WTCR title battle resumes on high-speed streets of Vila Real

WTCR title battle resumes on high-speed streets of Vila Real

WTCR race start Nürburgring Nordschleife
Photo: Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

The FIA World Touring Car Cup will resume on the streets of Vila Real this weekend, with Honda’s Esteban Guerrieri heading into the event as the form driver to-beat on the Portuguese circuit.

The Vila Real circuit is notorious for being almost as difficult a challenge for the drivers as the Nürburgring Nordschleife, which hosted the previous rounds of the series two weeks’ ago.

The 4.785-kilometre circuit is a high-speed rollercoaster ride around the streets on the periphery of Vila Real, made even more challenging by the barriers which line the entire circuit, with only a handful of corners featuring an escape road for driver errors.

Münnich Motorsport’s Guerrieri heads into the event as the in-form driver, with the Argentine heading the drivers’ standings by 45 points ahead of BRC Racing’s Norbert Michelisz, after Guerrieri picked up a double podium last time in Germany.

Guerrieri has not won before in Vila Real, although he did finish second in race one last year before being biffed out of race two and finishing outside the points in race three.

The Hyundais were the form cars to have around Vila Real in 2018 – although two of the three race wins were shared amongst the YMR team, with BRC Racing nonetheless bagging a pair of podiums through Michelisz and Gabriele Tarquini.

Michelisz will be aiming to capitalise on being the leading Hyundai driver to close the gap in the title race this weekend, with the Hungarian having the benefit of knowing that the i30 N TCR is capable of delivering the goods in Vila Real.

Thed Björk
Photo: Clement Marin / DPPI

The main unknown will be Lynk & Co, who in Thed Björk have arguably the best driver for the circuit, with the Swede showing dominant pace last year, claiming a comfortable pole and race three win.

The Sino-Swede cars, along with the Hondas and the Hyundai, have gained 10 kg of Balance of Performance [BoP] weight for this weekend, although with all of the top four in the standings driving one of those cars it is unlikely to have a significant effect on the title battle for now.

Away from the title battle, the Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagens of Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani demonstrated strong pace early on last year, claiming a front-row lock-out in qualifying for race one before infamously crashing at the start and wiping out almost the entire field.

That pile-up is probably what the circuit will be best known for for a long time to come, with the accident being one of the biggest ever seen in World Touring Cars, highlighting the dangers of the circuit and the high-levels of precision driving required.

The Volkswagen drivers head into this weekend’s event off the back of a significant upturn in form last time on the Nordschleife, where both Johan Kristoffersson and Benjamin Leuchter were victorious, whilst Huff also ran at the sharp end of the field until he was involved in an incident in race two.

Tiago Monteiro
Photo: Clement Marin / DPPI

This weekend will also mark Tiago Monteiro’s first home race since returning to racing following his injury sustained in late 2017. The Portuguese star was famously victorious at the track in 2016 when he won the main race from pole position.

Although Monteiro’s recent run of form suggests he’ll struggle to repeat that feat again this year – the KCMG Honda drivers have yet to claim even one podium finish whilst the Münnich Hondas have taken 11 already – Monteiro will be hoping to use the home advantage to propel him deeper into the points than previously this year.

Elsewhere, the joker lap will be used once again this weekend, most likely for the only event this year. The concept was first introduced in 2017 at the Vila Real circuit and will see drivers being obliged to use the joker lap once per race, with the additional kink being located at the final corner, Turn 26.

The joker lap will require drivers to go left at the final roundabout, rather than right, anytime after the third lap of a race, adding around two seconds per lap to their times.

The concept adds a strategic element to the racing not seen at other circuits this year and aids the on-track action at a circuit where overtaking is especially challenging.

The on-track action begins at 17:00 GMT / BST (18:00 CEST) on Friday with first practice, whilst qualifying and race one get underway at 11:00 GMT / BST (12:00 CEST) and 15:15 GMT / BST (16:15 CEST) on Saturday.