Race preview: Returning home hero Monteiro joins the #WTCR street racers in Vila Real

*Honda-powered driver will enjoy a huge fan following at Vila Real’s half-century event *Kristoffersson brings World Rallycross Championship skills to the ‘joker’ lap *Nine winners from 15 races as Guerrieri leads on the #RoadToMalaysia

Event preview: FIA WTCR Race of Portugal
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 16, 17and 18 of 30, Vila Real, 5-7 July

From the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the North to what’s known locally as the Nürburgring Nordschleife of the South, the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO is on the move again to Vila Real, a street track for the brave where brilliance makes the difference and mistakes are punished in an instant.

While the 4.785-kilometre lap is more than 20 kilometres shorter than the real Nordschleife, there are similarities thanks to the Portuguese venue’s blend of fast turns, climbs and descents.

As with all street tracks run-off is scarce and precision is key to being competitive. And when it came to being competitive in 2018, Thed Björk’s DHL pole to victory in Race 3 was a masterclass in dominance and came on the back of a dramatic Race 1 when a multi-car accident left several cars badly damaged.

“It was quite a scary moment for many of us,” said Björk, the fastest driver around Vila Real in a TCR-specification car and last year’s TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy winner. “My car was on fire, I was boxed in and thinking about a different outcome. But as racing drivers we forget, and it’s one of my favourite circuits because when you get the flow it’s so nice to drive and so rewarding to be close to the walls. Vila Real is my track. I’m just spot on [there], attacking it in my way and taking on a challenge I am not afraid of. It’s a good atmosphere and the city appreciates us being there.”

Monteiro all set for a hero’s return
Portuguese hero Tiago Monteiro is back in action in Vila Real after his incredible recovery from the serious head and neck injuries he sustained in a testing crash in September 2017. Reduced to the role of frustrated spectator last year, Monteiro will be part of the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID in his KCMG Honda Civic Type R TCR. After a strong start in Morocco, Monteiro’s season has been filled with frustration. But, as the one-time Formula One podium finisher insists, “there’s no way we’re going to give up. We know where we have to improve and we’ll keep on working.” A full Q&A with Monteiro is available here.

Fifty Vila Real street races run
This year’s WTCR Race of Portugal coincides with the 50th running of the Vila Real street race. Racing has been held on Vila Real’s demanding hillside roads since 1931, when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.150-kilometre course in a Ford Model A. Safety and financial factors meant races were held on an irregular basis until Eurosport Events brought the FIA World Touring Car Championship to the city in 2015. It provided stability and Vila Real’s first world-level event, albeit on a shorter layout with a handful of chicanes installed for safety reasons.

The ‘joker’ lap is back…
The ‘joker’ lap brought an untried concept to world championship motor racing when it was used at WTCC Race of Portugal in 2017. Designed to further spice up the action on a circuit where overtaking isn’t always possible, the ‘joker’ lap concept requires the WTCR / OSCARO drivers to take an alternative route in all three races, although not before the third lap of any race.

Vila Real’s ‘joker’ lap route is located at the final corner, Turn 26, with the full approval of the FIA Safety Department and local authorities. While the right/left flick through a roundabout will still be used in normal racing conditions, the alternative route to the left side will effectively take drivers the other way onto the roundabout and through a tighter left/right sequence before they re-join the start/finish straight. The alternative route is expected to take an additional two seconds, which will hand pursuing drivers ample opportunity to overtake.

Inspired by the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the ‘joker’ lap has brought an extra dimension to racing on Vila Real’s streets. As well as providing additional overtaking opportunities – Tiago Monteiro’s ‘joker’ lap strategy helped him to a podium double in 2017 – it will create a unique tactical battle between the teamsmeaning its impact on the races is not to be missed.

To make it visible and understandable on television, the ‘joker’ lap location will be highlighted by special graphics, which will also give viewers instant notification when the lap has been taken. Fans following live timing through the WTCR app will also be able to determine the ‘joker’ status of each driver.

… and there’s a joker master in the pack!
He might be new to Vila Real and only five events into his WTCR / OSCARO career but SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson is a master when it comes to taking the ‘joker’ lap. The Swede is a double FIA World Rallycross champion and used to do ‘joker’ laps for a living as they are mandatory in all WRX events.

How will your experience help you?
“You don’t have the same confidence going in there because the evolution of this section is different to the rest of the track. The grip, the braking point will be different. But compared to rallycross where you only have four laps or so to practice it, in Vila Real there will be plenty of time in Free Practice, so it’s important not to over-analyse it.”

As a concept are you a fan?
“I really like it, especially on a street circuit where it can really make a difference. If you mess up your start or whatever you can use the ‘joker’ as an overtaking tool. But as well as using it as an attack tool, you can use it as a defending tool. It just depends what your pace is.”

What’s your decision-making process to taking the ‘joker’ lap?
“There are so many different solutions. I have experience from the rallycross but in racing you have more tyre degradation so maybe it’s better to take it early. Also, if you are stuck in traffic you have to consider where you will come out, if you will be in free air. It’s a bit like a pitstop.”

Have you ever got the ‘joker’ lap wrong?
“One time I got it proper wrong because if forgot to take it and got a 30 seconds penalty in Portugal in 2017. That was a bit of a mess so the best remark I can make is to make sure you do it!”

And was there a time when you really benefited?
“The first World RX race I won, in Portugal 2015, I won because | had a good ‘joker’ strategy. I did it on the first lap and it was the key to the victory for me.”

Fifteen races, nine winners and a tightly-poised title race
Nine drivers have won races in 2019, while all seven customer racing brands have celebrated podium visits to underline another hugely competitive WTCR / OSCARO season. Esteban Guerrieri will start WTCR Race of Portugal with an impressive 45-point advantage over Norbert Michelisz and Thed Björk. But with a maximum of 85 points up for grabs in Vila Real alone, the title battle remains wide open heading into the second half of the season. Click here to view the provisional 2019 standings.

Welcome to the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID
The #WTCR2019SUPERGRID celebrates the fact that of the 26 all-season racers, seven have won 14 FIA world titles, while the others have shared 29 major championships between them.

Gabriele Tarquini, who began his world title defence with the Race 2 win at the season-opening WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco, carries the number 1 on his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. The hugely-experienced Tarquini took his second victory of 2019 when he beat team-mate and home hero Norbert Michelisz in the third race in Hungary.

After missing out on the inaugural WTCR / OSCARO crown by three points in a seven-way title decider in Macau last November, four-time world champion Yvan Muller is back in a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China. He broke his WTCR / OSCARO podium duck at the Hungaroring but is still chasing his first 2019 win.

Thed Björk partners Muller at Cyan and started his bid for a second FIA world crown by giving Lynk & Co an historic victory in Morocco. After the Hungary and Slovakia weekends proved frustrating in comparison, the Swede hit back in style with a win double in The Netherlands.

Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport Golf GTI TCR), the 2012 WTCC champion, is one of 12 of the 15 winners from 2018 returning in 2019. After a challenging start to the season, the Briton came close to a Race 2 podium in Slovakia and showed more form at Zandvoort and Germany.

BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus, ex-FIA World Rallycross ace Johan Kristoffersson (SLR Volkswagen) and Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are all world title winners and new to WTCR in 2019, with Kristoffersson now a winner following his Race 2 triumph at the Nürburgring Nordschleife where Farfus bagged a first podium.

Winner of Race 1 in Marrakech, Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR), topped the standings after Race 1 in Hungary only for his challenge to unravel when broken steering caused his Race 3 crash. He made amends with a fighting second place in Race 2 at the Slovakia Ring and retook top spot in the title table by winning Race 2 at Zandvoort. He will take to the track in Vila Real with a 45-point title lead following a strong Germany weekend.

Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport) had high hopes of his first 2019 win in Hungary when he lined up on the reverse-grid Race 2 pole. But a clutch issue meant a sluggish start resulting in the Frenchman settling for second ahead of impressive newcomer Daniel Haglöf (PWR Racing). The Nürburgring Nordschleife offered little return for both drivers, while Haglöfis a Vila Real rookie.

Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Sheddenand Comtoyou Racing pair Niels Langeveld and Frédéric Vervisch complete the Audi-powered attack with Vervisch winning in Slovakia – the result of an impressive charge from ninth on the grid – and taking a podium double in Germany. In his first season in WTCR / OSCARO, Langeveld is making progress and upping his pace at every turn.

A number of exciting young guns are aiming to challenge the established order in 2019. They include Mikel Azcona, who has graduated to WTCR as the TCR Europe champion to race a PWR-run CUPRA, and his close rival in recent seasons, Attila Tassi, the 19-year-old Honda-powered KCMG driver. Vila Real is unchartered territory for both but Tassi heads to Portugal on a high following a season-best fourth at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Kevin Ceccon, another Vila Real rookie for Team Mulsanne and Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) are already winners in WTCR, but at 25 and 22 respectively, they remain among a list of talented youngsters that also includes Aurélien Panis, who has switched to CUPRA power for 2019 with Comtoyou Team DHL CUPRA Racing. Ex-single-seater racer Ceccon scored a podium brace in Slovakia, while Ehrlacher led at Zandvoort.

Tom Coronel partners Panis at Comtoyou and won in Vila Real in 2016. Fellow Dutchman Nicky Catsburg (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team) is new to WTCR in 2019 having triumphed in the World Touring Car Championship in the past. Benjamin Leuchter made the most of his Nordschleife knowledge to score an emotional home victory in Germany. Vila Real is a trip into the unknown for the SLR Volkswagen driver.

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami, another series newcomer for this year, is also a WTCC race winner and topped the title standings after claiming his third WTCR / OSCARO victory in Slovakia. Having become the first Chinese to score WTCR points last season, Ma Qinghua made more history as the first Chinese driver to win a WTCR / OSCARO race when he triumphed in Race 3 at the Slovakia Ring in his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta. He was victorious at Vila Real in 2015.

Tiago Monteiro starts his first full season since serious head and neck injuries ended his hopes of winning the WTCC title in 2017. The Portuguese, a Formula One podium finisher in the past, joins Hong Kong-based KCMG to race a Honda Civic Type R TCR. Monteiro’s former team-mate, Norbert Michelisz, is another title contender for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse after winning in Germany. Mehdi Bennani shared the Vila Real wins with Michelisz in 2017.

All you need to know about WTCR Race of Portugal

A street circuit oozing history and intrigue, racing has been held on Vila Real’s demanding hillside roads since 1931, when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.150-kilometre course in a Ford Model A. Safety and financial factors meant races were held on an irregular basis until the WTCC’s arrival in 2015 provided stability and Vila Real’s first world championship-level event. The 4.785-kilometre layout now used is a challenging blend of fast turns, climbs and descents. While a handful of chicanes were installed for safety reasons, the spectacle remains unaltered with speeds exceeding 200kph on the final downhill section.

Rounds: 16-18
Venue: Circuito Internacional de Vila Real
Date: 5-7 July
Location: Av. Carvalho Araújo 7, 5000-651 Vila Real
Length: 4.785 kilometres
Time zone: GMT +1 hour

Race 1 distance: 11 laps (52.635 kilometres)
Race 2 distance: 11 laps (52.635 kilometres)
Race 3 distance: 13 laps (62.205 kilometres)

WTCR qualifying lap record:
Thed Björk (Hyundai i30 N TCR), 1m59.824s (143.90kph), 24/06/18
WTCR race lap record:
Thed Björk (Hyundai i30 N TCR), 2m02.964s (140.2kph), 24/06/18

1: Vila Real played host to F3 single-seaters in the 1960s before sportscar racing came to the fore. Chris Craft and David Piper won a six-hour event in 1969 driving a Porsche 908.
2: During the 1980s touring car racing thrived at the circuit before a fatal accident in 1991 forced the authorities to intervene due safety concerns. Racing resumed on a shortened layout in 2007, with a revival meeting attended by Sir Stirling Moss, who competed at Vila Real in period.
3: The name Vila Real (Royal Town) comes from King Denis of Portugal founding it in 1289.
4: In order to raise money to cover the cost of running the race during its early years, a tax was placed on every kilogram of meat sold in Vila Real.
5: Originally a 7.150-kilometre layout complete with river crossing via a bridge, the first WTCC event in 2015 used a 4.755-kilometre version of the course. However, modifications to the first chicane to make it faster and up overtaking opportunities increased the track to its current length of 4.785 kilometres.

Provisional key timings:
Friday 5 July:
Free Practice 1: 17h00-17h45
Saturday 6 July:
Free Practice 2: 09h00-09h30
First Qualifying: 11h00-11h40
First Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 11h40 (estimated)
Race 1 (11 laps): 15h15-15h45
Race 1 podium: 15h50 (estimated)
Race 1 press conference (Media Centre): 16h05 (estimated)
Sunday 7 July:
Second Qualifying Q1: 10h00-10h30
Second Qualifying Q2: 10h35-10h50
Second Qualifying Q3: 11h00 (first car starts top-five shootout)
Second Qualifying DHL Media Zone (pitlane): 11h15 (estimated)
Race 2 (11 laps): 15h30-16h00
Race 2 podium: 16h10 (estimated)
Race 3 (13 laps): 17h00-17h35
Race 3 podium: 17h45 (estimated)
Race 2/3 press conference (Media Centre): 18h00 (estimated)

Media Accreditation Centre:Teatro de Vila Real, Alameda de Grasse, 5000-703 Vila Real
Opening hours:
Thursday 4 July: 15h00-20h00
Friday 5 July: 07h30-18h00
Saturday 6 July: 07h30-18h00
Sunday 7 July: 07h00-until last journalist leaves
Media Centre: Teatro de Vila Real, Alameda de Grasse, 5000-703 Vila Real
Opening hours:
Thursday 4 July: 15h00-20h00
Friday 5 July: 07h30-20h00
Saturday 6 July: 07h30-20h00
Sunday 7 July: 07h30-until last journalist leaves

WTCR Race of Portugal data kit: Available to download here
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
Live timing:
Where and how to watch: Click herefor more information
For everything else including image gallery… Go to the WTCR media site by clicking here.

1 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) Hyundai i30 N TCR
5 BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Norbert Michelisz (HUN) Hyundai i30 N TCR
8 BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team Augusto Farfus (BRA) Hyundai i30 N TCR
9 KCMG Attila Tassi (HUN) Honda Civic Type R TCR
10 Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Niels Langeveld (NLD) Audi RS 3 LMS
11 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Thed Björk (SWE) Lynk & Co 03 TCR
12 SLR VW Motorsport Rob Huff (GBR) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
14 SLR Volkswagen Johan Kristoffersson (SWE) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
18 KCMG Tiago Monteiro (PRT) Honda Civic Type R TCR
21 Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing Aurélien Panis (FRA) CUPRA TCR
22 Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Audi RS 3 LMS
25 SLR VW Motorsport Mehdi Bennani (MAR) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
29 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Néstor Girolami (ARG) Honda Civic Type R TCR
31 Team Mulsanne Kevin Ceccon (ITA) Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR
33 SLR Volkswagen Benjamin Leuchter (DEU) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
37 PWR Racing Daniel Haglöf (SWE) CUPRA TCR
50 Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing Tom Coronel (NLD) CUPRA TCR
52 Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport Gordon Shedden (GBR) Audi RS 3 LMS
55 Team Mulsanne Ma Qinghua (CHN) Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR
68 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Lynk & Co 03 TCR
69 Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Audi RS 3 LMS
86 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) Honda Civic Type R TCR
88 BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team Nicky Catsburg (NLD) Hyundai i30 N TCR
96 PWR Racing Mikel Azcona (ESP) CUPRA TCR
100 Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Yvan Muller (FRA) Lynk & Co 03 TCR
111 Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Andy Priaulx (GBR) Lynk & Co 03 TCR

Race recap 2018

Weekend in short
*Björk hits back from huge crash to triumph in street racing spectacular
*Teamwork to the fore after multi-car accident affects Race 1
*Homola scores maiden win after holding off Race 1 victor Muller in ‘joker’ lap decider
*Oriola is TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver with 50 points

Weekend report: Thed Björk proved he was the Real deal with the ultimate comeback performance in WTCR OSCARO, winning Race 3 on the streets of Vila Real as Mato Homola became the ninth different winner in 15 all-action rounds by triumphing in Race 2. Björk was involved in the multi-car accident in Race 1, his Hyundai i30 N TCR momentarily catching fire and requiring his YMR team to work through the night to repair it for Second Qualifying. Showing no ill effects from the crash, Björk landed the DHL Pole Position for Race 3 and took win number two of 2018. Homola’s moment in the spotlight came in Race 2. Starting third on the grid aboard a DG Sport Compétition PEUGEOT 308TCR, the Slovak belied his lack of Vila Real track knowledge to defeat Race 1 winner Yvan Muller, who waited until the penultimate lap to take his ‘joker’ lap but was unable to stop Homola from sweeping ahead as he re-joined. Muller’s Race 1 victory and second in Race 2 put him back on top of the WTCR standings at the halfway point of the season ahead of Gabriele Tarquini. Pepe Oriola impressed with podiums in Race 1 and Race 2.

Winning quote: “The team did a fantastic job,” said Björk. “They repaired the whole car all through the night and worked all night. The first lap I did this morning in Q1 they were cheering, it was so fantastic. I had a great feeling all day and forget about the big accident. It was such a nice car, unbelievable. I had the speed. But you see Norbert, he damaged his hand. It was a tough weekend in many ways. I can only be happy to win, but I am also happy to be here in Vila Real because the people here are fantastic. The ‘joker’ lap adds spice for this track because it is so difficult to overtake. So I think it is good with the joker.”

Results reminder
DHL Pole Position Race 1: Rob Huff (GBR) Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
Race 1 winner: Yvan Muller (FRA) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 1 fastest lap: Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) Hyundai i30 N TCR
DHL Pole Position Race 2: Gordon Shedden (GBR) Audi RS 3 LMS
Race 2 winner: Mato Homola (SVK) PEUGEOT 308TCR
Race 2 fastest lap: Thed Björk (SWE) Hyundai i30 N TCR
DHL Pole Position Race 3: Thed Björk (SWE) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 3 winner: Thed Björk (SWE) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Race 3 fastest lap: Thed Björk (SWE) Hyundai i30 N TCR
TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy: Thed Björk (SWE) Hyundai i30 N TCR
TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver: Pepe Oriola (ESP) Cupra TCR

What’s new for 2019?

Standardised points… for top 15
WTCR / OSCARO gets a new points system for 2019 with the aim of ensuring more drivers can score points more often. The top 15 drivers according to the final classification of Races 1, 2 and 3 are rewarded as follows:

POS: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15
PTS: 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1

The same points-scoring system is applied to the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO for Teams. Wildcard drivers are no longer eligible for points.

First Qualifying pace rewarded with points
Points are distributed not only following Second Qualifying as in 2018 but following First Qualifying as well. The fastest five drivers according to the final classification score as follows:

POS: 1-2-3-4-5
PTS: 5-4-3-2-1

On-event staff numbers restricted
Ten armbands are issued per team and only those operational staff assigned an armband, having registered with the FIA before each event, are allowed to work on cars for duration of an event.