Argentine touring car star Néstor Girolami will race for Nika International in the upcoming World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) races in Slovakia and Portugal, replacing Swede Rickard Rydell.
Girolami is the reigning Argentine Súper TC2000 Champion and will make his début in the WTCC at the wheel of the Honda Civic TC1 raced by Rydell in Argentina and Russia. The 26-year-old had previously been rumoured to be in talks to make his début in 2015.
The highly rated Girolami will become just the fourth Argentine driver to race in the WTCC, with the popularity of the series booming in South America thanks to the success of reigning champion and former rival José María López.
Girolami has long stated his desire to be involved in the WTCC, and recently flew to Budapest in May to take part in official testing with the works’ LADA team, at the invitation of Eurosport Events’ COO François Ribeiro. Whilst he cannot sign up to more races this season due to his contract in STC2000, Girolami is looking for a driver in the series for 2016.
”I am really, really happy about this opportunity and I can’t wait to get started,” said Girolami. “I have a lot to learn about the car, the tracks and the championship so I will be taking things step-by-step.
“I would love to come to the WTCC next year and race a full season. It is a very big and professional championship with a race in Argentina and I want to be a part of it. Big thanks to WTCC promoter Eurosport Events and to Honda Racing team Sweden for all their help in making this happen.”
Nika Racing Team Principal Nicklas Karlsson explained that the decision to offer the driver to Girolami was in part related to Rydell’s illness, which sidelined him for three events and effectively ruined his championship chances in 2015.
“Néstor Girolami could well be the next big thing in touring car racing,” predicts Karlsson. “Everyone in the paddock has been waiting for his arrival.
“When it became clear to us that Rickard’s recovery was going to take some time, we obviously had to look at our available options, and this was the most interesting solution for our long-term ambitions. It allows us – a small Swedish privateer team – to introduce an up-and-coming driver to the sport, and we will also take this opportunity to evaluate the feasibility of a two-car team in the future.
“This decision was of course made in full transparency with Rickard during his illness, and we look forward to working with not just one, but two talented drivers over the rest of the season.”
Rydell himself was fully supportive of the move, which will see him step down from driving duties for two of the next three events.
”As good as it was to get back in the car in Russia last weekend, this decision was made before my return and I fully support it,” added Rydell. “I have missed three rounds this year and there is very little we can achieve in terms of the championship, so this will have no effect as far as that is concerned. On the contrary, this will benefit us in the longer term as we explore ways for the team to grow.
“I would like to welcome Néstor to the team and there is no doubt that he will do a good job for us. I will be back in France and for the final rounds.”
François Ribeiro is looking forward to being able to welcome the ‘next hot property’ in the WTCC, and believes the Argentine’s presence will be good for the championship.
“Néstor explained his ambition to join the WTCC,” said Ribeiro. “We helped him a bit to test for LADA Sport Rosneft at the Hungaroring with Rob Huff, but his contract with Peugeot Argentina was not compatible with LADA’s requirement for a full-time driver to finish the 2015 season.
“Given the competitiveness of the Súper TC2000 series, we could figure out Néstor’s pace and wanted him to drive a TC1 car with the latest specifications, so that he can race on an equal footing with the other Honda drivers. Only NIKA could offer that opportunity with Rickard Rydell’s car.
“When it was not certain how long Rickard’s recovery from illness would take we approached the team’s Nicklas Karlsson to agree a deal although we’re very pleased of course that Rickard is now back in action. Everyone at Eurosport Events is really happy to welcome a second top Argentinean driver to the WTCC and to see four Hondas on the grid.
“López showed the way and probably created aspirations in South America when he became the first FIA world champion from his continent since Ayrton Senna. I’m sure Néstor will be good for the WTCC.”