With a new year brings a new season. A new season brings new cars, drivers and rules. The World Touring Car Championship is no exception to this, so here are 6 reasons to keep your eyes on the series this year.
1. A New Class
New for 2017 is the new WTCC-2 class. This will see cars built to TC2N specs which are currently used in the European Touring Car Cup. Based on TCR cars with some slight safety alterations, these 2 litre turbocharged cars cost a lot less to run than the specialist TC1 cars. The aim of this is to attract new teams and drivers into the series at a reduced cost. This new class could see the return of marques such as Alfa Romeo, Ford and Peugeot to the WTCC. We could also see Audi, Opel, Subaru and Volkswagen make their debut in the series.
This won’t be the first time the WTCC has seen multiple classes, when the TC1 cars were introduced, the older spec S2000 cars raced for the Yokohama Trophy. It remains to be seen how popular the new class will be. However, with the TCR regulations taking the world by storm, WTCC-2 could prove a popular place to race in 2017.
2. New Drivers
With new cars comes the potential of new drivers. With TC2N cars being eligible, some ETCC teams may make the switch to the WTCC. It could also see the return of some drivers to the series. Pepe Oriola, James Nash and Dusan Borkavic have all raced in the WTCC, and now fight it out in the TCR International series. This new class could see drivers like them return to the championship. It may also be possible to compete in both series, with as single clash existing between the two series. While the WTCC is at the Nürburgring with the ETCC cars, the TCR series is in Monaco supporting the Grand Prix.
3. A Changing of the Guard
In recent seasons, the WTCC has been dominated by the factory Citroen team. But not anymore, as Citroen announced that last year would be their last in the series. Citroen also left with their two drivers Yvan Muller and reigning champion Jose Maria Lopez. Of the 2016 grid, the only other men who had been world champion were Rob Huff and Gabrielle Tarquini. Citroen will still be present, in the form of Sebastian Loeb Racing’s privateer team, however they haven’t had the ultimate pace of the rest of the works teams. There are a lot of fast drivers who are capable of winning races next season, which means it should be a good battle for the title.
4. Chilton makes history
Briton Tom Chilton has confirmed he will race a dual campaign in both the WTCC and the British Touring Car Championship. That makes him the first driver to attempt to capture both the world and British titles at the same time. Chilton will continue with Sebastian Loeb Racing, who took him to second in the WTCC Trophy last season, while also driving for Vauxhall in the BTCC. Many drivers have competed in races in both series in the same year: Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Tom Coronel to name a few. Chilton has made it clear that he is aiming for both Championship in 2017. Doing so would make him the third driver to win both titles, along with Muller and Tarquini.
5. Joker Laps
This idea came from Rally Cross. The joker lap is usually longer than a usual lap and must be taken during each race after 2 laps. Joker Laps would be in place for the Marrakech and Vila Real street circuits to spice up the action. The Argentine Super TC 2000 series already uses joker laps at one round every season to great effect. The number of joker laps per race would be dependent on the race distance. This is a concept that the organisers want to implement for this season, and is currently being reviewed by the FIA. There will also be multiple track inspections to ensure that they can be implemented without compromising safety.
6. The return of a legend
After 2 seasons away, Macau returns to the WTCC calendar for 2017. After greater organisational involvement from the FIA in 2016, the top tier touring car championship returns to the Guia street circuit. It will be interesting to see how the slower WTCC-2 cars fair compared to the faster TC1 cars. It is notoriously hard to overtake at Macau, and with a speed difference of up to 10 seconds between the two classes, they could play havoc in the closing stages of the race.
Also returning is Monza. The Italian circuit will host the second round of the championship. While the circuit returns to the calendar, it could pose and all new challenge to all the teams. Plans have been made to alter the opening sector of the lap. The plans will see the removal of the first chicane and alterations made to Curve Grande making it a lot shallower and faster. This then feeds into the Della Roggia chicane which would now be the first of just 2 chicanes on the circuit. There would also be a larger gravel trap at Curva Parabolica, which could catch some drivers out if they make a mistake.
So, there we are, 2017 looks to be a great year for the WTCC, the season starts on April 9th in Marrakech. As always, the action can be seen live on Eurosport.