The FIA World Touring Car Cup returns to the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife this week, a challenging venue which has seen no one driver or brand dominate in recent years.
Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami heads into the weekend as the championship leader, closely followed by team-mate Esteban Guerrieri, thanks to the duo performing best last time out on the streets of Pau.
Girolami has never won on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, but his Argentine compatriot Guerrieri is a two-time winner – picking up victories in 2018 and 2020 – to become the only driver in the field to have won more than once since the TCR era on the German circuit.
Both drivers will be buoyed by the fact that Honda cars three wins at the circuit – with only Hyundai (four) having more wins since 2018.
However, the manufacturer is the only one which has received compensation weight for this weekend’s event, with the Civics to carry 40 kg of weight around the 25.4 km circuit.
Last season, the opening race was won by Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, before compensation weight came into play.
Nevertheless, Girolami remains confident, having scored the outright pole position at the circuit for the last two years by comfortable margins – even though he has been unable to convert them into wins on both occasions.
“We knew because of our performance in Pau we would receive the maximum compensation weight,” admitted Girolami.
“But I still feel confident because in the last two years I have been able to take pole position, and I will be a bit bold and say we can be in the fight again this time.
“I feel like it’s my year to fight for the title, so I will work even harder for the rest of the year to maintain this position in the championship.”
The current closest challenger to the Hondas is Hyundai’s Mikel Azcona, who is taking on the circuit in an Elantra N TCR for the first time.
The Spaniard’s form at the circuit is mixed – he has never finished on the podium at the circuit and his best result is a fourth to-date, secured in 2020. Last year, Azcona failed to even score a top ten result.
Despite his lack of form, Azcona is confident of challenging for the podium this weekend, although he stopped short of saying he would challenge for the win.
“The Nürburgring Nordschleife is a big challenge,” said Azcona. “The conditions are usually difficult at this track so I am preparing as much as I can on the simulator and by watching the races from last year.
“I have three years of experience at this circuit, and I think with the combination of BRC Racing Team and the Hyundai Elantra N TCR, we can fight for pole position and a podium this weekend.
“The main goal is to be focused, consistent, and to aim for points in both races for the title fight.”
Azcona’s team-mate Norbert Michelisz will have a tougher time already, having been served with a six-place grid penalty for the opening race after making contact with Attila Tassi at the start of the second race in Pau.
Michelisz has previously won on the Nordschleife, in his title-winning year in 2019, and he is targeting a win again in 2022.
“I am looking forward to returning to the Nürburgring Nordschleife as it is one of my favourite tracks and I have had previous success there in the past,” said Michelisz.
“We built a good base at the Race of France, and I hope we can continue that in Germany. It is important that we score as many points as possible, so we need to be focused and committed.
“We saw in Pau that the car is capable of winning, so that is the aim.”
Lynk & Co Cyan Racing’s best performer so far is Santiago Urrutia, who showed strong pace early in the weekend at Pau and finished second in race two, leaving him fourth in the drivers’ standings.
“The Nürburgring Nordschleife is very demanding, and the goal is to score high points this weekend as well, we need to keep deliver points to the team,” said the Uruguayan.
“It will be amazing to race in front a huge crowd again, it definitely adds to the excitement for me as a driver.”
Reigning champion Yann Ehrlacher perhaps would have been higher in the standings but for a puncture in race two at Pau, leaving him eighth after the first event.
The Frenchman won at the circuit in 2020, and is looking forward to pushing hard this weekend without having to worry about defending a lead in the championship.s
“My approach will be to claw back as many points as possible as we missed some during the last race in France, it was a bit painful to lose that many points,” admitted the 25-year-old.
“But I am definitely ready to fight this weekend as it was a long time since I was in a position like this, not defending.
“Racing on the Nürburgring is maybe the craziest thing you can do on this planet and it’s really challenging to drive at 100% here, you are shaking after a really quick lap.”
Nathanaël Berthon is currently the best of the Audi drivers, sitting seventh in the standings after a strong drive to fourth in race two – and he could have been higher but for a late-race issue in race one that saw him drop down the order.
Tom Coronel missed out on the top ten – just – in both of the French races, but the Dutchman heads to the Nordschleife off the back of a strong weekend in TCR Europe, where he won race one and charged to fifth in race two.
Coronel has a reasonable record at the ‘Ring, picking up 11 top ten finishes out of 14 starts since the WTCC first visited in 2015. His best result of fifth came in 2020.
“Last year, I was the fastest Audi driver there and we did some testing there over the winter, which went very well,” said Coronel.
“Some corners I was never able to take flat-out in the 20 years I have been racing there, were flat now. Therefore, I am really eager to go there.
“However, I know that I have to remain focussed, because getting over-confident is a typical ‘Tommy thing’, but when I manage to keep the balance, we can shine at Nürburgring as well!”
A difficult weekend for the last-minute Zengő Motorsport entry in France resulted in just one top ten finish for Rob Huff.
His team-mate, Dániel Nagy, just missed out on the top ten in race two, and the duo will be hoping for stronger fortunes at the Nordschleife, although CUPRA and Audi are the only brands on the grid not to have won at the circuit in World Touring Cars.
Track action gets underway on Thursday with two free practice sessions. The event timetable is below, with sessions being earlier than usual due to supporting the main Nürburgring 24 Hours event. All times are CEST.
14:30 – Free practice 1
19:00 – Free practice 2
13:00 – Qualifying
10:00 – Race one
12:35 – Race two