The first-ever World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) race on the iconic Nürburgring Nordschleife has been deemed a success by key figures in the paddock, with race two producing a scintillating finish.
Many had doubted before the weekend whether the Nürburgring circuit would be able to deliver exciting racing, with its narrow Nordschleife circuit predicted to be difficult to overtake on. However, race two was only the eighth race in the series’ history in which the top four cars all finished within a second of each other, Citroën’s José María López producing a breath taking last-lap, final straight brace of overtaking moves to take second and miss out on the win by just 0.173 seconds.
Following the races, Eurosport Events’ COO François Ribeiro told TouringCars.Net that he was pleased with the way the meeting had gone, praising the quality of racing at what is arguably the series’ showpiece event of the season.
“What makes me really happy is the quality of the racing – this is the best thing of the weekend,” said Ribeiro to TouringCars.Net. “This makes me very, very confident about the future of the WTCC here on the Nordschleife, because you can spend millions on TV production, but if the racing is boring your show is boring.”
Ahead of the event, Ribeiro also praised the efforts of the various parties involved, who had been working together for more than a year to make the races a reality.
“From an organisational point of view I’m pleased with the way that the DMSB [Deutscher Motor Sport Bund] and ADAC [German automobile club] are helping squares to fit into circles,” said Ribeiro. “It really is a challenge to fit FIA standards into an event which has had its own rules and its own organisation for 45 years. Everybody is making an unbelievable effort to make it work, so from that perspective I’m happy.
“The second thing I’m happy about is the performance of the TC1 cars on the track. The DMSB Chief Christian Schacht was telling me yesterday how surprised he was with the lap time of a TC1, because we don’t have a very high top speed, but still the lap time is very good.
“I don’t think many people were expecting that level of performance. I think it will be a very strong signal to the automotive industry that the WTCC has completely changed with TC1. The whole automotive industry knows exactly the performance of each category of car on the Nordschleife. So if we post an 8:30 or 8:33 lap time then we immediately send a message to the automotive industry.”
In reality the qualifying lap time, which was the fastest lap of the weekend, ended up being 8 minutes 37 seconds. However Ribeiro’s message was clear – he wants the WTCC to race on a race track which is seen to be relevant to the road car industry, where many new models of car are tested as a matter of course. Ribeiro cited the desire with which road car manufacturers seek the fastest lap time in their class on the Nordschleife as being a key motivator in wanting to hold a touring car race on the circuit as well.
As spectacular as the race track is, the product of the WTCC is ultimately the racing and the TV package. On this front, Eurosport pulled out all the stops and the drivers delivered. Two television helicopters, additional trackside cameras on the 170-turn circuit and a combination of on-board cameras brought the viewer close to the action.
Race one might have been relatively tame, as is often the case when you have the fastest driver starting in first. But race two really delivered the goods, with a close battle for the lead and the viewer kept on the edge of their seat until the very end, even if seeing José María López scythe his way through the pack did have a familiar feel to it.
Watching the four lead cars all within a second of each other, going flat-out from Döttinger Höhe down to the finish straight from one of the helicopter shots, set against the backdrop of the ‘green hell’, was truly breath-taking.
The races might only have consisted of three lap sprints, but the trackside spectators were largely not present for the WTCC anyway, instead preferring to adopt a festival approach of beer, sausages and techno music to get them through the impending 24 hour race.
Zengő Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz summed up the weekend well. “It was an amazing event and to compete on a circuit like this was excitement like I never experienced before. In the first few laps you really have to switch your mind and take a step back in order to not have a big accident.”
The Nordschleife keeps drivers on the edge, and it keeps viewers on the edge. As an advert for the WTCC the event did well, with superb TV, stunning photographs and automotive relevance. There are areas for improvement, as there was little overtaking on the Nordschleife section, but it was a good first event for the series at the ‘ring.