In a week of back-to-back racing, the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) continues this weekend at the Hungaroring circuit near Budapest.
The venue often provides one of the WTCR’s best atmospheres of the year, but with the event taking place behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions, the lack of trackside supporters will be more obvious here than at any other circuit on the calendar.
But although the crowd won’t be there to celebrate with him, Hungarian hero Norbert Michelisz will be as keen as ever to do well on his home turf.
In search of some much-needed points, and ideally a victory or two, Michelisz will be all too aware that the clock is ticking for him to put together a serious title defence. As the series creeps towards the halfway point, the 2019 world champion finds himself down in fourteenth in the overall drivers’ standings.
While many will have written him off already, the topsy turvy results we saw in Slovakia should provide a timely reminder that there is still plenty of scope for change in the championship battle.
That said, with a 73-point deficit to series leader Yann Ehrlacher, it really is a case of now or never for the Hungarian to stake a claim at retaining his title.
On paper, Michelisz should be in a relatively good position to do so, as his Hyundai i30N TCR will enter the event without any compensation weight to deal with. The same can’t be said for the other leading marques in the championship, meaning that the state of play is arguably balanced well in Hyundai’s favour.
Following two race victories last time out, the privately-run Comtoyou Racing squad have had an extra 20 kg of success ballast added to their Audi fleet, amassing to a total of 80 kg of compensation weight on each car.
However, both Honda and Lynk & Co will actually drop weight from their Slovakiaring specification, with both sets of cars set to lose 20 kg of ballast. As a result, the Civic Type R and 03 TCR will carry 30 kg and 40 kg of compensation weight respectively, while the Lynk & Co will also receive a 10 mm reduction in ride height.
Last time out, Honda suffered a major set-back in their own push for championship glory. After a huge crash in race two, their leading driver Néstor Girolami plummeted from second place in the standings to eighth, with team-mate Esteban Guerrieri now the better-placed of the two in fifth.
The damage done to Girolami’s car was extensive enough to write it off completely, meaning that for this weekend the Argentine will be racing in Münnich Motorsport’s spare car that had previously been used for testing.
There are changes elsewhere in the paddock too, namely at Hyundai. Instead of switching cars though, the South Korean marque will be fielding a slightly changed roster of drivers this time out.
Off the back of his first victory with the team last weekend at the Slovakiaring, Nicky Catsburg has been forced to miss the Hungaroring round of the championship due to a clash in his diary.
With the Dutchman competing at Petit Le Mans this weekend in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Corvette Racing, 20 year-old Austrian Nico Gruber will take his place within the Team Engstler stable. The move comes as a result of the youngster’s existing connection with the team as one of their drivers in the TCR Germany Series.
Currently seventh in the drivers’ standings of that championship, Gruber impressed by winning his first race with the team at the Lausitzring earlier this year. However, making the step up to WTCR this early on his career will almost certainly be a challenge.
Gruber won’t be the only new face on the grid either. José Manuel Sapag makes it three Argentines on the Hungaroring entry list, arriving to the series as a wildcard entry with Italian outfit Target Competition.
Like Gruber, Sapag will also be behind the wheel of a Hyundai i30N TCR. Although he’ll have to learn the track as he goes, the i30 N won’t be completely alien to the Super TC2000 regular, who competed with it last weekend at Barcelona in the TCR Europe Series.
Emerging from the event with a best finish of eighth, Sapag showed glimmers of speed throughout the weekend, and will be hopeful of making further strides forward with the car in Hungary.
But, as has been the case for the majority of the championship, Cyan Racing’s Ehrlacher remains the driver to beat as the series points leader. Last season, the Hungaroring circuit was a relative stronghold for both Honda and Hyundai rather than Lynk & Co however, so the Frenchman could well be forced into damage limitation for the second event in succession.
Track action gets underway this Saturday, with free practice one scheduled to start bright and early at 08:30 BST (09:30 CEST).