From the Nürburgring to the Hungaroring
After a long interlude to give them time to transport all their equipment across the Atlantic from Argentina to Morocco, the FIA World Touring Car Championship teams are about to embark upon a three-month tour of Europe. Races in Hungary, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, France and Portugal follow in quick succession, offering the competitors little respite until mid-July.
On their way from Versailles to Budapest, the Citroën Racing team will make a quick detour to the Eifel mountains to take part in a day of collective testing at the Nürburgring. All WTCC drivers will be doing their best to get to grips with the ‘Gesamstrecke’, a circuit that includes all but a few chicanes of F1’s legendary Nordschleife. They will negotiate 170 ‘official’ turns on a 25.947km track, in less than 9 minutes.
For Citroën Racing’s engineers, it will be a particularly important day. “More than anything, it’s a meeting that has required a lot of preparation from the drivers,” explains Xavier Mestelan, Citroën Racing’s Technical Director. “A few months ago, they went and did a few laps of the Nordschleife in mass-produced cars. They then carried on the process of memorising the track on our simulator. Now, we’re going to be able to put all that into practice. It’s hard to sum up a circuit like that in just a few words, but we already know that we’ll have to have our cars sitting higher than usual because of the bumpy surface. It’s not a rally, but we’ll have to completely review our setup in terms of suspension and aerodynamics. The circuit also poses a major challenge for the engine, with one long straight which requires the cars to maintain top speed for almost 40 seconds.”
Unlike at traditional test sessions, where a new driver takes his turn in a car dedicated to development, Sébastien Loeb, José María López, Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller will be using the same Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs they race in. The technical team will therefore be able to compare the data acquired to work towards the best possible setup. “The length of the circuit will force us to change our approach,” Xavier Mestelan continues. “On a 26km track, we obviously won’t be able to work bend-by-bend as we normally do. We’ll have to divide the circuit into sections and find the best compromises we can. The cars will have to be easy to drive, but also precise in their handling due to the various hidden turns.”
NEXT STOP: BUDAPEST
As soon as the routine technical checks have been completed, the Citroëns will be loaded onto the team’s trucks and make their way 1,200km east to the Hungaroring. The third round of the 2015 FIA WTCC sees the competition return to the circuit on the outskirts of Budapest. “We noticed last year that our car was less at ease on the winding circuits. So that was something the team worked on when it came to making changes to the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC for 2015,” notes Citroën Racing Team Principal Yves Matton. “Those efforts will come in handy as the compensation weights kick in. From this meeting onwards, we will have to carry an extra 60 kg, while our rivals will have zero ballast. That’s a new development this year.”
Yvan Muller can be considered as Citroën Racing’s Hungaroring specialist. Since the first appearance of the Budapest circuit on the WTCC calendar in 2011, the man from Alsace has won every year. Spurred on by his victory in Marrakech, he will be looking to carry over the same good form in order to close the gap on José María López and Sébastien Loeb in the overall standings: “I like this circuit. There’s a lot of rhythm in it. It is true that the stats suggest I should be the favourite, but I think we’re going to suffer from the ballast, particularly at the Hungaroring. We’re going to have to pull out all the stops in qualifying to have a chance of winning. But before that, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Nürburgring is like in the C-Elysée. Strangely enough, I’ve never raced there. The drivers who know it well say that you need at least 80 laps to get to grips with it properly. Needless to say, we’re a long way from that, but it will be a good challenge for our drivers and engineers.”
Qualifying begins at 14:30. The two races will take place at 13:30 and 14:30 on Sunday 3rd May.