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Intense Hungaroring a ‘special place’ for Norbert Michelisz

Every year the Hungaroring round of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) marks a special occasion for Zengő Motorsport’s home-grown hero, with Norbert Michelisz carrying the hopes of a nation.

TouringCars.Net spoke with Michelisz ahead of the Hungarian’s most important event of the season, which will this year carry extra importance as the event is also being sponsored by Zengő Motorsport title sponsor MOL Group, an international oil and gas company based in Budapest.

The race just outside Budapest attracts one of the biggest crowds in the WTCC each year, with tens of thousands flocking to see Michelisz race on home soil. Having sensationally won at the circuit in 2012, and stood on the podium three times at home, Michelisz says that he has “many special memories” of his home race.

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“For me, every year when the second race is finished I can’t wait for the moment to jump back in the car and drive again in front of the home fans,” admitted Michelisz. “I’ve said many times that Hungary, especially the Hungaroring, is a very special place for me. I have lots of special memories, and the feeling and the atmosphere is just very difficult to describe.

“During the race I have to be focussed, I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. There’s very little time for being relaxed and enjoying what’s happening around me. With this attitude I have collected many, many special memories which will be there for a lifetime.”

Michelisz has yet to take a victory in the TC1 era of the WTCC, but heads to the Hungaroring this weekend with added confidence after participating in pre-season testing with works’ Honda drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini in Portugal at the end of March.

“The main target of testing was to fine tune the set-up for each driver. We all had one day of testing, fine tuning the car with the package we had available. The package included a new front bumper and a new splitter configuration, which means we will have a longer splitter and a new shape of bumper which allows us to gain more front downforce.

“Of course with a little more grip, especially in mid- and high-speed corners, we also have to have some extra grip for the back, to not have too much of an oversteering car. So the purpose of the test was to have the right balance with these new parts available.”

With the Algarve International Circuit having similar characteristics to the Hungaroring, Michelisz believes the four tenths found in testing will help to push him further up the grid in Hungary.

“In Portimão we gained around four tenths per lap. Not only in mid- and high-speed corners, but also on the braking from high speed you can feel that the deceleration of the car is much more efficient than it was with the previous configuration. In Hungary we have two quite hard braking zones, where we are braking from well over 200 kph, so I am expecting an improvement of two or three tenths per lap.

“I’m very confident about the track layout. Last year we were competitive on the Hungaroring – the difference in lap times compared to Citroën was around half a second. If I take into consideration our car improved more than the Citroën, and that we will also have updates and a weight break coming into force from Hungary, I have to say I’m quite confident – I like to drive there, I know it suits the Civic more than Marrakech and also because of the atmosphere and the support of everyone. Somehow I feel that I’m able to perform just on the limit. I think all these combinations should be enough for us to aim for a podium finish.”

Norbert Michelisz

Zengő Motorsport’s main sponsor MOL Group, the largest company in Hungary and the second largest in eastern Europe, has stepped up to become the primary event sponsor of this year’s event at the Hungaroring. MOL Group, with more than 30,000 employees and operations in more than 40 countries, also became the main fuel supplier to the WTCC at the start of 2014 with its 100% owned subsidiary Panta Racing Fuel, with a three-year deal which runs through to the end of the 2016 season.

Dominic Köfner, Head of MOL Group’s Corporate Communications, believes that the partnership between the oil and gas company and Michelisz is a perfect fit for the pairing.

“The Norbert Michelisz and Zengő combination fits very well with MOL Group,” said Köfner. “MOL Group also started from Hungary as a very small company. Of course in Hungary MOL was always big, but on an international scale MOL was a small player.

“MOL Group grew internationally, we have competed internationally, and even now we are very ambitious to grow. We just bought new assets in the North Sea and we are one of the few oil and gas companies who have a clear commitment for growth worldwide.

“We are learning internationally, we are competing internationally, starting from Hungary, and this is exactly the same as what Norbi did. He grew up in Hungary, and at first he was a talent and now in Hungary he is a superstar. Internationally he gets more and more awareness and so we grow together and that fits perfectly for us.”

The partnership between Zengő and MOL Group continues to grow and deliver, with the 30-year-old taking the honour of being the top Honda driver in the 2014 championship, beating both works’ drivers Monteiro and Tarquini.

“I have to say it’s a huge challenge [to be the top Honda driver], to compete against world champions and compete against drivers who were in Formula 1,” added Michelisz. “I’m very happy to be in this championship and to be able to fight with them.

“To repeat the success we had last year is the main target. I also know that Tiago and Gabriele are two of the best in the WTCC, but I’m also very confident about my personal engagement and development. I know that I have still some small bits to learn – I still need to improve my driving skills to be able to compete with them and to be able to grow. As Dominic said, we grow together with MOL Group.”

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