The son of former Formula 1 driver Olivier Panis, Aurélien Panis, has joined the Hungarian Zengő Motorsport team for 2017, as he makes the switch from single seater racing to touring cars.
Panis previously raced in the 2016 Formula V8 3.5 Series (formerly the Formula Renault 3.5 Series) where he finished a respectable fifth overall in 2016, having taken two race wins in the process.
The 22-year-old will become the first non-Hungarian driver to race with Zengő since they joined the WTCC in 2010.
“I’m very proud to join the WTCC,” said 22-year-old Panis. “It is a very strong international championship and a great step in my career. There are many experienced and successful drivers in the series so it will be a very exciting and tough challenge for me; I had better roll up my sleeves from day one.
“I’m proud to drive for a great team like Zengő Motorsport, which has won races in the past, and I am very honoured to join the Honda Racing Family.
“Everything will be new for me this season and the goal will be to learn and gain experience quickly, in order to be able to fight at the top as soon as possible.
“I take this opportunity to thank my personal sponsors for their ongoing support and my manager, Didier Coton, for a job well done.
“I’m looking forward to starting the season and I hope my father has some good things to say about me when commentating on the WTCC on Eurosport France!”
Zengő Motorsport Team Owner Zoltán Zengő admitted that it was a difficult decision to sign a non-Hungarian driver for the first time in the teram’s WTCC history.
“We’re very pleased to confirm that Aurélien is joining our team for the 2017 WTCC season,” said Zengő . “Recruiting a non-Hungarian driver is a new direction for us but it’s an exciting one at the same time.
“In Aurélien we have signed a driver with great potential and a successful background in single-seater racing. Everything will be new for him but we’re good teachers, and we know a different approach will benefit the team and how we work.
“We’re confident Aurélien’s switch to the WTCC will be rewarding and we can’t wait to start working with him.”
François Ribeiro, Head of WTCC promoter Eurosport Events, believes that Panis will be able to flourish under the wings of Zengő, who has previously helped Hungarian star Norbert Michelisz to progress from video games, to independent wins and a factory drive.
“It’s great to welcome a graduate from single-seater racing with real potential to the WTCC,” added Ribeiro. “Aurélien recognises the competition will be very strong and he admits he will have a lot to learn, but Zengő Motorsport has a proven record of helping drivers with no experience of touring car racing to win titles, as was the case with Norbert Michelisz.
“Aurélien will drive a TC1 Honda Civic with 2017 chassis and engine specifications, so I hope he will be a good asset in scoring manufacturer points for Honda.”