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Event preview: No time to lift off the throttle as #WTCR goes forward to France

There’s no time to slow down in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup with Circuit Pau-Arnos gearing up to host the action this weekend (October 15-17) as the dust still settles following an epic WTCR Race of Czech Republic yesterday.

Néstor Girolami and Norbert Michelisz took the wins at Autodrom Most, the ninth and 10th different drivers to do so in 10 races, while Yann Ehrlacher starts the inaugural WTCR Race of France, his home event, as the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader by topping the provisional order after 10 rounds.

Unlike Autodrom Most where a handful of drivers had previous racing knowledge, Circuit Pau-Arnos is new for the entire grid in competitive conditions, making the sixth event of the season a step into the unknown and a huge level playing field.

The track, the shortest of the season at 3.030 kilometres in length and featuring 13 turns, is the work of legendary French driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise, a one-time Formula One grand prix winner. Located 20 kilometres west of Pau city, the circuit has been upgraded to FIA Grade 3 status and its undulating layout will provide an exciting challenge for the WTCR drivers and their Goodyear-equipped TCR cars.

For the second weekend running, the WTCR joins forces with another top series from Discovery Sports Events. After a double-header with the FIM Endurance World Championship for motorbikes in Czech Republic, the deciding round of the PURE ETCR all-electric touring car series shares top billing with the WTCR at Circuit Pau-Arnos to provide an additional thrilling spectacle for the fans.

And there’s every chance those fans will get to cheer a home winner with four flying Frenchmen on the grid, including Yvan Muller, the most successful driver in FIA World Touring Car history. Home hero Muller forms part of the Cyan Racing Lynk & Co line-up with his nephew Yann Ehrlacher, the current King of WTCR. Ehrlacher is the son of former French professional football Yves Ehrlacher and ex-racer Cathy Muller.

Nathanaël Berthon (Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport) and Jean-Karl Vernay (Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team) will also fly the French tricolore at Circuit Pau-Arnos. Both have won in the WTCR and have ample experience at world level. Vernay had worn the coveted blue jacket as the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader until a tough WTCR Race of Hungary weekend dropped him to third place in the title fight, while Berthon is well known for his qualifying pedigree.

Although France has never hosted a WTCR race before, it was a regular fixture on the FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar up until 2016 with Magny-Cours, Paul Ricard and the Pau street circuit hosting races. Current Zengő Motorsport driver Rob Huff won twice, while Muller notched up a single win during that time. Huff, from Great Britain, is the 2012 World Touring Car champion.

He’s part of the CUPRA-powered WTCR line-up that also includes Spanish PURE ETCR title contenders Mikel Azcona and Jordi Gené, plus promising Hungarian youngster Bence Boldizs, who switched from rallycross to the WTCR for the 2020 season. Azcona starts WTCR Race of France on the back of claiming a second TCR Europe title following dash to Barcelona last Friday night having taken his first WTCR pole position earlier in the day. Gené, meanwhile, had his very first laps in a racing car at Circuit Pau-Arnos in 1986 as a present from his father for winning a Spanish karting title.

Joining Ehrlacher and Muller in Goodyear-equipped Lynk & Co 03 TCRs are the Cyan Performance Lynk & Co-entered Thed Björk, the 2017 WTCC champion from Sweden, and Uruguay’s Santiago Urrutia, who won Race 2 at WTCR Race of Hungary but struggled in WTCR Race of Czech qualifying and lost ground in the title flight after taking just five points from the two races.

Argentine aces Néstor Girolami and Esteban Guerrieri line-up for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport and head to France on a high. Girolami took his first WTCR win of 2021 in Czech Republic where a podium double reignited Guerrieri’s title bid. Portugal’s Tiago Monteiro and Attila Tassi, from Hungary, drive identical Honda Civic Type R TCRs for sister team ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport.

Twenty-one-year-old German Luca Engstler, the youngest driver on the grid, partners Vernay at Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team. Hungary’s Norbert Michelisz, who won Race 2 at WTCR Race of Czech Republic, and Italian Gabriele Tarquini head the BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse with identical Hyundai Elantra N TCRs.

Belgian Gilles Magnus, 22, scored his breakthrough WTCR victory in Hungary for Comtoyou Team Audi Sport and tops FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title and WTCR Trophy standings after 10 rounds. Compatriot and team-mate Frédéric Vervisch has also won in a second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS this season. Dutchman Tom Coronel, who is in his 32nd season of racing, partners Berthon at Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport.

*Girolami and Michelisz become winners nine and 10 of wide-open WTCR season
*Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Ehrlacher extends points advantage
*Guerrieri back in the title fight with double podium despite intense pressure in both races
*Azcona claims P2 in Race 2 after away day in Barcelona earns second TCR Europe title
*Spaniard completes memorable weekend with TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy
*Muller, Björk and Vernay complete Race 1 top 6 with Muller sixth in Race 2 behind Berthon
*A haul of 5 points drops Urrutia down the title order. He was 2 points off the series’ lead
*Engstler is the top FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title contender in both races
*Coronel and Magnus share the WTCR Trophy wins
*Heartbreak for home hero Fulín from reversed-grid pole as contact puts him out of Race 1
*WTCR shares top billing with FIM Endurance World Championship at Autodrom Most

Representing 12 countries, the 2021 WTCR line-up features six FIA world title winners − including current King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher − plus seven drivers 25 or under.

All drivers count on sustainable biofuel from P1 Racing Fuels and tyres from Goodyear. Along with a Balance of Performance and a compensation weight formula, their use helps to create a level playing field. Meanwhile, significant cost-control measures help maintain strong grid numbers and allow privateer teams with limited technical support from manufacturers to fight at the front.

The 2021 season is set to comprise eight weekends with practice, qualifying and two races timetabled at each event. All events enjoy extensive live global broadcasting.

As well as the FIA Drivers’ and Teams’ titles, the FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title is for the best racer 24 or under at the start of 2021 with no WTCC/WTCR experience prior to 2019. Independent racers competing without direct manufacturer funding are eligible for the WTCR Trophy, while the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy and TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver accolade are awarded at each event.

The Goodyear #FollowTheLeader recognises the driver at the head of the title standings after each qualifying session or race. They are presented with the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader blue jacket and carry the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader yellow windscreen strip on their car until such time that they no longer top the points classification. Yann Ehrlacher starts WTCR Race of Czech Republic as the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader, albeit by two-point margin over Santiago Urrutia.

*There will be double-headers only in 2021 with two rather than three races at each event
*New cars from Audi (second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS) and Hyundai (Elantra N TCR) join the grid
*P1 Racing Fuels is WTCR’s Official Fuel Supplier with drivers powered by a bespoke fuel featuring 15 per cent renewable components
*Jordi Gené is a WTCR newcomer, while Rob Huff and Frédéric Vervisch are back having missed out on the action in 2020
*Adria, Estoril, Most, Pau-Arnos and Sochi are new venues for 2021, while Czech Republic, France Italy and Russia host the WTCR for the first time
*The Rookie driver award is redefined and renamed as the FIA Junior Driver Title
*WTCR promoter Discovery Sports Events (previously Eurosport Events) holds the FIA’s Three Star Environmental Accreditation following a rigorous auditing process in line with the motorsport world governing body’s Environmental Certification Framework. Click HERE for more information.

*The super-tight nature of the WTCR was underlined when 0.7s covered the top 18 drivers in Qualifying Q1 at WTCR Race of Czech Republic.
*Esteban Guerrieri is the WTCR’s most successful driver in terms of race wins with the Honda-powered driver triumphing 10 times for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport.
*The Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition as the Official Safety Car of the WTCR for a second season. Bruno Correia from Portugal is the Official Safety Car Driver at WTCR Race of France.

Rounds: 11 and 12 of 16
Date: October 15-17
Venue: Circuit Pau-Arnos
Location: 1 Camin deu Circuit, 64370 Arnos, France
Track length: 3.030 kilometres
Race 1 distance: 18 laps (54.540 kilometres)
Race 2 distance: 21 laps (63.630 kilometres)
WTCR qualifying lap record: To be established
WTCR race lap record: To be established

Saturday October 16:
Free Practice 1: 10h45-11h30
Free Practice 2: 13h30-14h00
Qualifying Q1: 16h20-16h40
Qualifying Q2: 16h35-16h45
Qualifying Q3: 16h55-17h00

Sunday October 17:
Race 1: 10h15 (18 laps, 54.540 kilometres)
Race 1 podium: 10h50 approx.
Race 2: 12h15 (21 laps, 63.630 kilometres)
Race 2 podium: 12h55 approx.
All timings are local (CET), provisional and subject to change

The WTCR becomes the first FIA series to visit Circuit Pau-Arnos in southwest France, 20 kilometres west of Pau. Short in terms of track length (the 3.030-kilometre layout has 13 turns) but big in terms of entertainment, the design is the work of the legendary Jean-Pierre Beltoise, a one-time grand prix winner. The WTCR has yet to race in France, but it has celebrated Yann Ehrlacher’s title triumph in 2020 plus race wins for Nathanaël Berthon, Yvan Muller and Jean-Karl Vernay. Race FR for PURE ETCR, the all-electric touring car series from Discovery Sports Events, will be another weekend highlight.

No Driver (NAT) Team Car*
3 Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
5 Norbert Michelisz (HUN) BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR
8 Luca Engstler (DEU) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR J
9 Attila Tassi (HUN) ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR
11 Thed Björk (SWE) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
12 Santiago Urrutia (URY) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
16 Gilles Magnus (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS J T
17 Nathanaël Berthon (FRA) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS
18 Tiago Monteiro (PRT) ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR
22 Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS
28 Jordi Gené (ESP) Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición
29 Néstor Girolami (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR
32 Tom Coronel (NLD) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS T
55 Bence Boldizs (HUN) Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición J T
68 Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR
69 Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR
79 Rob Huff (GBR) Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición
86 Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR
96 Mikel Azcona (ESP) Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición
100 Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & C0 03 TCR
*All cars equipped with Goodyear tyres, use sustainable biofuel from P1 Racing Fuels
J = FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title; T = WTCR Trophy

2020: Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing / Lynk & Co 03 TCR
2019: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) BRC Racing Team / Hyundai i30 N TCR
2018: Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) BRC Racing Team / Hyundai i30 N TCR

Nathanaël Berthon (FRA) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport / Audi RS 3 LMS: “I know the track is in France and I know it’s going to take six or seven hours by car to get there but that’s all I know! It’s really good for the circuit to have the WTCR coming and it’s good to race in France. We have prepared well but we also need to adapt quickly. But that’s actually one of my strengths I would say. I can adapt really quickly to new tracks, which I think comes from the Andros Trophy that I am doing in the winter. When you are racing on ice the track is changing all the time so you have to adapt really quickly. But the other drivers will pick up quickly as well because all the drivers are super-talented in WTCR. Of course, I want to do well in France and be the best of the French drivers. We are working hard and the car should suit the track. It has really short corners and actually we have quite a good rotation with the car on the short corners. I’ll be sharing all the information I have with my team-mates and we’ll be doing the maximum to get a good result.”

Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co / Lynk & Co 03 TCR: “The last time the WTCC was in Pau I was in the kindergarten, I was still really young! We did a few laps a few weeks ago in a Mijet to learn the track but that’s the only real knowledge I have and from what I have seen on the internet because it’s 900 kilometres from my home. But even when a track is completely new, in 10 laps we should be at our full potential. Like always we will do one even two laps walking to see all the kerbs and all the things we need to know before starting the weekend. The laps we did in the rear-wheel drive Mijet was just to learn the track and feel familiar with the atmosphere there, with all the landscape. The track is not well known, it’s small but it’s interesting and it will be nice to do a proper Qualifying lap there and with no long straight it will be good for our car. Since I entered World Touring Cars I never got to race at home so it will be nice to meet the French fans and promote our sport in France. Winning means everything everywhere but it will be a special meaning if we hear the French national anthem on our home soil, it’s a tick in our career.”

Jordi Gené (ESP) Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy / CUPRA Leon Competición: “You’ll never believe this, but the first time I ever drove a proper racing car was at Pau-Arnos! It was 1986 and I was 16 years old. I’d just won the Spanish championship in go-karts and my father gave me a present of an afternoon in a formula car, which was one of the cars from the Thierry Cangas Racing School that was based at the track. We didn’t have anything like this in Spain and the track was brand-new at the time, so we found out it existed and drove the few hours to get there. I wish I could remember how the track went as maybe it would be a big advantage now. All I remember is sitting in the car and thinking, ‘wow, I’m in a real formula car,’ but being so small I struggled to reach the pedals and see out of the car at the same time. The track was up and down and up and down again, but I don’t really recall anything else. Unfortunately, I never took any pictures either because I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could make a career from driving racing cars. I thought that would be my one time.”

Tiago Monteiro (PRT) ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport / Honda Civic Type R TCR: “I’ve never raced at Circuit Pau-Arnos but my father did in the Porsche Cup when I was doing Formula 3 in France. I’ve seen videos of course and I’ve done some simulator laps. It looks like a very challenging track and everybody who has been there says it’s one of those tracks where you need big guts and have got to go for it. We’ve only got 45 minutes and 30 minutes to get used to it before Qualifying whereas I know most of our competitors went testing there. In theory the track should be good for our car, but we need to see how the weight will be.”

Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co / Lynk & Co 03 TCR: “Somebody told me I raced F3 there in 1991 but I really don’t remember and I certainly have no home advantage! It’s an old-shape circuit, quite fun to drive from what I experienced when I was there two weeks ago driving a Mijet car. It’s quite an up and down circuit, quite narrow in places with one or two places to overtake, which will make qualifying super-important. It will be good to welcome some more friends to the track and it will be nice to hear more French accents in the paddock. I also like the southwest region of France where they have a lot of heavy food like they do in the east part where I am from!”

Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team / Hyundai Elantra N TCR: “I’ve never raced at Circuit Pau Arnos but I was there 14 years ago to bed-in brake pads for the F3 Euroseries race in Pau city and I went there a few weeks ago, like many drivers, to know a bit about where it goes. I don’t remember the last time I raced in France so I’m super-happy to be back. I love the region around Pau and hopefully I will see some of the fans I met when I won races in Pau city in Formula 4, Formula Renault and the Porsche Cup. It’s seven hours from Lyon, my city, but definitely it’s cool to be going there.”

The coveted #1 is not being carried in 2021 with King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher electing to stick with #68, the number he used to win last year’s WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup title and the number of Haut-Rhin, the French department where he’s from.

Qualifying: WTCR Race of France begins with two free practice sessions of 45 minutes and 30 minutes duration, followed by a single qualifying session. This is split into three stages (Q1, Q2 and Q3) and includes two elimination periods (Q1 and Q2). Q1 lasts 20 minutes with the fastest 12 progressing to Q2 where they get 10 minutes to battle for the five spots on offer in Q3. The quintet to progress to Q3 get one lap, one at a time to chase the pole position. Points are handed to the fastest five in Q1 and Q3 on a scale of 5-4-3-2-1.

Grids: Race 1 uses a partially-reversed grid with the fastest 10 in Q2 lining up in reverse order, meaning the driver who finishes Q2 in P10 starts Race 1 from pole position, P9 in second and so on. The drivers who were P11 and P12 in Q2 go next followed by the drivers eliminated after Q1. The Race 2 grid uses the combined qualifying order after Q3.

*The fastest five drivers in Qualifying Q1 and Q3 score points as follows: 5-4-3-2-1.
*The top 15 classified finishers score in each race as follows: 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
*The same scoring system apples to the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup for Teams and the FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title, although WTCR Junior points are not awarded following Q3
*WTCR Trophy drivers score as follows: 10-8-5-3-1, 1 point for the fastest qualifying lap, 1 point for the fastest lap in each race

“It’s the first time for the WTCR at Circuit Pau-Arnos although we’ve seen some onboard footage. It’s a short circuit but with no long straights and lots of corners it’s a lot of stress for the tyres with lots of right/left, right/left. It’s going to be quite interesting for the car set-up and a big challenge for the drivers but we’ll be doing everything to be prepared and help the drivers get the performance out of the tyres and we’ll be looking forward to doing that. At the moment the forecast is for a minimum eight degrees centigrade ambient at night − at Most it was one degree. During the day it’s going to be very sunny according to the current forecasts with an ambient of 21 degrees and this will have an influence on tyre warm-up, which will be quicker. We’ll find out more about the surface during the track walk just before the weekend and we always do an extensive track walk when we go to a new circuit. Throughout the weekend we’ll be using a track scanner to analyse the surface of the circuit so we have a good comparison in terms of wear and individual strategy for the teams.”

All drivers use the single specification Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperSport tyre. For WTCR Race of France, each driver has 12 dry-weather slick tyres allocated and can carry over 10 from previous events. In addition, 16 wet-weather tyres are available.