The Meeting of the "Fearless"
The European leg of the FIA WTCC season wraps up this weekend on the Vila Real street circuit in Portugal.
On this ultra-fast track snaking between the Armco and stone walls, a “fearless” apporoach could make all the difference. This eighth round of the season could either see the gaps increase or diminish between the three Citroën drivers leading the World Championship: José María López, Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb. In the battle for fourth place in the general classification, Ma Qing Hua will look to consolidate his progress while aiming for his first win of the season.
The second-half of the FIA World Touring Car Championship continues in Portugal. Before the Asian leg, which will make stops in Japan, China, Thailand and Qatar, this is the last chance of the year to see the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC’s competing in Europe.
After several meetings in Porto, the drivers will now encounter a new circuit at Vila Real. Located in the Douro region, this small town of 50,000 is considered as the birthplace of Portuguese motor racing. Since the first races held in 1931, a veritable tradition of motorsport has taken root here and it is about to return to the forefront with a major international competition.
Prior to heading to the Iberian Peninsula, the Citroën Total team drivers have meticulously prepared for the next venue of the championship. The first observation is it will be very, very fast. The corners string together with an impressive pace, and only the chicane, which marks the end of the fastest section of the circuit, slows down the cars. Because this is a street circuit there are no run off areas. In case of a mistake, contact with the metal barriers is all but assured. When the track leaves the city to wind through the vines, the circuit is lined with stone walls, not dissimilar to a rally special stage - Sébastien Loeb should feel right at home.
“It is a very fast circuit with an average speed in excess of 150kph,” predicts Yvan Muller. “In contrast to what we experienced at Porto, I am worried that it will not be conducive for overtaking because of all the trail braking done, while entering the fast corners. Ordinarily, we think the pole position represents 50% of the work towards victory. In Vila Real, we will be more than 80%.”
“You have to ask the right questions to know if it’s preferable to aim for Q3 and the outright pole or rather concentrate on tenth place in qualifying for the race two inverted grid,” added Sébastien Loeb. “The circuit should be a proper driving challenge, but I also regret the absence of a passing zone.”
“With its undulating profile, this circuit reminds me of a miniature Nordschleife,” says José María López. “There are corners that require a ton of commitment from the drivers and especially the first of two left handers done flat out that follows the longest straight. We should go through there at more than 220kph, on the razor’s edge. But it is sure that it will be hard to overtake.”
“We learned a bit about the circuit on the simulator, but we don’t know what to expect when we get there, because it likely that the FIA will demand the modification of certain corners for the homologation of the track,” adds Ma Qing Hua. “Nevertheless, I believe it will be very hard to keep the car on the track, especially on such a bumpy surface. I also think that the breaks will suffer a lot, due to the track but also the high ambient temperatures. It will be an interesting weekend.”