From November 25 to 27, the final round of the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) was held at the Jeddah circuit in Saudi Arabia. This is the last race to be held as the WTCR, as the TCR (Touring Car Race) World Tour will be held starting next year. Mikel Azcona confirmed the driver’s championship title in the preliminaries, and BRC Hyundai also easily won the team championship with the double title. In this way, Hyundai Motor Company’s fans were able to enjoy both the 2018 and 2022 WTCR trophies.
This season’s WTCR added a Middle East round at the last minute. As many races were canceled due to the war and COVID‒19, nothing remained on the calendar, except two additional races, a total of 18 races in 9 rounds.
Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the final stage, once hosted F1 in 2021 and features a high‒speed layout. The original street course, built on a landfill near the Red Sea, is over 6km long; but this time, the course got shortened to 3.450km for the first time. The number of corners was reduced to 12 by connecting the 4th and 20th corners, and the safety equipment and curbs were changed accordingly. It was a street course surrounded by safety fences; Besides, the night race was a first for the WTCR.
Mikel Azcona, who is leading the Drivers’ Championship, widened his lead over rival Néstor Girolami to 60 points by winning and finishing fourth in Bahrain two weeks ago. Also, with Norbert Michelisz winning Race 2, BRC Hyundai is 104 points ahead of Honda’s ALL‒INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. Azcona has so far proven his mettle on the street circuit with victories in Sochi, Vila Real and Pau.
BRC Hyundai is very close to winning its first WTCR title, and the head coach Gabriel Rizzo said it was important to focus. “We are on the brink of winning both titles. I am full of confidence after Bahrain, but anything can happen in a race. The circuit has a new structure, but I believe our drivers can speed up. It has been a very eventful year for us and Hyundai Elantra (Avante) N TCR. I’m really proud of the entire team that achieved this result. We are ready to fight to the end.”
Hyundai Motor Company’s Elantra (Avante) N TCR, waiting for the final match, got its handicap weight by 10kg to 1,265kg because of its performance in Bahrain. Still, it is leading the race compared to the Honda Civic Type R TCR, which should carry an additional 40 kg.
BRC Hyundai, which had already shown a good pace from the preliminaries, also did a splendid job at the qualifying. Azcona followed closely behind his teammates and took advantage of the aerodynamics. Unlike Azcona, who got his position in the top 5 of the preliminaries and earned points, Girolami performed poorly in the preliminaries; Azcona became the last WTCR champion.
“For me it’s a fantastic feeling. Honestly it’s something that I was working for a long time, basically all my life. This season was a perfect one, I have to say. Since the first moment I entered into the team I had a very good welcome, since the first day with Norbi, with everybody in the team. If you are next to the good people good things are coming. Basically I have to thank Norbi as well for a great season working together. He’s been a fantastic teammate and a fantastic friend. It’s unbelievable to have that kind of person around you. I would say if you are around these kind of people good things are coming and this trophy is because of them. So thank you to Hyundai Motorsport and BRC, and now I am world champion and it’s a fantastic feeling. I have to thank my family, my girlfriend, everybody who are supporting me all the time, which is many people,” he said after finalizing his victory.
Sunday, November 27 at 8:20pm. In Race 1, which started after sunset, Michelisz finished second, while Azcona and Nicky Catsburg finished sixth and seventh. Attila Tassi’s Honda Civic Type R failed to start and a yellow flag appeared, so the safety car was dispatched from the beginning. When the race resumed on lap 4, Michelisz pressed Nathanaël Berthon, but was unable to push through due to tire life. Despite Girolami’s relentless pursuit, Michelisz defended his place.
Race 2 is the final race of this season as well as the WTCR era. Tassi, who had been sluggish in Race 1, started successfully from the front this time, and Katzberg rose to second place as second‒place Guerrieri went out of the course at the first corner. Two laps later, Girolami’s collision caused Katzberg and Tassi to stop in front of a barrier. Now, Gilles Magnus leads, with Azcona and Michelisz in third and fourth. Meanwhile, the team had Azcona take care of the tires.
The competition between Verton and Girolami for second place was even more intense than the one for victory. But Girolami’s last hope was lost when his front wheel shattered in a collision with Robert Huff. As they race towards the end, they finish behind the safety car. Magnus won, Viktor Davidovski was second, Azcona was third and Michelisz was fourth. In the end, even in the teams’ championship, BRC Hyundai won the title with 559 points, a big difference of 156 points from ALL‒INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. This marked the BRC team’s first WTCR championship title. After a rough start to the season, Michelisz was also able to finish the season in 4th place in the Drivers’ Championship, finishing on the podium three times, including one win in the last two rounds.
Touring car races based on mass‒produced cars have existed in various ways around the world so far. NASCAR in the US, DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) in Germany, and BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) in the UK are well‒known races around the world. The World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), the predecessor of the WTCR, began in 1987, along with the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC). It was quite impressive to see common street cars in fierce battles on the circuit. Although discontinued after just one year, the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) survived, and the WTCC returned in 2005 to compete on a global stage. However, it struggled again with the economic crisis caused by the Lehman shock and rising operating costs. After the WTCC, which ended in 2017, the current WTCR uses the TCR regulations.
First unveiled in 2014, TCR contains various ideas to reduce costs. A mass‒produced engine is used on the chassis of a front‒wheel drive compact car that has been mass‒produced for more than 5,000 units, and the front suspension layout must be kept the same as that of mass‒produced vehicles. Intense competition was induced not only by adjusting the balance of performance between various types of vehicles with different sizes and engine displacements but also by adding balance weights to faster cars. TCR has been so successful that numerous series have been initiated in various continents and countries. Among them, the highest class is the World Championship, the WTCR.
Launched in 2015, TCR International has already boasted its international scale. And in the winter of 2017, as the WTCC came to an end, it was approved by the FIA and became an official international touring car championship named WTCR.
Unlike WRC, where automakers develop race cars and organize their own teams to participate, in TCR, independent racing teams purchase race cars from automakers and participate in the races. In addition to the TCR, this ‘Customer Racing’ method, which can also be seen in the Rally 2 (formerly R5) class, is a trend that is rapidly spreading in the motorsport world. On various stages around the world, the i30 N TCR, Elantra (Avante) N TCR, and i20 N R5 and Rally 2 developed by Hyundai Motorsport contributed to promoting Hyundai’s high‒performance image in a short time.
A TCR vehicle costs 140,000 euros; Excluding some commercial vehicles, it is the most expensive among Hyundai vehicles. Despite such a high price, a total of 85 units of the i30 N TCR, the first car released in December 2017, have been sold so far. And its pure customer record, excluding WTCR, reaches 18 overall wins; For reference, unlike other TCRs, WTCR is close to semi‒works supported by manufacturers. Veloster N TCR sold 15 units, mainly in North America, and recorded four overall wins. The newest Elantra (Avante) N TCR, starting in December 2020, has already won three overall championships with 45 units sold, including reserved vehicles. As with most products, performance and quality are key to success. Moreover, in motorsport, where performance means everything, this becomes even more important.
The i30 N TCR, whose development began in 2016, challenged TCR International from the end of the 2017 season through BRC Racing in Italy. And from the beginning of the 2018 season, when the WTCR started in earnest, it showed its strength. At the time, the Hyundai customer team included Italy’s BRC and France’s M Racing YMR. BRC’s Gabriele Tarquini won the first drivers’ championship, M Racing’s Yvan Muller took second, and in the team championship, M Racing YMR became the champion and BRC Hyundai second; indeed, it was safe to say that Hyundai outran its rivals. In 2019, BRC’s Norbert Michelisz won the drivers’ championship, and BRC came second in the teams’ championship.
After that, the performance was downgraded due to BoP (Balance of Performance), and a tough fight continued due to the rise of the strong link & nose forces. In the second round of 2020 Germany, the season performance was not expected as he was absent due to protests over excessive BoP measures. The following year, when they started using the new Elantra (Avante) N TCR, they signed Spaniard Mikel Azcona in place of the retired Taquini. And Azcona, the 2018 TCR European Champion, quickly became the ace of his team.
This year, when the setting of the new Elantra (Avante) N TCR was completed, people expected a lot from the beginning of the season. However, an unexpected problem occurred. Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the opening race in the Czech Republic and the Russian Rally scheduled for August were canceled, and the Asian Rally was also canceled, leaving a huge gap in the calendar. In addition, BRC Hyundai faced a major crisis when its main sponsor, the Russian company Lukoil, stepped away.
Nevertheless, as Azcona recorded one win each in the opening races of France, Hungary, Spain and Italy, he was ahead of the race for the championship. Michelisz, who had a rough start to the season after being penalized for an accident before the opening game, gained strength midway through and BRC Hyundai was also able to rise to the top of the team championship. After the pursuers, Link & Co, left due to tire safety issues, BRC Hyundai took control.
The Czech Republic, Russia, Korea, China, and Macau did not participate in this season’s WTCR, and the final race was suddenly canceled in Germany, where Round 2 was held, due to tire safety issues. The FIA and its promoter, the World Sportscar Championship (WSC), have added Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to fill the calendar. In Bahrain, where TCR’s first Middle East round was held, Azcona and Michelisz overpowered their competitors by winning once each. At this time, in fact, everyone got to know the owner of the championship title.
Faced with various problems, such as wars and pandemics, as well as a decrease in sponsors due to environmental problems, WTCR decided to abandon the previous way, so this year became the last season to be held as WTCR. Instead, starting next year, it will change to a way to participate in various TCR series held around the world under the name of ‘TCR World Tour’. At the end of the year, the top 60 TCR players from around the world gather and the driver with the most points becomes the TCR king.
In addition, the electric touring car championship ETCR (eTouring Car World Cup), which started in 2021, is expected to become increasingly important. Already, the automobile market is rapidly being filled with electric vehicles, and the motorsport industry is also under pressure for environmental issues. Hyundai, which started developing the Veloster N ETCR in 2018, has been working hard since its ETCR.
By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor‒in‒Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting‒edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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