The first match of the TCR World Tour was held in Portimão, Portugal last April. Mikel Azcona and Norbert Michelisz, the duo of the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team, secured a spot at the top of the points table with an outstanding performance in the opening match and a one-two finish in Italy. Michelisz, who maintained first place throughout the opening, lost the lead after an unexpected accident in the fourth race in Hungary, but is still maintaining a good pace in the current overall rankings with Michelisz second and Azcona third.
In addition to the TCR World Tour, customer teams using Hyundai race cars are leading the TCR regional and national series held all over the world, including TCR Australia, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom. In the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, an American endurance race series, the Bryan Herta Autosport team aims to win the championship for the fifth consecutive year with Hyundai Avante (locally known as Elantra) N TCR.
TCR boasts the world’s widest variety among touring car races based on mass-produced cars. There are more than 20 competitions held by region and country. In the Hyundai camp, the BRC Hyundai team and Azcona won double champions last year, showing remarkable performance in the WTCR. However, no one knows what will happen to the WTCR now; It’s true that TCRs are still widely loved, but the dilemma is that the race, which uses the world as its stage, was originally focused on cutting costs. Not only are large-scale sponsorships for races using internal combustion engines gradually decreasing, but also the pressure to reduce carbon is getting stronger. Even so, the cost problem was great to move on to hybrid or e-race.
For this reason, the WSC Group, which owns the commercial rights to the TCR and is responsible for technical regulations, has been thinking about the future of the WTCR since the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually decided to create a new series to replace the WTCR after 2022 - TCR World Tour. Instead of setting up separate circuit schedules, they decided to join each of the currently active regional and national series - TCR Europe, TCR South America, TCR Italy, etc.; They sought both cost cutting, and a new show.
World Tour participants do not receive points for local series. Although they use race cars with the same specifications, they are treated as if they were a separate class. They will participate in 20 races in 9 rounds, and after the season, only the top 15 will compete in the World Finals (the venue and schedule are yet to be determined). There will be 60 racers in the Finals, with the remaining 45 representing all TCR Series participants from around the world. To this end, the TCR World Ranking based on the results of the last 20 races of numerous TCR participants from around the world is announced every week; There are currently 690 on the list. Joonui Park and Junsung Park, who debuted through the Hyundai Junior Driver Program and are challenging TCR Italy, are also on the list.
Some might say it’s stepping into other races, but on the brighter side it’s racing against new competitors in a wider world. Portugal, where the opening ceremony will be held, is also the opening race of TCR Europe. After that it will go through Belgium and Italy, finish Uruguay and Argentina in TCR South America, then play two Australian rounds and final in Macau in November. It will also be interesting to see races in South America and Australia, which did not exist in the era of the WTCR. Usually there are 2 final races per round, but Australia has 3 final races. As of late June, the TCR World Tour has done its 4th round.
Hyundai Motorsport GmbH (HMSG) officially announced its World Tour participation at the end of February. The BRC Hyundai duo of Azcona and Michelisz, who finished the last season of the WTCR perfectly with a double championship title, remained the same. For reference, Michelisz is the 2019 WTCR champion and Azcona is the 2022 WTCR champion.
Comtoyou Racing (Audi Sport Team Comtoyou / Comtoyou Racing), which uses the Audi RS3, also decided to join early, and Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, which left during the season last year, also returned. Although Link & Co is a Chinese brand, Volvo Cyan Racing is in charge of development, and it is a strong player who won double champions for two consecutive seasons from 2020 to 2021. In addition, various teams are participating in the TCR World Tour - Estonia’s ALM Motorsport, which uses a Honda Civic Type R, and Team Clairet Sport - Burson Auto Parts Racing, which uses a Peugeot 308.
The opening race of the TCR World Tour was held on the last weekend of April at the Algarve circuit in Portugal, along with the TCR European opening race. The grid was crowded with 22 race cars as TCR World Tour participants swarmed. All five Hyundai Avante (Elantra) N TCRs lined up on the grid - for Azcona and Michelisz from BRC Hyundai, Nicola Baldan and Mikael Karlsson from Aggressive Team Italia, and Dušan Borković from Target Competition Team.
In the first final on Saturday, Michelisz and Azcona got off to a good start and took the lead, ending the first race of the season with a one-two finish. Sunday’s second final was on a reverse grid, with Azcona starting on grid 9 and Michelisz starting on grid 10. TCR started its second finals race on a Reverse Grid; This is to prevent and change the dominance of a particular team or driver. In addition, the TCR features BoP (Balance of Performance) that adjusts the performance of the race car through engine power, minimum ground clearance, and weight for more intense battles.
The second final was won by Cyan Racing’s Santiago Urrutia, amidst several safety car moments. Thed Björk took second, while Azcona passed Comtoyou Racing’s Tom Coronel in the final minutes to move up to fourth. Michelisz took 8th place. Having succeeded in earning a bunch of points from the opening race, BRC Hyundai got off to a fresh start in the season. Michelisz led the driver’s championship with 57 points, followed by Azcona with 55 points.
The second round of the TCR World Tour took place at Spa-Francorchamps, the historic 7km-long circuit well known for the F1 Belgian Grand Prix. It is famous for its unique Eau Rouge corner and the Kemmel Straight, which has a height difference of 102 meters. Belgium is the 2nd round of the World Tour, but it is the 3rd round of the TCR Europe.
This time, the number of racing cars increased to 23, making the grid even more crowded. And after winning the opening race, a harsher race was predicted due to the additional BoP of loading 40kg of weight on the Avante N TCR. In fact, Yann Ehrlacher of the Cyan Racing Team took pole position for first place in qualifying, while Michelisz was eighth on the grid and Azcona was penalized for an accident with Coronel and was pushed from 11th to 14th.
While Ehrlacher, who took pole position, took the lead, Cyan Racing’s Ma Qing Hua, who was on the second grid, was unable to start. Instead, ALM Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami moved up to second and Michelisz to eighth. Azcona got caught up in the accident and spun, then got back into the race, but he was already behind. Ehrlacher took the first pole to win, followed by Girolami and Urrutia on the podium. Michelisz finished 8th and Azcona finished 16th.
On the reverse grid where the second final was held, John Filippi of Comtoyou Racing, who finished 10th in qualifying, took the pole position, and Michelisz, in 8th place in qualifying, started from third on the grid. Michelisz climbed into second place by pressing RC2 Racing’s Felipe Fernández, who started second on the grid, at the first corner. Azcona, who started 11th on the grid, overtook Ma Qing Hua on the third lap to be 10th, then rose to 9th after Kobe Pauwels retired from 6th.
Michelisz, who failed to drive faster than his competitor, seemed more in a hurry to defend Coronel and Urrutia behind him than to chase the lead-up Filippi. Filippi took the TCR’s best class win in nine years of his career, with Michelisz in second and Azcona in eighth. As a result of the second round, Michelisz maintained the lead with 94 points in driver’s points, while Azcona was sixth with 67 points.
The Italian round was held at the Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi circuit, located 30km north of Rome. It was the third round for both the TCR World Tour and TCR Italia. Vallelunga was initially an unpaved Oval course as it was originally a racetrack converted into an automobile circuit in 1951. However, it was paved with asphalt in 1957, and in 1961, the Italian Automobile Club (ACI, Automobile Club d’Italia) took over and went through several improvements to become what it is today.
BRC Hyundai hired Marco Butti as the third driver in addition to Michelisz and Azcona. Marco Butti was selected in the Hyundai Customer Racing Junior Driver Program with his 2005 rookie, Joonui Park, the same age as him. He is participating in TCR Italia as a member of Target Competition Racing, and showed his potential for development by winning the first round and finishing second in the second final at the opening race of this year at the Imola circuit.
Following the opening race, Michelisz and Azcona marked first and second on the grid once again in the qualifying. The two outperformed their rivals by using slipstreams (running side by side to reduce air resistance at the back). The time difference between Michelisz and Azcona, who finished qualifying, was only 0.015 seconds.
In the first final, the two drivers of BRC Hyundai started on the first row of the grid. Michelisz moved smoothly into the lead, followed by Azcona, managing their rivals from behind. Azcona held back and pressed Michelisz throughout the race, but was unable to overtake him. In the end, Michelisz won his second win of the season with a pole-to-win, and Azcona finished second, giving BRC Hyundai its second one-two finish of the season following the opening race. Audi Sport Team Comtoyou’s Frédéric Vervisch, who started fourth on the grid, maintained third throughout the race, but failed to stand on the podium, allowing Björk to overtake at the end due to problems with his car. Rookie driver Butti was 11th and Kevin Ceccon, who drove another Avante N TCR, was 13th.
In the second finish, Girolami, third on the grid, failed to jump right after the race and ran into the bush, ruining the race. Azcona and Michelisz, who started ninth and tenth on the grid, rose to sixth and seventh from the first lap. However, the fierce battle between the two benefitted Björk. Ma Qing Hua, who started the race in the lead, gave way to Huff before being overtaken by Ehrlacher and then Filippi. There was a big change in the rankings on Lap 4 as Ma Qing Hua retired due to a spin and accidents happened to Urrutia and Filippi; Now Michelisz is fifth and Azcona is sixth.
The safety car was removed and the race resumed on the 7th lap. Azcona and Michelisz switched places and rookie Butti also marked 7th. Michelisz and Azcona pushed Björk relentlessly and eventually rose to fourth and fifth. Huff took the win, with Michelisz 4th, Azcona 5th and Butti 7th. Michelisz maintained the championship points lead with 159 points while widening the gap with Ehrlacher behind him. Azcona finished fourth in overall points with 120 points.
The fourth round of the 2023 TCR World Tour, Hungary, which is also the fourth round of TCR Europe, took place at the Hungaroring circuit, not far from Budapest. The Hungaroring, completed in 1986, was the first country from the former Soviet Union to host F1. It is known that overtaking is not easy here, as it is tight enough to be called a Monaco without walls and has many hairpin corners. Hungary is also Michelisz’s hometown.
In qualifying, Cyan Racing’s Yann Ehrlacher took pole position, while BRC Hyundai’s Azcona marked fourth on the grid, while Michelisz, who came home, was fifth on the grid. Target Competition’s Dušan Borković, using his Avante N TCR, finished tenth on the grid, while Aggressive Team Italy’s Kevin Ceccon, Levente Losonczy and Mikael Karlsson finished fifteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth on the grid, respectively. In the first final, Ehrlacher took the pole-to-win and moved up to the lead in driver points tied with Michelisz. Azcona finished third on the podium after a fierce battle for second place with Girolami and Ma Qing Hua. Michelisz finished his first race in 6th, ahead of Urrutia.
A second final followed on Sunday. At the same time as the start, Borković on pole position took advantage of the late start and Björk in grid 2 rose to the lead. Michelisz and Azcona marked sixth and seventh on the grid. Shortly after the start, Urrutia’s collision caused Borković to spin into the side of Michelisz’s car on the way out of the first corner. This forced Viktor Davidovski and Losonczy at Comtoyou Racing to retire. Michelisz was also pushed down to 19th place, and Azcona, who fortunately avoided an accident, was overtaken by Huff in the middle of the race, but continued to run tenaciously until the end and eventually recaptured fourth. For causing the accident, Urrutia received an additional 40-second penalty in addition to the drive-through penalty.
Eventually, in the second final, Björk took his first win of the season, while Michelisz was caught in an accident, allowing Ehrlacher to overtake on championship points. Michelisz slipped to 2nd place, but Azcona jumped to 3rd place, so BRC Hyundai still marks the top spot.
In TCR, the 15th place in the final is the scoring zone, and drivers can earn points in the preliminaries, so the final score can change at any time. Besides, if you win, the added weight will hinder the next race, so score management is essential in this race. They are only half way through this season now, so losing first place doesn’t mean much to the Hyundai team.
A week before the Belgian round of the TCR World Tour, they won in Germany. At the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Germany’s ultra-long-distance circuit called the ‘Green Hell’, a 24-hour endurance race is held every year that draws attention from around the world. Unlike the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is filled with pure race cars, the 24 Hours of Nürburgring race is dominated by GT cars and mass-produced touring cars. It is one of the world’s most famous endurance races, as are Le Mans, Daytona and Spa.
This year Mikel Azcona, Marc Basseng and Manuel Lauck marked the TCR class win and 26th overall. Mason Felipe, Harry Gottsacker, Taylor Hagler, and Michael Lewis, led by American Brian Hertha Autosport drivers, marked second in the class with only a single lap difference. This was a consecutive one-two finish following last year.
In addition, Hyundai customer drivers are striving in various regional and national TCR series. First of all, in TCR Australia, where three rounds were played, HMO Customer Racing’s Bailey Sweeney and Josh Buchan are dominating as the points lead and second place. Sweeney has won four times, including two wins in the opening race (Australia holds three final races), and Buchan is marking two victories.
Also, Marco Butti, who finished second in the TCR Italia, is also a notable racer. Hyundai Motor Company is running a junior driver program to foster young rookies. In addition to Marco Butti and Joonui Park of the TCR Italy Target Competition, this includes Bradley Kent and Alex Lay of TCR England, as well as Park Jun-seong, who recently competed in the Nurburgring 24 Hours endurance race in his i30 Fastback N Cup car. Luca Engstler, who performed brilliantly in the TCR Asia and Middle East series, and Jáchym Galáš from the Czech Republic, are seniors who polished their careers through this program. For the drivers selected for the Junior Driver Program, Gabriele Tarquini, a former WTCR champion in 2018, will teach various race-related know-how along with dedicated support engineers.
Butti is making a big success this season by winning the opening race and finishing second in points. Joonui Park is also gradually adapting to the series as it progresses to the second round and currently has 7 points.
At the TCR Eastern Europe Trophy, Mat’o Homola of Hyundai Janík Motorsport from the Czech Republic maintains the points lead with three wins and six podiums out of eight races. His teammate Adam Kout is in fourth. In TCR UK, Bruce Winfield of Area Motorsport leads the way with two wins out of six races with his i30 N TCR.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, held in the United States, combines the GT4-compliant Grand Sport and Touring Car classes using TCR race cars. Hyundai’s race cars have been champions in the TCR class for the past four years here. There are ten rounds in total, and races have been held so far at Daytona, Sebring, and Laguna Seca. Mason Felipe and Mark Wilkins of Bryan Herta Racing Team are in first place, while Harry Goatsacker and Robert Wickens are in second place. Unlike other TCRs, IMSA’s support race, the Michelin Pilot Challenge, is a long-distance race of either 2 or 4 hours, with two drivers splitting the job.
For reference, the TCR World Tour, which successfully completed its European schedule, will return to South America after a summer break. On the third and fourth weekends of August, drivers will race in Uruguay and Argentina, before moving on to Australia for six finals over two rounds. The season will end in Macau on November 16-19.
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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