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WTCC 2013 preview: A new era begins

The 2013 World Touring Car Championship moves into a new era as the series heads into its first season without Chevrolet as a manufacturer after their withdrawal at the end of 2012.

Having secured another 1, 2, 3 finish in the Championship in 2012, only one of the teams’ drivers isn’t on the grid for 2013 as Alain Menu heads to the F1 supporting Porsche Supercup.

Despite the withdrawal of Chevrolet as a manufacturer, there will be five Cruzes on the grid in 2013, with Yvan Muller and former Team AON driver Tom Chilton driving for RML while bamboo engineering enter an all British driver pairing of Alex MacDowall and James Nash. The fifth Cruze on the grid is from Swedish outfit NIKA Racing with Michel Nykjaer at the wheel.

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Neither RML driver is eligible for the Yokohama Independents’ trophy while the team, with their success running the Chevrolet works team have been ruled out of the Independent teams’ championship.

Joining the grid for the full campaign is Honda, with a brace of Civics run by Honda Racing Team JAS for Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro. Monteiro raced for the team in the three Asian races at the end of 2012, securing a podium finish on the streets of Macau while Tarquini moved across from the Lukoil Racing Team at the end of the campaign.

Also joining the Honda ranks is Zengo Motorsport with 2012 Yokohama Independents’ Champion Norbert Michelisz. Zengo Motorsport have secured backing from Honda Hungary for the switch to the Honda and they will get all the updates which the Honda Racing team JAS secure. The switch has ruled Michelisz out of the Yokohama Independents’ trophy for 2013.

LADA entered a single car for the Hungarian and Portuguese races in 2012 with James Thompson at the wheel and the double British Touring Car Championship Champion finishing with a best result of 11th at Portimao. He and the team enter with a full works team in 2013 and have been joined by Russian Alexey Dudukalo, who joins from the Lukoil Racing team squad. Lukoil have come on board as the teams’ sponsor for the forthcoming season.

BMW, as always, have a strong representation on the grid with ROAL Motorsport fielding a brace of 320TC’s for Tom Coronel and Darryl O’Young, the latter having moved over from bamboo engineering.

Liquid Moly Team Engstler also return with the same driver pairing as they ran in 2012, with Franz Engstler and Charles Kaki Ng while another German outfit, Wiechers-Sport return with former SEAT racer Fredy Barth driving the teams’ BMW 320TC.

Proteam Racing return with Mehdi Bennani and the Moroccan is looking to build on his best WTCC campaign to date while former Wiechers-Sport racer Stefano D’Aste has formed his own team, PB Racing, for 2013. ANOME also enter a sole BMW 320TC at Monza for Ice Racing Champion Jean-Philippe Dayraut.

The biggest surprise of the off season was the news that 2012 Champion Rob Huff had signed with new team Munnich Motorsport for his title defence in a SEAT Leon. Joining him in the team are Rene Munnich and 2012 FIA GT1 Champion Marc Basseng, while the previously announced Markus Winkelhock stepped down from driving duties to focus his attentions on his Audi spotscar driving duties.

Another new team to enter SEAT Leon’s in 2013 is Campos Racing. Campos Racing and SunRed Engineering merged over the winter and have signed 2012 European Touring Car Cup Champion Fernando Monje and young French driver Hugo Valente for their campaign.

Tuenti Racing team return with 2012 Yokohama Independents’ vice Champion Pepe Oriola at the wheel of their SEAT Leon and like Michelisz, he has been ruled out of the Yokohama Independents’ on the back of his previous results in the series.

The final SEAT on the grid comes from Tom Boardman and the Special Tuning Racing team. Boardman will be looking for a better campaign than his 2012 campaign, where he was stuck with the TDi engine until the Portimao rounds of the season.

One circuit makes its debut in 2013 – with the series heading to Russia for the first time and the Moscow Raceway, while there are still two venues to be announced after Brazil was turned into a TBA on the calendar with another TBA alongside it.

With the reigning Champion switching to a new team and car while the most successful manufacturer in the history of the WTCC has pulled out, the series looks as open as it has done for many a year – who will finish the season as Champion?

The normal names will be up at the top while dark horses could come from bamboo or RML while Michelisz and Oriola will be looking to build on their strong 2012 campaigns. Monza will give all WTCC fans around the world the first chance to decide who is looking strong and who isn’t.

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