The current era of World Touring Cars will end this weekend in Saudi Arabia, with the last-ever FIA World Touring Car Cup races set to decide the title fight between champion-elect Mikel Azcona and Néstor Girolami.
After five seasons and 108 races, WTCR will conclude at the end of the 2022 season. Next year, the highest level of touring car racing will be the TCR World Tour, which is to form its season of events from the calendars of regional and national series.
It marks the end of a tumultuous season for WTCR. In the wake of tyre issues, the withdrawal of the decidedly dissatisfied reigning champions Cyan Racing and another year of extensive calendar changes, world touring cars has found itself at a low ebb.
The headwinds have simply proven to be too much for WTCR to survive in recent seasons. First, there was COVID, which affected the motorsport world across the board. But other global challenges have perhaps had more of an effect on touring cars than others.
The planned season opener in the Czech Republic had to be cancelled due to the war in Ukraine, which forced a refugee state of emergency in the country. Obviously, the planned race in Russia was also quickly scrubbed from the schedule.
The Asian leg of the season was ultimately also abandoned once again due to ongoing global pandemic, which is proving to affect countries in Asia more so than in Europe.
At the same time, car manufacturers are increasingly uninterested in pouring the same resources into internal combustion engine touring cars. Both CUPRA and Hyundai have maintained their commitment to the all-electric ETCR series, whilst withdrawing and reducing their involvement respectively in WTCR.
It resulted in just two CUPRAs on the grid this year, run by the cash-strapped Zengő Motorsport team, whilst Hyundai scaled back its full-season commitment to just two Elantras for Norbert Michelisz and Azcona.
Speaking of which, it is very much Azcona’s title to lose this weekend. The Hyundai driver holds a huge 60-pont lead over Münnich Motorsport’s Girolami, with only 65 on offer across the entire weekend.
It means that should the Spaniard qualify in third on Saturday, it would be enough to give him a first World title – and a third drivers’ title for the BRC Racing-run Hyundai outfit.
“This is a very important moment of my career and I know I can achieve a great result,” said Azcona of his title hopes. “My goal is to win the world title and I will do everything possible to get this.”
Girolami will require little short of a miracle to secure a first world title. Despite that, the 33-year-old has not given up on his title hopes.
“We have to be realistic and say the title will be difficult to achieve, but I am proud that we have been able to take the fight to the final round of the season and we go into the weekend with an open mind,” said the Argentine.
“ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport have operated at a really high level and we head to Jeddah believing there is every possibility to be in the battle for another victory, which would be a great way to end the season and to thank the team for their efforts, not just this season but throughout my time in the WTCR.”
Considering recent climatic events in Jeddah, nothing is impossible in this weekend’s night-time street races.
The area was hit by torrential rain on Thursday, resulting in flash flooding in Jeddah, the host city for this weekend’s races.
One of the tallest storm systems ever recorded of over 19 km hit the area, resulting in widespread damage.
Should rain hit the circuit again this weekend, it could mix up the order immensely – so long as the racing can still happen.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit will host the first-ever race meeting on its all-new short variant when WTCR visits, with the circuit being entirely unknown to the field.
Nonetheless, the circuit represents a high-speed dash between the barriers, and street circuits always represent a special unpredictable element for the sport.
Honda go into this weekend with by far the heaviest car, the Civics operating at a total running weight of 1,305 kg (including 40 kg of compensation weight).
The next heaviest car is the Hyundai, running at 1,265 kg (including 10 kg of compensation weight, the only other car with this ballast).
Both the Audis and CUPRAs will race with a running weight of 1,245 kg.
Free practice takes place on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying at 18:30 local time (15:30 GMT, 16:30 CET). Both races will take place on Sunday.