Norbert Michelisz already has one WTCR – FIA World Touring Cup title to his name. But as the season-opening WTCR Race of Austria approaches, the 36-year-old Hungarian hero is “starting from zero” as he plots more success driving a Hyundai i30 N TCR for BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse on Goodyear tyres.
How confident are you of winning a second WTCR title?
“I’m much more confident, I have much bigger self-belief compared to the previous years. The best thing about being world champion is you know you can do it. Many times in the past I had the feeling that I can do it if everything comes together, but then it’s a completely different level if you have the experience of fighting for something and if you have the knowledge you can achieve it. Winning the title has made me a better driver, I am sure of it. It’s opened a new spectrum for me in terms of where I can go and what I can aim for.”
So, if you don’t win, who will?
“I will, no problem! This is a very difficult question. A lot things are changing, there’s a new ECU, new tyres, new tracks, so we don’t know what the order will be and what cars will be strong. I expect [the Hyundai drivers] to be competitive and for me this is the most important thing. And then I expect the usual suspects to be there. But I also expect some surprises because of the new elements we will have, which will probably help some of the new drivers.”
How good will the racing be?
“It will be really good. I expect a decent grid and tough competition like in previous years. There will be a lot of race winners with a lot of drivers being able to fight for the top positions.”
You got the chance to race in ADAC TCR Germany recently. How will that experience help you?
“For sure it’s a help to experience this racing weekend atmosphere again. Driving a car in testing is a different mindset from driving a car during a race and it’s been such a long time ago that we were racing against each other in Sepang. Although I will be more prepared than the others when we get to Salzburgring, at this level all the drivers know how to prepare. It’s not like they will be totally lost and I’m quite sure about that.”
Did you have any flashbacks to Sepang when you were doing those races in Germany?
“I was thinking about Malaysia until April, but now it feels like I’m starting from zero. Of course, sometimes I think back to Malaysia but it’s less and less. I don’t feel like the defending world champion but someone who has to prove something to the world. It really feels like the closer to the start of the season the more it feels like staring again, like it was two or three years ago.”
Salzburgring is a new track for some but not for you. Are you ready?
“I know the circuit but I have to be honest, it was never one of my favourites. You have some nice corners there but I always struggled there compared to my team-mates. Now I’m curious to see so I already started to prepare data collected in previous years, even though the cars are different now. But it’s a good base to start from and we will have the test day on the Thursday.”
What’s the challenge of the Salzburgring?
“If you look at it then it doesn’t seem to be too difficult, but then you approach the very fast right-hand corner at the end of the back straight and you start to understand what a challenge it is to drive on the Salzburgring. Also, for me, the last sector is very technical and really needs a lot of preparation.”
How useful was the Salzburgring Esports WTCR event to you in terms of your preparation?
“It does help because on RaceRoom the circuit was done quite nicely. If you understand how to do the last corner right, it helps you to understand how you can put together a fast lap time.”
With lots of turning to the right at Salzburgring, how much stress does that put on the tyres?
“I don’t have a lot of experience with the new tyre so it’s difficult to say but we will do our long and our short run. The test before the race and the free practice will be key to having a good balance for qualifying.”
Focusing on the new-for-2020 Goodyear tyre, what are the main differences?
“I don’t want to give away too many secrets now but for sure it’s something that can change the order, as you will need to change your driving style a bit. I am quite sure some drivers who were struggling in the past they will find the Goodyear tyre comes their way and they will make a jump in terms of where they are in the order. And then there will be some drives who had the confidence on the Yokohama tyre and they will need to find the secret to be also there this season. The difference will be quite big compared to previous years and, for me, the tyre is one key things you need to understand to perform at a good level.”
Are you a fan of change?
“I love it. As a driver you always look for small challenges but even big challenges sometimes. I remember last year when we used the Nürburgring-spec tyre for the full season, I was struggling a bit in the beginning. I remember in Marrakech I didn’t really understand how to explore the front axle. But with time and a lot of work I started to understand how to approach the tyre in qualifying and also in the races. For me this was one of the key aspects in winning the title last year.”
As well as the new Goodyear tyre you’ve also got three new tracks to master. What knowledge do you have Adria, Aragón and Salzburgring?
“Of course, I know the Salzburgring but I never raced there so I’m curious to see how things will be. From the look of Adria and Aragón these are challenging circuits but I learned they are changing a bit the layout of Adria so I will be curious to see how that will be. It’s difficult to judge what will happen at these circuits and what we can expect. All I can do is prepare in the best possible way and that means looking at onboard videos and all the very small things I can have for my preparation.”
What’s your view of the compact calendar, six events within a two-month window?
“For me it’s good because I enjoy driving and this is why I love the three-race format we have had since 2018. Comparted to last year you will have even less possibility for mistakes because the season is shorter and tighter, so even if you experience a slightly worse weekend you need to be there 100 per cent on it at the next one to score a lot of points. Experience, good preparation and pushing to the maximum will be the key to success this season.”
The 2020 WTCR – FIA World Touring Cup season is set to fire up at Salzburgring, venue of WTCR Race of Austria from 12/13 September. A Q&A with Thed Björk, the 2017 FIA World Touring Car champion, will be available from tomorrow.