When Polestar Cyan Racing unveiled their driver line-up for the 2017 World Touring Car Championship season on Monday, there was one fundamental change in the set-up.
For the first time, the Swedish team have unveiled a driver line-up that is more non-Swedish than ever before.
As Polestar’s Head of Motorsport Alexander Murdzevski-Schedvin put it, “we don’t want to go completely over-board with Swedishness”.
In Néstor Girolami, the team have signed a rapid and proven racer, who has twice taken the hugely competitive Argentine Súper TC 2000 title. It puts him in the same calibre of driver as three-time WTCC champion José María López…
Girolami is, of course, no stranger to the team, having tested with Cyan Racing after last year’s event in Argentina. That led to the 27-year-old getting a race seat for the Japanese round, where he duly finished fifth in the main race and scored his best result to-date.
The signing of an Argentine for a full season will be music to the ears of WTCC Promoter François Ribeiro, who has long championed drivers from the South American continent. It was Ribeiro who introduced both López and Girolami to the WTCC, after all, with Eurosport having helped out in both initial deals.
“After the test in Argentina we got quite interested in the outcome,” explained Murdzevski-Schedvin to TouringCars.Net. “I had the opportunity to race him in Motegi and after that we knew that we would have to make some sort of signing.”
Despite the credentials of Girolami and Catsburg, Polestar are still taking a risk in signing two drivers who have little experience of the S60. One of the biggest hurdles the team faced in 2016 was the lack of data for any circuit, with all of the venues being new to the team, save for Shanghai (and even then the data they did have was for a completely different car).
By signing two drivers who have limited and no experience of the S60, Polestar are putting themselves on a slight back foot, as only Thed Björk will be able to immediately relate to the data collected in 2016.
Even though the team clearly pride themselves on the ‘Swedishness’ of the entire project, the signings for 2017 clearly mark a change in direction – and intent – for the Polestar project.
“We don’t want to go completely over-board with ‘Swedishness’ in the project.”
“Last year we entered with drivers who had not driven the car, who had not raced on all of the tracks and engineers who did not have any other data from any other project that they had worked on.
“Maybe we were being a little bit stubborn last year, saying that it’s a part of this whole package to show the rest of the world that there is a quality of Swedish racing craftsmanship, and that there is a quality of Swedish racing drivers.
“With that in hand, I think we have proven that to some extent, but we don’t want to go completely over-board with ‘Swedishness’ in the project, so we have [chosen] some more commercial adaptability on driver selection and so on.
“The package is coming along bit-by-bit and we think that [to aim for the world title] was not an overly-bold statement if we do a proper job, based on having data. It’s not a panic statement but it’s a more plausible statement. It’s never a guarantee to win.”
Despite the risk involved with the changes in the driver line-up, there are a lot of positives for Polestar to look forward to in the coming season. The Volvo already carries one of the best engines on the grid, which was particularly evident in China last year, when Björk was able to claim the marque’s first-ever WTCC win.
With a strong package already in certain areas, Murdzevski-Schedvin admits that one of the off-season challenges has been to try to work out what needed to be improved and what was simply a result of a lack of experience and data from each of the season’s circuits.
“It’s like going to a doctor when you don’t know why you’re ill. You try to apply a couple of remedies, and then you see some positive or negative changes, so you begin to understand your strong points and your not so strong points.
“The way the regulations are written you won’t find a magic button and get a second; you press ten thousand buttons and you get a tenth! You keep adding up until you improve the whole package.
“We know for sure that we have a very strong engine package – that’s quite evident because this is not an aero championship in that sense, so when you’re fastest in six out of ten speed traps then you know you have something really good under the hood.
“But then all of a sudden you get lapped in Marrakech, so obviously that’s where slow corners are not so good [for us], so let’s work on that. There’s nothing which has had a profound change, it’s just small things and continuous evolvement.”
After taking just one win in 2016, it will be a big jump up for Polestar to challenge for the title. But with a three-car team, a years’ worth of data and the removal of factory Citroën’s as competition, this could the year that the Swedes come good. There’s just the small matter of Honda and the independent Citroëns to deal with.