Seven drivers will hope they hold the trump card when the inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO heads for a season showdown to savour in Macau – the gambling capital of the world – from 15-18 November.
Gabriele Tarquini tops the pack after 27 all-action races in his BRC Racing Team Hyundai i30 N TCR. But with 79 points covering the top seven and 87 up for grabs from the three counters that make up the Suncity Group Guia Race, the order is likely to be shuffled on a track that has provided the ultimate street-racing challenge for 65 years.
Macau’s 6.120-kilometre Circuito da Guia blends twisty turns and narrow blasts with long, wide-open straights and sweeping corners – plus gradient changes – to create one of the most demanding and spectacular street circuits on the planet.
Touring car racing has been held in this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for more than half a century, with the famous Guia Race first run in 1972. Having welcomed the WTCC back to its streets last November for the penultimate event of the 2017 campaign when Rob Huff bagged a record ninth win, Macau hosts the WTCR OSCARO season finale with a season-high 31 drivers – representing seven customer racing brands – taking part.
Seven up for #SeasonShowdown
While Gabriele Tarquini is in the title ascendancy with a 39-point advantage over fellow Hyundai racer Yvan Muller, the experienced Italian has no plans to back off, with five other rivals all holding a mathematical chance of becoming the inaugural WTCR OSCARO champion.
“I’ve been leading this championship since the first race,” said the 56-year-old, who is also chasing a first win in Macau. “I’m the oldest guy with everybody behind me. I will fight very hard to win this title but Macau is a lottery and we know it’s very difficult.”
Frenchman Muller, the most successful driver in World Touring Car history with four FIA titles, said: “Maybe we lost the championship but everything is possible. Until it’s not mathematically possible you never give up. Macau is Macau and there are a lot of points [available].”
Sweden’s Thed Björk, the 2017 FIA World Touring Car champion, is 14 points behind his YMR team-mate Muller with Spanish Cupra driver Pepe Oriola 11 points further back for Team OSCARO by Campos Racing.
Jean-Karl Vernay (Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team) is fifth in the table, 11 points down on Oriola and 75 adrift of Tarquini. Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda) and Norbert Michelisz (BRC Racing Team) complete the seven title contenders, 78 and 79 points behind Tarquini respectively.
Although all seven championship chasers have raced on the Circuito da Guia before, only Muller and Michelisz have won in Macau with Michelisz taking the Guia Race laurels in 2010. With his title chances slim, the Hungarian will be using that triumph as a positive. “I’m not in the best position but in Macau everything can happen,” he said.
The Magnificent Seven at a glance:
Gabriele Tarquini (Italy, BRC Racing Team): First position, 291 points
Yvan Muller (France, YMR): Second, 252 points
Thed Björk (Sweden, YMR): Third, 238 points
Pepe Oriola (Spain, Team OSCARO by Campos Racing): Fourth, 227 points
Jean-Karl Vernay (France, Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team): Fifth, 216 points
Esteban Guerrieri (Argentina, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport): Sixth, 213 points
Norbert Michelisz (BRC Racing Team): Seventh, 212 points
Hyundai-powered entrants battle for Teams’ title
It’s a two-squad race for the battle to win the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO for Teams with eight points separating the top two. BRC Racing Team is in front thanks to the combined efforts of its Hyundai-powered drivers Norbert Michelisz and Gabriele Tarquini with Yvan Muller’s YMR outfit just behind. Muller came out of retirement to drive one of his two Hyundai i30 N TCRs alongside Thed Björk. YMR has won seven races to BRC’s six.
King of Macau Huff bids to extend winning record
Rob Huff, who drives a Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR for Sébastien Loeb Racing, is the most successful racer in Macau history with nine wins to his name. Although he’s slipped out of title contention after a tough mid-season, the Briton will be chasing a record-extending win number 10 on the Circuito da Guia. The 2012 FIA World Touring Car champion has given a brief insight into why he’s so good on Macau’s streets. “I know the track because I pay a lot of attention to it. I understand the bumps and I understand the contours. People say the Nürburgring Nordschleife is the hardest track in the world. I believe Macau is the hardest track in the world because every year you go there something’s moved, there are new bumps, new things to learn. I don’t want to say I push more than anyone else but I seem to find a natural balance that allows me to be fast but not over the limit. A combination of the confidence I have there with how I set the car up and the way I drive allows me to be quick.” Click here for a Q&A with Rob Huff.
History-maker Ma back in action
After becoming the first driver from China to score WTCR OSCARO points when Wuhan hosted the action last month, Ma Qinghua returns to Boutsen Ginion Racing in the Honda Civic Type R TCR Tiago Monteiro used to make his heroic comeback from injury at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan recently. But with Monteiro now focused on preparing for a full-time return in 2019, the rapid Ma has been called up to partner Macau stalwart Tom Coronel at the Belgian team. Click here to find out more.
Macau GP winner Couto heads the wildcards
Local racer André Couto, who famously won the Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix in 2000, is one of six wildcard entrants in action at WTCR Race of Macau. A former World Touring Car driver, Couto has been nominated by the TCR China promoter – at the invitation of WTCR promoter Eurosport Events – for the street spectacular as the representative of title-winning entrant MacPro Racing Team. Meanwhile, Filipe de Souza, Lo Kai Fung, Lam Kam San, Kevin Wing Kin Tse and Rui Valente were among a number of drivers to apply to the Macanese ASN, the AAMC, to take part in the three WTCR OSCARO races, which make up the legendary Suncity Group Macau Guia Race. Following a rigorous assessment process, they were selected and their inclusion on the entry list, along with Couto, has been approved by the FIA. Click here to find out more.
Online racers set for Macau Esports WTCR OSCARO finale
As well as hosting the closing rounds of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO, Macau is the venue of the Esports WTCR OSCARO Multiplayer Championship season finale this Sunday (11 November). Slovakia’s Bence Bánki heads to a virtual Macau as the inaugural champion and has underlined his dominance by going fastest in pre-qualifying, 0.7s up on Kevin Siggy Rebernak with Gergo Baldi just a tenth behind in third. Jaroslav Honzik and Attila Dencs rounded out the top five. Tim Jarschel, second in the RaceRoom standings but a mere two points up on Rebernak, was down in P13. Florian Hasse and Jan Stange, who are also in contention to finish second overall behind Bánki were ninth and P11 respectively. The Esports WTCR OSCARO finale will be broadcast live from 19h00 on Sunday with James Kirk and Robert Wiesenmüller providing expert commentary. Watch on Facebook or YouTube.
New era goes from strength to strength
With a rulebook designed to promote great racing, a packed grid of star drivers and seven customer brands, the stage is set for a thrilling Macau season showdown with the FIA Formula 3 World Cup and FIA GT World Cup also on the schedule. In an intriguing twist, WTCR – the new name for the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2018 – gets three races per weekend, plus a second shot at the DHL Pole Position Award due to the scheduling of not one but two qualifying sessions. There’s also the ground-breaking TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver award, which goes to the racer scoring the most points during a weekend, plus the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy. In addition to live global television coverage, Race 1 will be shown live in selected territories on Facebook and at wtcr.oscaro.com – website of the WTCR Series Presenting Partner partner and the world’s leading online retailer of original automotive spare parts.
They said what? WTCR drivers look ahead to Macau
Thed Björk (YMR, Hyundai i30 N TCR): “Macau is absolutely great, one of the best tracks in the world. When I won the World Touring Car Championship last year, one of the key points of winning the title was not losing too many points in Macau where I was racing for the first time. Now I know the track and I know the things that can happen I come back without the pressure I had last year. It’s a cool place to be and very nice when you are fast. I’m really motivated for Macau.”
Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne, Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR by Romeo Ferraris): “At Suzuka the Giulietta was fitting very well. Hopefully it will fit well in Macau as well. But I haven’t been [to Macau] in my life so I need to have this experience and try to follow the King of Macau that is Rob [Huff] and learn from him. I love street circuits and I am so excited to be doing Macau. I want the time to fly so I am in Macau already even if it’s the last race of the season.”
Tom Coronel (Boutsen Ginion Racing, Honda Civic Type R TCR): “Macau is the next level. The slightest mistake, 0.00001 per cent and you create a handicap for yourself for the rest of the weekend. It’s all about finding the confidence and the respect of the track. If you don’t respect it you will never score, never. To drive a touring car in the streets through the blind corners is special – you know you have to put full throttle for the exit but you don’t see the exit. You need track knowledge and people driving there for the fist time need to make as many laps as possible – in your dreams, in a taxi, walking, on a bike, whatever – because every lap will give you a plus point.”
Timo Scheider (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR): “It’s crazy, I’m turning 40 soon and I haven’t done Macau. I like city events and racetracks where you are not allowed to make any mistakes. The history of Macau is big. Unfortunately, in my Formula 3 times we haven’t done anything there, I was always quite close to going there but somehow the teams decided differently in the past. Right now Macau is getting more popular again and [this] is a good chance to learn the track, you never know what comes next.”
Gordon Shedden (Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team, Audi RS 3 LMS): “Macau is a circuit like no other but reminds me of a lot of different circuits. It has a little bit of Bathurst in it, a little bit of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, a little bit of the Nürburgring Nordschleife but it’s a street circuit so you need to add the walls and that makes it an incredible challenge. It’s super-fast, tight and twisty like Monaco. It’s just an iconic circuit world-wide with the casinos, the lights, the razzmatazz. It’s the perfect venue to end the season in high drama.”
Gabriele Tarquini (BRC Racing Team, Hyundai i30 N TCR): “I have not raced in Macau since 2014, but I remember well the corners. Macau is a special race for everybody. Apart from Rob [Huff], who is the King of Macau, it is very tough. Leading the championship is the best position to approach the final race and I will be concentrating on the title. But it’s a lottery and everything can happen in Macau. You can have trouble, an accident, you must survive the start especially the first corner. But I will go there with a smile thinking about my title dream.”
Kevin Tse (Teamwork Motorsport, Audi RS 3 LMS): “It will be a very tough challenge. There’s a field of world-class drivers and teams, who have been racing for the whole year and therefore have tons of knowledge and set-up reference for their cars and the Yokohama tyres. We will have a few days to hopefully gain as much set-up knowledge before heading to Macau. Making the 105 per cent qualifying cut is our first objective, then hopefully we will finish well in the three races.”
Frédéric Vervisch (Audi Sport Team Comtoyou, Audi RS 3 LMS): “I’m 32 and I’ve always wanted to race in Macau, now finally this dream is coming true. I have been racing on a number of street circuits: Beijing, Baku, Monaco, Trois-Rivières, and of course this season in Morocco, Vila Real and Wuhan. I think that on any street circuit, it is more important to have previous experience than on a permanent track, quite simply because you can’t go to the limits straight away. Any mistake means your weekend could be over already in a practice session. Street circuits don’t forgive anything. Obviously, we’ve all seen the famous slipstream overtaking manoeuvres, incidents and odd situations of the past, like Laurens Vanthoor flipping his GT3 car, huge pile-ups, but also the fact that using the handbrake in the Melco hairpin can be an option in a touring car!”
Five to watch
1 Kevin Ceccon: Italian Ceccon landed his breakthrough WTCR victory in Suzuka last time out and is strong on street tracks as his performances in Wuhan – and during his stint in single-seaters racing in Monaco – attest.
2 André Couto: A proven winner not just at Macau but also in touring cars, local hero Couto could be an outside bet for top honours.
3 Denis Dupont: The Belgian motorsport federation-backed youngster delivered his season-best performances on the streets of Wuhan so has form when it comes to round-the-houses racing.
4 Yann Ehrlahcer: Having endured a torrid time of late, Yvan Muller’s nephew will be desperate to reproduce the kind of form that made him a title contender earlier this season.
5 Filipe Souza: One of the six wildcards, Macanese driver Souza used to marshal on the Circuito da Guia. Now he’s become established as a successful and competitive touring car racer.
All you need to know about WTCR Race of Macau: Click here for the event guide, timetable and other essential information including press conference timings
WTCR Race of Macau data kit: Click here to download
Who’s in it to win it? Click here to find out more about the WTCR drivers
WTCR explained? Click here to find out more
Standings: Click here to find out who is in front after the opening three races
Where and how to watch: Click here for more information
For everything else… Go to the online WTCR Media Centre by clicking here
Provisional key timings:
Thursday 15 November: Free Practice 1: 09h05-09h35; Free Practice 2: 13h30-14h00
Friday 16 November: First Qualifying: 08h50-09h30; Second Qualifying Q1: 13h35-14h05; Second Qualifying Q2: 14h10-14h25; Second Qualifying Q3: 14h35-14h50
Saturday 17 November: Race 1: 14h25 (8 laps)
Saturday 18 November: Race 2: 08h20 (8 laps); Race 3: 11h00 (11 laps)
Who’s on the grid?
World Touring Car champions: Thed Björk, Rob Huff, Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini
WTCC Trophy winners: Mehdi Bennani, Tom Coronel, Norbert Michelisz
WTCC race winners: Yann Ehrlacher, Esteban Guerrieri, Ma Qinghua, Pepe Oriola
British Touring Car champions: Muller, Gordon Shedden, Tarquini
DTM champion: Timo Scheider
TCR title winners: Aurélien Comte, Jean-Karl Vernay
Young racing hopefuls: Kevin Ceccon, Denis Dupont, John Filippi, Mato Homola, Norbert Nagy, Aurélien Panis, Zsolt Szabó
International racers: Nathanaël Berthon, Luigi Ferrara, Frédéric Vervisch
Wildcards: André Couto, Lam Kam San, Billy Lo, Filipe Souza, Kevin Tse, Rui Valente
Weekend format explained
In a major change to the previous WTCC race weekend format, each WTCR OSCARO event will consist of three races – an increase from the previous two plus an additional qualifying session. First Qualifying decides the grid for Race 1. The top 10 after Second Qualifying Q2 will decide the first 10 places on the grid for Race 2 but in reverse order with the combined Second Qualifying times deciding the grid for Race 3.
WTCR Race of Macau in numbers
79: The top seven drivers in the standings start WTCR Race of Macau covered by 79 points. With 87 points up for grabs, the title race remains wide open heading to the inaugural season finale.
9: Rob Huff is the most successful racer in Macau history with nine wins. Of his WTCR OSCARO rivals only his Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Mehdi Bennani (once), Norbert Michelisz (once) and Yvan Muller (twice) have won the Guia Race previously.
2m31.522s: As well as being Macau’s most-winning driver, Rob Huff is also the fastest on the Circuito da Guia in a TCR car. In 2015, Huff lapped the 6.120-kilometree street course in 2m31.522s. Meanwhile, Huff’s race lap record stands at 2m34.136s.
14: Fourteen drivers have won races in WTCR OSCARO, while all seven customer racing brands (Alfa Romeo, Audi, Cupra, Honda, Hyundai, PEUGEOT and Volkswagen) have been successful.
9: Of the all-season WTCR OSCARO racers competing at WTCR Race of Macau this year, nine have no prior experience of the Circuito da Guia.