The World Touring Car Championship kicks off this weekend, where 5 drivers will make their full time debut. Here we take a look at the new faces in the WTCC for 2017.
While it won’t be the Argentine’s first appearance in the WTCC, it will be his first full campaign. He returns in the Volvo S60 that he drove during his single round entry in 2016. Girolami comes from the Argentine Super TC2000 series, just like triple champion Jose Maria Lopez. He won that title twice in 2014 and 2015. It is not just touring cars that he has competed in. His first taste of racing cars was at 16 in Formula Renault 1.6. He then contested an Formula Renault 2.0 round at Monza, finishing 6th.
This gave him a TC2000 drive with Renault in 2008. He signed for Honda in 2010 before moving to the Peugeot team in 2012. This was where he started to shine, finishing runner up in 2013 to Lopez before his double championships. Girolami made 2 WTCC starts for Nika in 2015, along with is single start for Volvo in 2016. Having seen the pace of Jose Maria Lopez, Girolami could have a bright future in the WTCC.
Another argentine from the world of TC2000. Esteban Guerrieri has raced in almost every type of car around. His racing CV features championships in Formula Renault 2.0 in Argentina and the 2003 Masters series. Then a move into Formula 3000 where he finished 7th overall. Guerrieri then had a stint in Formula 3 racing against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel. While Hamilton and Vettel were racing to Formula 1 success, Guerrieri set his sights on the USA. In 2012 he made his debut in Indy Lights, finishing an impressive 2nd overall in his first year. He then managed the same feat the following season.
Flash forward to 2016, Guerrieri appeared at his home round, driving a Campos run Chevrolet. He showed amazing pace topping both free practice sessions. Poor luck and technical problems meant he couldn’t convert these into race wins, eventually finishing 6th in the second race. Guerrieri has confirmed a half season, running at the first 4 rounds as well as his home race in Argentina. He has shown fantastic pace behind the wheel of the Chevrolet, hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
The Panis name is one that few will need an introduction to. The son of Formula 1 race winner Olivier will drive for Zengo Motorsport in their Civic. While he might have a famous name, Panis is a quick driver in his own right. After karting, his career started in single seaters. From a 10th place in French formula 4 in 2011, he made the move into Formula Renault Eurocup, Alps and NEC Series. His best finish here would be 9th in 2014 driving for the ART Junior team in the Eurocup Series. He then moved up to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2015 and 2016. His true pace was evident last season while driving for Arden Motorsport, picking up two wins on his way to fifth overall.
He dovetailed this with two strong finishes in the Andros Trophy Electric class. The Annual Ice racing series has been a stomping ground for the Panis name, with Olivier competing in the petrol class. Aurelien finished 2nd during the past two seasons with 4 wins and 12 podiums over the past two seasons. The young Frenchman makes his debut in closed cockpit competition in 2017. How will he fair with a roof over his head? We will find out at the first round.
The Ehrlacher name might not be familiar to many, but the son of Yves Ehrlacher and Cathy Muller has had a great start in the motor racing world. He started racing in 2012, aged 16. He started racing in the French 1300 Mitjet series. Here cars with 150bhp, space frame chassis and a minimum weight of 650kg. These can be likened to Legend racing in the UK or the Aussie race car series. In 2013 he won a place in the VW Scirocco R-Cup at the opening DTM round, finishing 12th and 14th overall.
He then joined his uncle, Yvan Muller’s race team for a campaign in the 2 litre Mitjet class. He took the title that year. This coupled with a full season in the VW Scirocco R-Cup, where he took an overall win on his way to 8th. He stayed with Yvan Muller Racing for 2015, winning the French Super Touring Championship with 12 wins. In 2016 he made his debut in the European Le Mans series, driving an Ligier LMP3 car for Yvan Muller Racing. Technical problems troubled their season, but they scored victory at the last round at Estoril. This season he joins the new RC Motorsport running a privateer Lada Vesta for his first WTCC campaign. With backing from 4 time champion Yvan Muller, expect Ehrlacher to be at the front.
While Michigami might be a new name to the WTCC, it is most definitely not a new name to Honda. The 44 year old Japanese driver has been racing for the marque since 1998. The former Super GT champion has been involved with Hondas road and race programs for over 20 years, having a hand in developing the Civic Road car. His Super GT program was coupled with appearances in Formula Nippon between 1998 and 2006. He has also made appearances at Le Mans in ’04 and ’05, driving the Dome S101. Ryo left the Super GT series at the end of 2013, competing in select races for Honda.
He made his WTCC debut last season at Motegi, with a best finish of 11th. This is what ultimately helped him into a full time factory drive for 2017. This will be the first full race seaon Michigami has competed since 2013, it will also be his first season in front wheel drive touring cars. How he adapts over the course of the season will be interesting to see. If track record is anything to go off, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
All 5 of the WTCC new boys will be in action this weekend in Marrakech, with all the action broadcast live on Eurosport.
Images: WTCC/ Yann Ehrlacher/ InfoAuto / themotorsportarchive.com