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TCR World Tour and TCR Europe seasons get underway with 22-car field

A new era in touring car racing commences at the Autodromo do Algarve in Portugal this weekend, as the TCR World Tour gets underway by joining the field of the TCR Europe series.

A combined total of 22 cars have been entered for the event, consisting of nine entries in the TCR World Tour and 13 entries in TCR Europe.

Grid sizes may be a little underwhelming for fans of both series, but it has been a tumultuous few months for World Touring Cars, following the shock news of Discovery Sports Events backing out of promoting the series in late 2022.

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Many will thus see this as a starting point, and it nonetheless features a high-quality grid consisting of many of the regular faces from the very top of recent touring car history.

Another reason for the modest grid size may well be the TCR World Ranking and TCR World Tour format itself. Qualification to the TCR World Ranking Final is possible not only for the top 15 drivers (if it ever gets to that many) competing in the TCR World Tour events, but also for the top 45 drivers classified in the TCR World Rankings.

As such, drivers can qualifying by contesting regional TCR series, or strong national series.

An unintended consequence may therefore be that teams and drivers try to ‘play the system’ by qualifying for the TCR World Ranking Final in the cheapest way possible.

It is also possible that as the season progresses, drivers will enter odd races in other championships in order to ‘top up’ their points to ensure final qualification.

As the season progresses for both TCR World Tour and TCR Europe, therefore, additional entries can be expected to come and go.

Cyan Racing Lynk & Co drivers 2023
The Lynk & Co quartet of Ma Qing Hua, Thed Björk, Yann Ehrlacher and Santiago Urrutia. Photo: Cyan Racing

TCR World Tour

The biggest entry in terms of numbers comes from the Swedish Cyan Racing squad. Fielding four facelifted Lynk & Co 03 TCR cars, the Geely-linked team will be running two-time FIA World Touring Car Cup champion Yann Ehrlacher, 2017 FIA World Touring Car Champion Thed Björk, and multiple race winners Ma Qing Hua and Santiago Urrutia.

It means that, at present, there is no room for arguably touring car racing’s most successful star, Yvan Muller, who has not been revealed as part of any plans this season.

Frédéric Vervisch, Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Frédéric Vervisch is back for a full-season tin-top campaign. Photo: TCR Europe

Comtoyou Racing had outlined plans to field four Audi RS3 LMS TCR cars in this year’s World Tour, but in the end has committed to running only two – for established Audi Sport racer Frédéric Vervisch and new signing Rob Huff.

Although that looks like a scaling down for Jean-Michel Baert’s team, bear in mind that the Belgian outfit is still running four cars in TCR Europe and could expand as required this year, as Audi’s favoured customer racing outfit.

Vervisch was a WTCR title challenger in 2021, and with the Audi being on form could be one of the strongest names to potentially top the overall TCR World Tour points.

Huff has never previously raced an Audi, but the Brit joins after many years in Volkswagen-Audi Group TCR cars, so is unlikely to find the equipment to be completely alien to him.

As with last season in WTCR, BRC Racing will field two Hyundai Elantra N cars for reigning WTCR champion Mikel Azcona and 2019 WTCR champion Norbert Michelisz.

Azcona has been one of the strongest drivers in TCR in recent years, and there is little to suggest that will change in the forthcoming season, whilst Michelisz found some more form towards the end of last season which shows he has not lost his pace.

Néstor Girolami, ALM Motorsport, Honda Civic Type-R FL5 TCR
The all-new Honda Civic Type-R FL5 TCR. Image: JAS Motorsport

Just one Honda has been entered into the TCR World Tour – and at present, only for the European events at that. Estonian team ALM Motorsport will run a single new-generation Civic FL5 for Néstor Girolami.

But the JAS Motorsport-built car is not currently committed for the full season, and although it has already performed well in TCR UK and TCR Italy, it is yet to be considered a proven race winner.

Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Comtoyou will operate six Audis in this weekend’s field. Photo: Davy Delien

TCR Europe

Comtoyou Racing have committed four Audis for this season – Tom Coronel, last year’s runner-up – leads the quartet of racers and should again be considered a serious title contender.

Viktor Davidovski proved he could win in TCR Europe with a maiden victory last year at Le Castellet, whilst John Filippi nearly won the TCR Europe title in 2020 when he raced with Sébastien Loeb Racing in CUPRA machinery.

Young Belgian Kobe Pauwels is the team’s main unknown, but the former rallycross racer has a strong pedigree and could be well suited to touring car racing.

Dusan Borkovic, Target Competition, Hyundai i30 N TCR
Borkovic last raced in TCR Europe in 2021, and last with Target Competition in 2019 (pictured). Photo: TCR Europe

Returning to TCR Europe this year is Serbian star Dušan Borković after a year away, reuniting with Target Competition in a Hyundai Elantra N.

It means all of the Italian outfit’s drivers from last year have moved on, but Borković is no slouch and in 2018 he was a genuine title threat until late in the year.

Aggressive Team Italia is thus the biggest Hyundai team in 2023, running two Elantras for Nicola Baldan (at least only for the opening wo events) and Swede Mikael Karlsson.

Levente Losonczy was originally earmarked for the seat, but for reasons unspecified, he has been replaced with Baldan in Portugal and Pau, with Losonczy still competing for the team in TCR Italy.

Isaac Smith, Volcano Motorsport, Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Volcano Motorsport will field an all-new driver line-up. Photo: Volcano Motorsport

Volcano Motorsport, which previously ran Russian drivers Klim Gavrilov and Evgenii Leonov, and young Spaniard Isidro Callejas, also has an all-new line-up.

Brits Isaac Smith and Lewis Brown, rivals in the 2020 and 2021 MINI Challenge UK, will race for the Spanish-Russian team – in at least the opening round.

Whilst Brown has signed on for a full season, the announcement for 2022 TCR UK runner-up Smith only alluded to the opening event, so if he will be able to commit is currently unclear.

The Spanish RC2 Racing Team has also committed to running a pair of Audis – taking the total for the grid up to eight – but again, not for the entire season.

Brothers Rubén and Felipe Fernández Gil will again be racing in TCR Europe sporadically, with their main focus again expected to be on full-season campaigns in TCR Italy.

Ben Bargwanna, Burson Auto Parts Racing [GRM], Peugeot 308 TCR
Ben Bargwanna makes the short journey over from Australia… Photo: TCR Australia / Daniel Kalisz
Team Clairet Sport has partnered with Garry Rogers Motorsport to run a single Peugeot 308 TCR for young Australian Ben Bargwanna, who will contest two European TCR World Tour events in Portugal and Belgium, before he later takes part in the races on Australian soil later in the year.

A sole Lynk & Co has been entered into TCR Europe, being run by veteran Swede Mattias Andersson’s MA:GP team for his son, Viktor Andersson.

Andersson is a touring car convert, having previously raced in single seaters, but could be one to watch in 2023.

Thursday sees a series of private tests, followed by further practice on Friday. Qualifying and race one take place on Saturday at 09:50 and 14:20 WEST / BST respectively, followed by race two on Sunday at 11:30 WEST / BST.

2023 TCR World Tour (*) / TCR Europe Entry List – Portugal

Driver No. Team Car
Nicola BALDAN 8 Aggressive Team Italia Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Viktor ANDERSSON 10 MA:GP Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Viktor DAVIDOVSKI 11 Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Rubén FERNÁNDEZ Gil 12 RC2 Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Felipe FERNÁNDEZ Gil 19 RC2 Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Kobe PAUWELS 22 Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Isaac SMITH 23 Volcano Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
John FILIPPI 27 Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Tom CORONEL 34 Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Lewis BROWN 39 Volcano Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Mikael KARLSSON 48 Aggressive Team Italia Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Dušan BORKOVIĆ 62 Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Ben BARGWANNA 71 Team Clairet Sport – Burson Auto Parts Racing Peugeot 308 TCR
Norbert MICHELISZ* 105 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Thed BJÖRK* 111 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Santiago URRUTIA* 112 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Frédéric VERVISCH* 122 Audi Sport Team Comtoyou Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Néstor GIROLAMI* 129 ALM Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FL5 TCR
MA Qing Hua* 155 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Yann EHRLACHER* 168 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Rob HUFF* 176 Audi Sport Team Comtoyou Audi RS3 LMS TCR II
Mikel AZCONA* 196 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
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