Josh Files and Julien Briché will fight to secure the TCR Europe title at Monza this weekend, with the Brit primed to secure his first championship in the series thanks to holding a 48-point lead over the Frenchman.
Technically speaking it is a three-way title battle, but with third-placed Andreas Bäckman 83 points adrift and only 85 up for grabs, the Swede’s chances are realistically only mathematical.
The battle for the title has not had the excitement or tension of last year’s battle, with Files having assumed the position at the top of the table after claiming his second win of the year at the Red Bull Ring.
Since then the Brit has extended his lead, at one stage holding a huge 78-point advantage over the next-best driver, only for the last three rounds to close up the battle.
Files has displayed a degree of consistency which has enabled him to maintain the prime position, as he has stood on the podium six times out of 12 races so far and only missed out on the points on two occasions, one of which was for a penalty because of a starting infringement in Barcelona.
Files will be seeking to add the TCR Europe crown to his impressive collection of TCR titles to-date, after he claimed the TCR Germany title in 2016 and 2017, and the TCR Middle East title in 2017.
Briché seeking Peugeot’s first title
The only other real challenger is JSB Compétition’s Julien Briché, who is 48 points behind Files. Briché has endured an up-and-down season; the 38-year-old has won three races, more than any other driver, but he has also retired from two races, been disqualified from the season opener and suffered from a mid-season slump that dropped him behind in the title fight.
That mid-season slump also came at a time when the Peugeot 308 TCR was given a 20 kg increase in Balance of Performance [BoP] weight, with Briché not returning to the top ten until the last round at Barcelona, when he was on the podium in both races.
Briché may be considered an outsider for the title, as he has also never won the first race in a weekend, instead being ready to pounce in the reverse-grid second race, as he did at the Hungaroring, Hockenheimring and Spa-Francorchamps earlier in the year.
Having only won one race in 2018 and ultimately finished outside the top ten in the standings after skipping some races, Briché has surprised some with his improvement in pace and consistency in 2019, but despite not perhaps being the outright fastest driver, the Frenchman is a worthy challenger for the title.
It almost wasn’t going to happen, though, as Briché was considering skipping the TCR Europe finale in order to take part in the season finale of the Peugeot 308 Racing Cup at Paul Ricard this weekend.
The reason? A brand-new Peugeot 308 TCR car is on offer for the winner of the one-make series. But after the last round, Briché holds a 40-point lead and could win the title there anyway, despite skipping the event.
The young pretender
Whilst Bäckman is very much an outsider in the title fight, the 24-year-old Swede deserves a mention as he has proven himself to be up there with the front-runners in his first full season in the European TCR series.
Having competed in TCR UK and TCR Scandinavia in 2018, Bäckman signed on to the Hyundai young drivers’ programme for 2019 and he has delivered a string of consistent results, finishing in the points in all races during the season, except for a disqualification at Oschersleben.
That disqualification was a huge blow for Bäckman, who had initially claimed the win. His Hyundai failed a post-race technical inspection, and if it was not for that decision, he could have found himself duelling with Target Competition team-mate Files for a genuine shot at the title this weekend.
Bäckman went on to claim a legitimate first win in race one last time out in Catalunya, but the damage to his title challenge was already done at Oschersleben.
Bäckman isn’t the only title contender to have had penalties influence his campaign, as both Files and Briché were penalised in Barcelona for being out of their grid boxes at the start of the first race.
Factoring in both BoP and the compensation weight, the heaviest cars on the grid will again be the Hyundai and Hondas, at a total weight of 1,345 kg. The sole FK2 Honda Civic has been handed the full 60 kg of compensation weight and thus runs at 1,305 kg. The Audi, which is expected to perform well at Monza, is next up at 1,275 kg, followed by the Renault on 1,265 kg, the Peugeot on 1,245 kg and the CUPRA and Volkswagen on 1,225 kg.
The chasing pack
This weekend will see the TCR Europe field with 34 cars, meaning that the series has maintained a grid of over 30 entries for five of the seven events during 2019. The event was originally supposed to also feature cars from the TCR Eastern Europe Trophy, but none have entered the event.
Despite that, there are still six newcomers to the grid. Young Moroccan Sami Taoufik joins after making an impressive touring car début in TCR Germany at the Sachsenring last month. He will race in a second Comtoyou Racing Audi alongside Gilles Magnus.
After a deal between the Brutal Fish Racing Team and KCMG, Hong Konger Paul Ip and Australian Josh Burdon will join the grid in a pair of Honda Civics, partnering Martin Ryba and Dan Lloyd in the Slovakian team.
Vuković Motorsport has again changed the driver of its Renault Mégane, with Brazilian Guilherme Salas stepping into the Swiss-developed car.
Russian Grigoriy Burlutskiy and Polish Albert Legutko will also join the series in Volkswagen and Honda machinery respectively.
Friday 11 October
Free practice 1 – 12:35 CEST (11:35 BST)
Free practice 2 – 16:20 CEST (15:20 BST)
Saturday 12 October
Qualifying – 10:45 CEST (09:45 BST)
Race one – 16:50 CEST (15:50 BST)
Sunday 13 October
Race two – 11:35 CEST (10:35 BST)