Preview: Will high-quality WTCR field offset low-quantity entry?

The fifth season of the FIA World Touring Car Cup gets underway on the streets of Pau this weekend, with a reduced-sized grid of just 17 full-season entries from four different manufacturers.

For the coming season, there has been scaled-back efforts from two key manufacturers – Hyundai and CUPRA.

That both are also involved in the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup as well comes as no surprise, with the manufacturers making it clear that they are shifting their priorities towards all-electric motorsport.

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It means that there will only be two Hyundais on the grid in 2022, prepared by BRC Racing and driven by 2019 champion Norbert Michelisz and reigning TCR Europe champion Mikel Azcona. Team Engstler has instead switched to operating Honda machinery for this year.

CUPRA too has scaled back, with Zengő Motorsport continuing to prepare the cars as it did last year, but with a last-minute, scaled-back effort for Rob Huff and Dániel Nagy.

The reduction in size also comes at the expense of true privateer entries. Promoter Discovery Sports Events will continue the WTCR Trophy for eligible independent racers this year, but only four drivers are eligible.

With 2021 winner Magnus being recruited by Audi Sport, in 2022 the award will be open to four full-season entrants: Coronel, Huff, Nagy and the returning Mehdi Bennani.

The lack of independents doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in quality, however. Represented on the grid are five World Touring Car Champions, who between them have claimed nine titles at the top of the sport.

Santiago Urrutia, Yvan Muller, Thed Björk, Yann Ehrlacher and Ma Qing Hua, Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Cyan Racing’s five-strong line-up. Photo: Cyan Racing

Cyan Racing is the only team to have expanded its effort for this year, with 2020 TCR China champion and multiple WTCC race winner Ma Qing Hua part of an expanded five-car Lynk & Co effort.

The Swedish outfit has naturally retained its two-time champion Yann Ehrlacher, who will again be supported by arguably the greatest touring car driver of all time, his uncle Yvan Muller.

2017 WTCC champion Thed Björk sits on the other side of the garage under the Cyan Performance banner, with multiple race winners Santiago Urrutia and Ma as team-mates.

Undoubtedly the Lynk & Co quartet will have strength in numbers, as the team has also shown in previous seasons that it is more than willing to play the team game and throw its weight behind the best-ranked driver in the standings.

Having mopped up the drivers’ title for the past two years, as well as the teams’ title for the past three, the boys in blue will once again be the favourites heading into 2022.

Esteban Guerrieri, Munnich Motorsport, Honda Civic FK7 TCR
The Honda Civic is now the oldest TCR model represented on the WTCR grid. Photo: DPPI

Honda has both change and consistency on its side. On the one hand, Münnich Motorsport will continue to run two cars in the series, opting for Argentine duo Néstor Girolami and Esteban Guerrieri for the fourth consecutive season.

On the other hand, whilst Attila Tassi and Tiago Monteiro continue as team-mates for a fourth season as well, they will be with their third different team in that period, after Münnich scaled back from running all four Civics and Engstler Motorsport instead stepped in to run the cars.

Honda is also now running the oldest model on the grid, with the FK7 Civic Type-R having been introduced for the 2018 season.

Although a World title has thus far eluded Guerrieri, the 37-year-old is currently the most winning driver in the series, having claimed ten victories. He was a solid title contender for the first three years of WTCR, and came close to clinching the overall title in 2019 but for being punted off the track whilst leading by Azcona.

After a cool 2021, in which Guerrieri failed to win a race for the first time since 2014, he will surely be fired up to return to the winner’s circle in 2022.

Mikel Azcona and Norbert Michelisz, Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Azcona and michelisz are Hyundai’s sole entries in 2022. Photo: Hyundai Motorsport

Having parted ways with Engstler Motorsport, Hyundai has opted to only back BRC Racing to run two cars this year.

With the retirement of veteran tin-top racer Gabriele Tarquini at the end of last season, Hungarian superstar Michelisz steps into the role of team leader, entering his fifth season with the team.

Joining him is 25-year-old hotshot Azcona, who won more TCR races than any other driver last year- collecting 11 wins across four different series, including securing the TCR Europe title despite missing three of the 14 races.

Hyundai’s signing of Azcona, who is again dovetailing an ETCR campaign this year, was the biggest move on the driver market during the off-season, and despite a scaling back in terms of number of cars on the grid also shows a clear sign of intent from the South Korean manufacturer.

Rob Huff, CUPRA Leon Competicion TCR
Huff is CUPRA’s best chance this year. Photo: Xavi Bonilla/DPPI

Over at the Hungarian Zengő Motorsport, the situation is very different. Although the sole CUPRA team retains WTCC champion Rob Huff in its line-up, the late announcement of the deal and the lack of pre-season testing means a title campaign is likely to be a long shot.

CUPRA is instead focussing its commitments on ETCR, where its CUPRA eRacer was the pioneering car in the category, just as its SEAT León forebear was the pioneering TCR car.

Huff’s team-mate Nagy returns to the World Touring Car fold full-time for the first time since 2017, when he raced with Zengő in the WTCC.

The 24-year-old has since competed predominantly in TCR Europe although he did make a WTCR wildcard entry in 2018, and last year he raced with the team in the inaugural PURE ETCR series.

With limited experience of the CUPRA Leon Competición, Nagy may take some time to get up to speed but he has previously proven himself capable of challenging for regular top ten finishes.

Comtoyou Racing 2022
Comtoyou Racing continues to field Audi’s entries in WTCR. Photo: Comtoyou Racing

The sole Audi team, Comtoyou Racing, was also late in confirming its plans for 2022. Although the Belgian squad, which has been part of the Audi TCR project from the very beginning, will again field four cars, it has lost its highest-ranked driver from last year.

Frédéric Vervisch was Ehrlacher’s closest rival for the 2021 drivers’ title in the first year with the new generation RS3 LMS, but he will instead race in GT World Challenge Europe with the marque in 2022.

It means Audi may have to rely on 22-year-old Magnus, tenth overall last year, and 32-year-old Nathanaël Berthon, 12th overall last year, to fight for the title.

The team can also draw on 2020 TCR Europe champion Bennani and long-time World Touring Car racer Coronel for race wins, but neither driver is expected to emerge as overall title contenders in the ultra-competitive WTCR.

This year marks the third successive season that full-season WTCR entries are down. Clearly, some manufacturers are placing their investment in all-electric motorsport at the expense of the world’s top touring car series.

But despite that, the championship still boasts some strong talent and a diverse calendar which will see races take place in ten countries across Europe and Asia.

There may be fewer cars, but those that are present are genuinely driven by top-level touring car talent, promising an exciting season once again.

2022 FIA World Touring Car Cup entry list

Driver No. Team Car
 Norbert Michelisz 5 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
 Attila Tassi 9 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR
 Thed Björk 11 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
 Santiago Urrutia 12 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
 Gilles Magnus 16 Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021
 Nathanaël Berthon 17 Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021
 Tiago Monteiro 18 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR
 Mehdi Bennani 25 Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021
 Néstor Girolami 29 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR
 Tom Coronel 33 Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 2021
 Ma Qing Hua 55 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
 Yann Ehrlacher 68 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
 Rob Huff 79 Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR
 Esteban Guerrieri 86 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR
 Mikel Azcona 96 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
 Dániel Nagy 99 Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR
 Yvan Muller 100 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
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