Eurosport Events have revealed the location of the first-ever circuit racing joker lap on the Vila Real Street circuit, which is to host the World Touring Car Championship later this month.
The Portuguese event is set to feature the first use in the WTCC of the concept, which has featured as a core component of rallycross racing, which has enjoyed a boom in popularity in recent years.
The ‘joker lap’ will be an approximately 100 metre alternative route around the left-hand side of the Turn 26 roundabout which features as the final turn on the circuit and also as the pitlane entry point.
The initiative is being used on street circuits in an effort to spice up the racing, as the barrier-lined tracks are often notoriously difficult to pass on.
The joker lap has been given the full approval of the FIA Safety Department and the local authorities.
Drivers must take the joker lap once per race, in both the Opening and Main Race. In order to make the joker lap a little slower by around two seconds, it will feature a slightly tighter left/right flick than the normal right/left flick of the racing line on the roundabout.
The joker lap cannot be taken until the third lap of either race. Drivers will be able to practice taking the lap during free practice sessions ahead of the event.
‘Special branding’ on TV will aim to make the joker lap clear and understandable during the television broadcasts, with a special graphic to notify viewers who has and has not yet taken the joker.
“The ‘joker’ lap concept works very well in rallycross, and I’m certain it will bring an extra dimension to the WTCC street race in Vila Real,” said Head of Eurosport Events, François Ribeiro. “It will open up strategies for each WTCC driver, and might even change the course of the race.
“Of course we never compromise on safety so we have worked very closely with our colleagues at the FIA and with the authorities in Vila Real to put in place a route that matches our requirements but also conforms to all the rigorous safety standards.”
Local racer Tiago Monteiro praised the initiative to try out the concept in circuit racing, which should increase the overtaking opportunities.
“It’s great to try new ideas, new options to spice up the show,” said Monteiro. “When you are in pole position you don’t really want the ‘joker’ lap because you don’t want to lose your lead. But if you are not on pole position then there is a new opportunity to overtake.”
Four-time champion Yvan Muller was equally supportive of the concept, stressing the importance of trying out new concepts in racing.
“It’s like the WTCC MAC3 [team time trial]. Everyone said ‘ah, it’s a crazy thing’ and so on but it’s something new. And when it’s new and it shows something different, it’s always good.
“We have to try new things, to bring new positive and attractive elements.”
The ‘joker’ lap route remains subject to a final FIA track inspection on 21 June.