because you are very comfortable in one place, but I have been working for this opportunity and luckily it came. It’s a new car for me this year and a new team. At the same time it’s very positive because I am leading with a margin to improve even if I am always giving 100 per cent.”

While his huge talent has played a key role in Azcona’s seamless transition to BRC and Hyundai power, the involvement of the driver he replaced, Gabriele Tarquini, as Team Manager is also helping Azcona to adjust. Tarquini retired from full-time driving at the end of last season, but the Italian legend has been quick to pass on his considerable experience to Azcona in his new position.

“I am really thankful to Gabriele for being on the team,” Azcona said. “He’s very experienced and he’s always trying to super-guess to help Norbi and me about everything when we are driving. He’s trying to advise us on the start procedure, the position for the first corner, setting up the car, tyre management, every aspect of motorsport really. It’s very good to have him, he’s a very good tool for all the team and we use him a lot and I’m happy to work with him.”

While Azcona’s CUPRA alliance is no more, the manufacturer continues to be represented in the WTCR through the Hungarian Zengő Motorsport team, whose leader driver Rob Huff, the winner of the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship, was Azcona’s team-mate in 2021.

Huff heads the WTCR Trophy for independent racers but came close to winning Race 2 at the Hungaroring outright when he hustled Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver Santiago Urrutia from start to finish, settling instead for the runner-up spot by a scant margin of 0.380s.

Urrutia’s victory in Hungary has elevated him to third in the provisional title order, six points behind ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Honda-powered former Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Néstor Girolami, the winner of the opening race of the season in Pau. Barcelona-based Uruguayan Urrutia scored his breakthrough WTCR win at MotorLand Aragón in 2020 and is six points ahead of Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Yann Ehrlacher after four races.

King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher holds fourth in the standings after pulling off a late pass on Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport driver Nathanaël Berthon to take second in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Hungary, the Frenchman’s first podium of the year.

Like Urrutia, Argentine ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport racer Esteban Guerrieri has made Barcelona a home away from home, while Gilles Magnus moved to Spain from his native Belgium ahead of his third WTCR campaign with Comtoyou Team Audi Sport.

WTCR Race of Spain is the first of two consecutive events in the Iberian region with Vila Real’s iconic street track hosting WTCR Race of Portugal from July 1-3, the home event for LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler driver Tiago Monteiro.

ZENGŐ RACER HUFF STILL ON TOP IN WTCR TROPHY

Rob Huff remains on top of the provisional WTCR Trophy order following the WTCR Race of Hungary weekend. The category for independent racers with no financial backing from a manufacturer was introduced in 2020 and lists Jean-Karl Vernay and Gilles Magnus as its title winners to date. Huff won the category in Race 2 at WTCR Clean Fuels for All Race of France after Mehdi Bennani had triumphed in the opening counter for Comtoyou Team Audi Sport. British driver Huff then took a win double for Zengő Motorsport at the Hungaroring. Click HERE for the WTCR Trophy standings.

HE’LL BE ELECTRIC: AZCONA TO DO DOUBLE TIME AT HOME

Before he turns his attentions to chasing home success in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup, Mikel Azcona has a date to keep with Hyundai Motorsport N in the ETCR FIA eTouring Car World Cup with Circuito del Jarama hosting the ETCR Race of SP this weekend (June 17-19). Norbert Michelisz will also be in action at the famous venue close to Madrid in another Hyundai Veloster N ETCR, the car of choice for former WTCR racers Nicky Catsburg and Jean-Karl Vernay.

THE WTCR IN SHORT

The WTCR, which is broadcast in more than 185 countries, is the pinnacle of customer touring car racing and sits at the top of the TCR category ladder. Evolving from the FIA World Touring Car Championship, the WTCR is administered by the FIA and promoted by Discovery Sports Events.

Five car brands, Audi, CUPRA, Honda, Hyundai and Lynk & Co, are represented through their customer racing departments, while eight teams, all using Goodyear tyres and sustainable fuel from German company P1 Racing Fuels have signed up to pursue more FIA World Touring Car gold in 2022.

As well as coveted FIA world titles for drivers and teams, independent racers with no financial backing from a manufacturer are eligible for the WTCR Trophy. Meanwhile, a Balance of Performance formula helps to maintain a level playing field. Engine power is capped at 360bhp with speeds reaching 260kph.

The Goodyear #FollowTheLeader recognises the driver at the head of the standings after each qualifying session or race. They wear the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader jacket and carry the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader yellow windscreen strip on their car until such time that they no longer top the points classification.

WTCR RACE OF SPAIN ESSENTIALS

Rounds: 7 and 8 of 20
Date: June 25-26
Venue: MotorLand Aragón
Location: Crta. A-2404, Km 1, 44600 Alcañiz, Teruel, Spain
Track length: 5.345 kilometres
Race 1 distance: 30 minutes + 1 lap
Race 2 distance: 25 minutes + 1 lap
WTCR qualifying lap record: Norbert Michelisz (Hyundai i30 N TCR)
2m05.838s (152.9kph), 31/10/20
WTCR race lap record: Gilles Magnus (Audi RS 3 LMS)
2m06.689s (151.8kph), 01/11/20

In 100 words: MotorLand Aragón near Alcañiz in the northeast of the country, was a popular addition to the WTCR schedule when it hosted the inaugural WTCR Race of Spain in 2020. Despite huge enthusiasm for the city-based Circuito Guadalope from 1965, growing safety requirements and difficulties staging top-level events meant time was called on racing through the streets in 2003, which led to the MotorLand Aragón project. Former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa collaborated with circuit designer Hermann Tilke on the track layout, which was inaugurated in September 2009 and has staged the Gran Premio de Aragón de MotoGP since 2010.

Timetable:

Saturday June 25
09h00-09h45: Free Practice 1 (Live on Facebook, YouTube, Eurosport Player)
12h30-13h00: Free Practice 2 (Live on Facebook, YouTube, Eurosport Player)
15h30-15h50: Qualifying Q1 (Live on Eurosport Player and other broadcasters around the world)
15h55-16h05: Qualifying Q2 (Live on Eurosport Player and other broadcasters around the world)
16h05-16h20: Qualifying Q3 (Live on Eurosport Player and other broadcasters around the world)

Sunday June 26
11h15: Race 1 (30 minutes+1 lap) (Live on Eurosport Player and other broadcasters around the world)
11h55 (approx.): Race 1 podium
15h15: Race 2 (25 minutes+1 lap) (Live on Eurosport Player and other broadcasters around the world)
15h50 (approx.): Race 2 podium

WTCR Race of Spain winners 2021:
Race 1: Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Race 2: Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Audi RS 3 LMS

WTCR Race of Spain winners 2020:
Race 1: Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris
Race 2: Mikel Azcona (ESP) CUPRA Leon Competición TCR
Race 3: Thed Björk (SWE) Lynk & Co 03 TCR

WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup all-season entry list 2022
#5 Norbert Michelisz (HUN) BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai Elantra N TCR
#9 Attila Tasi (HUN) LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler, Honda Civic Type R TCR
#11 Thed Björk (SWE) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
#12 Santiago Urrutia (URY) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
#16 Gilles Magnus (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
#17 Nathanaël Berthon (FRA) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
#18 Tiago Monteiro (PRT) LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler, Honda Civic Type R TCR
#25 Mehdi Bennani (MAR) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
#29 Néstor Girolami (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR
#33 Tom Coronel (NLD) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
#55 Ma Qing Hua (CHN) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
#68 Yann Ehrlacherr (FRA) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
#79 Rob Huff (GBR) Zengő Motorsport, CUPRA Leon Competición
#86 Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR
#96 Mikel Azcona (ESP) BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai Elantra N TCR
#99 Dániel Nagy (HUN) Zengő Motorsport, CUPRA Leon Competición
#100 Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR

WTCR FORMAT REFRESHER

Same Qualifying format but allocation of points tweaked
The three-phase Qualifying (Q1, Q2, Q3) elimination format remains unchanged but how points are awarded is all-new for 2022.

From this year, the fastest five drivers in Qualifying, regardless of at which point they set their best lap or whether they progress to Q3 or not, will be rewarded with points on a 10-8-6-4-2 scale.

The change will encourage drivers to push for fast lap times in each phase of Qualifying and avoid the temptation to adopt a strategic approach by trying to secure 10th place in Q2, which comes with pole position for the partially-reversed-grid race.

Race 1 is the big one, Race 2 the partially-reversed one
Previously the partially-reversed-grid race, drivers in Race 1 will line up for action according to the combined Qualifying results and compete for 30 minutes plus one lap (35 minutes plus one lap on street circuits in the event of the safety car being deployed). The top seven finishers will get more points than previously with drivers scoring as follows:

1st = 30 points; 2nd = 23; 3rd = 19; 4th = 16; 5th = 14; 6th = 12; 7th = 10; 8th = 8; 9th = 7; 10th = 6; 11th = 5; 12th = 4; 13th = 3; 14th = 2; 15th = 1

Race 2 becomes the partially-reversed-grid race with fans entertained for 25 minutes plus one lap (or 30 minutes plus one lap if there’s a safety car intervention on a street track). Points will be scored as follows:

1st = 25 points; 2nd = 20; 3rd = 16; 4th = 13; 5th = 11; 6th = 10; 7th = 9; 8th = 8; 9th = 7; 10th = 6; 11th = 5; 12th = 4; 13th = 3; 14th = 2; 15th = 1

How grids are formed reminder
The Race 1 starting grid will be determined by the final results of Q3 (positions 1-5) and Q2 (positions 6-12) for the top 12 grid positions. The results from Q1 will decide the remainder of the Race 1 grid.

For Race 2, grid positions 1-10 will be occupied by the first 10 cars according to the final combined qualifying results but in reverse order. Positions 11 and 12 will be occupied by the cars from Q2 that are not in reverse order. The remainder of the grid will be decided by the results of Q1 from positions 13 downwards.

Race lengths increased and timed in minutes, not measured in kilometres
Race 1 will run for 30 minutes plus one lap with Race 2 running for 25 minutes plus one lap. For street races, should the safety car be deployed, Race 1 will be automatically extended to 35 minutes plus one lap, with Race 2 increased to 30 minutes plus one lap. The aim is to lengthen the duration of each race by two laps to provide competitors with more valuable track time.

Repair Time extended
The opportunity for refuelling, repairs and set-up changes between races has been extended to a minimum of 60 minutes from the previous 20. The increase will give teams more opportunity to repair damage from Race 1 in a less intense manner or switch to a set-up that might enhance car performance for Race 2 and increase the chance of winning.

With more time to ready cars for the weekend’s second race, drivers will be more inclined to push harder in Race 1, with better racing the underlying objective.

Compensation Weight rules revised
The Compensation Weight rules have been revised and simplified for 2022. All cars will carry zero kilograms of Compensation Weight at the first event of the season. For the second event the Compensation Weight for each model will be based on the best Qualifying time set during the previous event. From the third event the Compensation Weight will be based on the best Qualifying time set during either of the previous two events, rather than an average of the best two lap times out of three events, which was the case in 2021. It will mean the Compensation Weight will be quicker to update and therefore more responsive.

In addition, the maximum Compensation Weight has been reduced from 60 to 40 kilograms to avoid significant contrasting performances from race to race and therefore make the performance levels of each brand even closer. The same Compensation Weight principles apply to race-by-race entries.

WTCR FAST TALK: DRIVERS ON MOTORLAND ARAGÓN

Mikel Azcona (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse / Hyundai Elantra N TCR): “Aragón is my home track and I really enjoy driving there and I really like this track. I have good memories from previous visits in WTCR with a victory and a P2 so it’s kind of super-motivation to think of these memories. It’s going to be very tough with the temperatures. It will be 40 degrees outside, but it will be especially difficult in the car because we are going to have more than 60 degrees so always when you are driving full gas in a race with these conditions you need to be very focused and very concentrated otherwise you can lose the concentration very easily and that’s going to be challenging.”

Néstor Girolami (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport / Honda Civic Type R TCR): “It’s a tough track for us because we were struggling year by year to be in the top 10. And now everyone is on zero or 10kg we are carrying again 40kg. This is something where I feel like it will be difficult to be in the top 10 and if you are not in the top 10 then you miss the big points. We need to work very hard. We are going to test in very hot conditions because this is what we are going to have in Aragón. Let’s hope for some rain because that is the only chance we will have.”

Rob Huff (Zengő Motorsport / CUPRA Leon Competición): “Every time we are getting stronger and stronger. That’s quite normal with the [limited] preparation we had for this season. But the team is working better than it’s ever worked. The bond in the team, the inspiration, the positivity to keep pushing, keep trying, keep succeeding is getting bigger and bigger and I’m thoroughly proud of the Zengő Motorsport team. It’s amazing to be part of their story because it is an amazing story and we keep pushing for success and keep driving each other forward.”

Gilles Magnus (Comtoyou Team Audi Sport / Audi RS 3 LMS): “Aragón is a track that’s always been good to us with the Audi. We are heading there with 20 kilos more than at the Hungaroring but the track really suits us and I expect to be quick, fighting for podiums. The objective is to take a lot of points, as we did at the Hungaroring. I was really suffering in the heat at the Hungaroring, maybe it was one of the most physically intense races of my career. The first race was really tough, these TCR cars a really hot inside with no air-co system and it’s going to be tough with the heat but let’s take some big points and hopefully a podium, which would be nice.”

Santiago Urrutia (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co / Lynk & Co 03 TCR): “I won my first race [in Aragón in 2020] but I think everything is different this year. You see guys and teams improving and improving, so I have zero expectations to be honest. I will try to do the best in free practice to find the best set-up in the car and I hope we can be strong. We have weight in the car now, so I hope we can find out a good set-up in practice to be in the top 10 in qualifying and then bring the points. I will just keep it calm and do the job.”

DID YOU KNOW?

*WTCR race distances have been changed for 2022 with Race 1 scheduled for 30 minutes + 1 lap and Race 2 for 25 minutes + 1 lap.
*The allocation of points has also been adjusted for this season with more points on offer in Qualifying and Race 1.
*Esteban Guerrieri is the WTCR’s most successful driver in terms of race wins with the Honda-powered racer triumphing 10 times for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport,
including once at MotorLand Aragón.
*Back in 2020 and in response to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, MotorLand Aragón became the first venue to host the WTCR not once but twice during the same season with WTCR Race of Spain followed by WTCR Race of Aragón just two weeks later.
*The three races that formed the WTCR Race of Spain weekend in 2020 and the two that ran in 2021 have been won by five different drivers in five different types of car.
*Twelve drivers won WTCR races during a wide-open 2021 season with all five customer racing brands winning more than once.
*Eleven nationalities are being represented by the drivers this season with a further two represented by teams and two more by manufacturers to underline the WTCR’s global appeal.
*Of the 17 all-season racers, only one driver, Dániel Nagy, has yet to take a WTCR race victory although he has finished second on one occasion.
*Yann Ehrlacher is the only two-time winner of the WTCR title. Meanwhile, his uncle and Cyan Racing Lynk & Co team-mate Yvan Muller won the FIA World Touring Car Championship four times.
*The Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition as the Official Safety Car of the WTCR for a third season. Richard Veldwisch from The Netherlands is on driving duty at WTCR Race of Spain.

HOW THEY STAND?

WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup for Drivers provisional standings
Goodyear #FollowTheLeader: Mikel Azcona, 85 points
2 Néstor Girolami, 75 points
3 Santiago Urrutia, 69 points
4 Yann Ehrlacher, 63 points
5 Esteban Guerrieri, 57 points

WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup for Teams provisional standings
1 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, 132 points
2 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, 109
3 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, 105
4 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, 101
5 Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, 72

WTCR Trophy provisional standings
1 Rob Huff, 40 points
2 Tom Coronel, 26
3 Mehdi Bennani, 19
4 Dániel Nagy, 15

Click HERE to view the full provisional standings