Throughout the first half of the TCR World Tour, BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, commonly known as BRC Hyundai N, consistently maintained top-tier performances, solidifying its status as a leading team. This was largely due to Michelisz and teammate Mikel Azcona finishing the first half in second and third place, respectively. However, the second half of the season saw intense competition, with Michelisz, Cyan Racing Lynk&Co’s Yann Ehrlacher, and Audi Sport Team Comtoyou’s Rob Huff all fiercely vying for the top three spots.
Michelisz’s triumph in Macau sealed his position as the first champion of the TCR World Tour, a double celebration for BRC Hyundai N, who also clinched the TCR China title. The road to BRC Hyundai N’s victory was anything but easy. Let’s delve into the details of the intense battles that unfolded in the second half of the 2023 TCR World Tour.
Post the European rounds in Portugal on June 18th, Belgium, Italy, and Hungary, the TCR World Tour resumed in South America after a summer break. BRC Hyundai N started strong with a one-two finish in the opening round, with Michelisz initially leading the driver’s title. However, a retirement in Hungary allowed Ehrlacher to overtake him, concluding the first half season.
The South American round kicked off at Autódromo Víctor Borrat Fabini in Uruguay, a circuit transformed from a flat triangle into a Y-shape following renovations influenced by famed F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke. The circuit, a main stage for TCR South America series, witnessed wins by Santiago Urrutia and Ma Qinghua of Cyan Racing.
In Uruguay, a staggering 30 cars participated. Split into two groups for qualifications, the top 12 went on to compete for starting positions and additional points. The result placed Santiago Urrutia in pole position, with Thed Björk and Néstor Girolami following, and Michelisz and Azcona in the fourth and eighth grids, respectively.
On Sunday morning, the first final of the TCR series kicked off, with Urrutia leading from pole position. Starting from the fifth grid, Audi Sport Team Comtoyou’s Frédéric Vervisch overtook Michelisz, securing the fourth position. Michelisz slipped to fifth, while Azcona struggled to advance from the ninth position. Trailing Azcona, TCR South America’s Ignacio Montenegro from Squadra Martino eyed class victory.
Urrutia and Björk cemented their leads, pulling away from the pack. The intense battle for third involved Vervisch and Girolami, with Michelisz waiting in the wings for an opportunity. Azcona, in the meantime, wrestled with Rob Huff, Juan Manuel Casella, and Montenegro. With 10 minutes to go, Azcona overtook Casella but couldn’t get past Montenegro, remaining in ninth place.
In the final four minutes, Michelisz held off Elaish’s pressure, maintaining his position. Urrutia and Björk faced no real threat from behind, and Vervisch successfully fended off Girolami. Urrutia clinched victory, Björk secured second place, and Michelisz, behind Vervisch and Girolami, finished fifth. Azcona ended up eighth.
The second final of the afternoon, a 30-minute race plus one lap, adopted a reverse grid strategy. Ma Qinghua took pole position, followed by Elaish, with Lynk & Co drivers dominating the front row. BRC Hyundai N’s Azcona started from the third grid, while Michelisz was in seventh. As the race commenced, Azcona exploited a fierce fight between the two Lynk & Co drivers, surging to second place. Michelisz pushed past Casella into sixth. However, Michelisz soon found himself stuck behind the Audi duo of Huff and Vervisch while enduring relentless pressure from Girolami and Björk.
In the race’s climax, Björk’s aggressive tactics caused Michelisz to waver, allowing Urrutia to advance to seventh. Ma Qinghua utilized the reverse grid advantage to win, with Azcona finishing second. Michelisz, initially eighth, rose to seventh after Björk received a five-second penalty. In the championship points, Elaish maintained a 20-point lead over Michelisz with 235 points.
A week after the showdown in Uruguay, the Argentine round of the TCR World Tour took place at the Autódromo José Carlos Bassi, a new circuit opened in 2017 in Villa Mercedes, San Luis province. Notable for its expansive 30-meter wide main straight, this circuit presented a unique challenge to the drivers. During the practice sessions, Elaisher quickly set the pace, securing pole position, followed by Michelisz and Azcona in second and third, respectively. Huff, Vervisch, Ma Qing Hua, and Bjork lined up behind them, with local driver Pedero Cardoso of Scuderia Chiarelli, driving a Hyundai Elantra N TCR, rounding out the eighth spot.
The first race was dramatic, with slick conditions due to rain. Elaisher, who had surrendered the lead to Michelisz, found himself under pressure from Huff. Attempting to regain his position at the chicane, Elaisher opened the door for Huff instead. Michelisz, rattled by Huff’s assertive moves, dropped to fourth, allowing Azcona to climb to third.
Azcona brilliantly overtook Elaisher on the outside of a corner. Michelisz, too, made a remarkable comeback, navigating past Girolami and Elaisher to claim third place. With just seven minutes left, a safety car situation, triggered by Girolami’s retirement, extended the race, leading to a one-lap sprint finish.
In a thrilling chase, Azcona and Michelisz effortlessly bypassed Huff at the eighth corner, securing BRC Hyundai N’s third one-two finish of the season, following successful outings in Portugal and Italy. This marked Azcona’s first win of the season, relegating Huff to a third-place podium finish. In a race where four of the nine World Tour competitors retired, TCR South America’s Fabián Yannantuoni of Paladini Racing finished fifth.
The reverse grid second final saw Girolami achieving a pole-to-win victory, with Ma Qing Hua and Huff completing the podium. Michelisz settled for fourth but reclaimed the points lead as Elaisher missed out on scoring, leaving Michelisz with 270 points to Elaisher’s 266, and Huff trailing at 247.
After a break following the South American tour, the TCR World Tour resumed its final leg in early November in Australia. Unique to the Australian TCR, three final races were held, aligning with the World Tour format. The first stop in Australia was Sydney Motorsport Park, located in western Sydney. Opened in 1990, this venue is also a sacred site for Australian drag racing.
In practice, Bjork was the fastest, but the qualifiers brought unexpected turns; As the rain intensified early in the session, Azcona’s initial lap time stood as the best lap. Though the rain eased in Q2, the soaked course favored local drivers, with Ben Bargwanna of Burson Auto Parts Racing taking pole position. Australian native Will Brown of Melbourne Performance Centre Team Liqui Moly surpassed Azcona, pushing him to third. Bailey Sweeny of HMO Customer Racing, driving a Hyundai i30 N TCR, was fourth, while Michelisz languished in eighth.
The first final, held at night, was a sequence of surprises due to unpredictable weather. Bargwanna initially led, with Brown and Azcona in hot pursuit. The rain intensified, causing many cars to misjudge braking points and veer off the track, leading to a temporary halt in the race.
When the race resumed, Brown maintained the lead, with Azcona in second. Michelisz impressively climbed from fifteenth to ninth. Despite Azcona’s relentless pursuit, Brown emerged victorious. Azcona, penalized for excessive weaving under safety car conditions, was demoted to third, elevating Ma Qing Hua to second.
The second final of the TCR World Tour featured a reverse grid based on the results of the first 10 finishers of the previous race. Girolami secured the pole position, followed by Björk and Michelisz. Notably, Azcona started from the eighth grid. Right after the start, Björk forced Girolami off the track, creating an opening for Aaron Cameron (Team Valvoline/Garry Rogers Motorsport), who started from the fourth grid, to challenge for the lead. Despite a collision, Michelisz managed to hold onto the fourth position, while Azcona and Ma Qinghua, caught in the mid-field battle, retreated to the pits. The race resumed after the safety car pulled in on the seventh lap, with Cameron still leading and Michelisz climbing to second following Girolami’s gearbox failure.
Michelisz fell to fifth place after being overtaken by Huff, Brown, and Vervisch, and faced further challenges from Josh Buchan and Sweeney of HMO Customer Racing, Hyundai’s customer team. Brown maintained the lead to take the checkered flag, with Huff and Vervisch completing an Audi trio on the podium. Cameron, penalized with a five-second penalty, finished eighth.
The third final started on Saturday evening, with the grid order determined by the cumulative points from the previous two races. Brown secured pole position, followed by Huff, Vervisch, and Michelisz. Azcona, despite a setback in the previous race, managed a decent seventh grid position. Brown’s slightly delayed start allowed Vervisch, who jump-started, to overtake him. Starting from the second grid, Huff took the lead, while Bargwanna, attempting an outside overtake, collided with Vervisch and went off course. Michelisz and Azcona secured third and fourth places, respectively, with Josh Buchan, competing for the TCR Australia championship in an Elantra N TCR, in sixth. Azcona faced intense competition from Elaisher in the final stages of the race.
In Sydney, the last winner was Huff, with Michelisz climbing to second place after Brown received a five-second penalty for a jump start. Azcona finished the race in sixth place. In the championship points, Michelisz regained the lead, with Huff pushing Elaisher to second place.
The second round on the Australian continent took place at the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales, southeastern Australia. Since its inception in 1938, this large street course (6.213 km) has been a part of Australia’s motorsport history, hosting famous races like the V8 Supercars series. Known for its long straights and a significant elevation change of 174 meters, the circuit is often referred to as the “Southern Hemisphere’s Nürburgring” due to its challenging uphill corners. Except for the addition of The Chase chicane in 1987 to reduce high-speed accidents on Conrod Straight, the layout has remained almost unchanged since its opening. This event also doubled as the final round of TCR Australia.
Local driver Tony D’Alberto of Honda Wall Racing outpaced Elaisher to take pole position, with Azcona in third and Michelisz in eleventh on the grid. The first final started on Saturday, with Urrutia taking the lead followed by Girolami. D’Alberto, hindered by Azcona, was fourth, and Elaisher quickly moved up from seventh. Michelisz, who had dropped to twelfth, overtook Suter in the fifth lap downhill corner, moving up to eleventh. Azcona, expected to be at the front, slowed down on Conrod Straight, emitting smoke. Urrutia won the first final, with Girolami and D’Alberto completing the podium. BRC Hyundai N saw Azcona retire and Michelisz finish tenth, but in a position for a potential pole in the next final.
Michelisz, starting from pole in the second final on Sunday, had a rough start, allowing Cameron and Vervisch to overtake him, dropping to third. However, he soon regained second place and aggressively pursued Cameron. Starting twenty-second, Azcona moved up to sixteenth by the end of the first lap. Michelisz took the lead on the next lap’s Conrod Straight, overtaking Cameron. Brown retired due to a drivetrain issue, and Vervisch, who had risen to second, lost pace towards the end. Michelisz won the race, reclaiming the championship points lead. Cameron finished second, Bjork third, and Azcona tenth.
Cameron’s result propelled him to third in the TCR Australia Championship points. Hyundai customer forces, Buchen and Sweeney, remained closest to the champion title. They only needed a fifth-place finish (in TCR Australia) in the season’s final race to secure the championship.
In the third and final Australian Championship race, Michelisz started sixth and Azcona nineteenth. In the first lap, Urrutia, Elaisher, and Bjork led, with Huff chasing. On the fifth lap, Urrutia hit a barrier and retired, moving Azcona up to fifth. Cox’s issue triggered a safety car, and Azcona suddenly crashed into a barrier due to a steering issue. The race ended under the safety car, with Elaisher, Bjork, and Huff on the podium, and Michelisz fifth.
In the World Tour Drivers’ Championship, Elaisher reclaimed the points lead, but with only a one-point gap over Huff and Michelisz, the final outcome remained uncertain until the conclusion in Macau. Link & Co secured the World Tour Team title. In the TCR Australia series, Buchen of HMO Customer Racing, driving an Elantra N TCR, emerged as the champion.
The final round took place as one of the support races of the F3 Macau Grand Prix, where the world’s best F3 drivers clashed on a single stage. The Macau Grand Prix, known as a gateway for potential F1 stars, not only featured the thrilling F3 main event but also various support races like motorcycle Grand Prix, touring cars, and GT Cup. This year, the final rounds of TCR World Tour and TCR Asia Challenge were held together, and the TCR China final round was conducted separately.
The 6.12 km Guia Circuit in Macau, hosting the 9th round, is a street circuit utilizing Macau’s city roads. It comprises a long straight by the sea (Mandarin Bend) and a narrow old town section on the mountain side. Despite its rough surface, poor visibility, and inadequate safety areas, the circuit’s thrilling races and unpredictable accidents make it an irresistible venue.
After being absent from the WTCR calendar since 2020, Macau returned to the international touring car stage. This year, in addition to the nine regular World Tour drivers, wild card entrants and TCR Asia Challenge competitors participated, totaling 18 cars. Audi brought John Filippi, TCR Europe’s runner-up, and TCR Australia’s Bargwanna. BRC Hyundai N fielded the Italian newcomer Marco Butti in their third car.
Michelisz and Azcona recorded the best lap times during the shortened practice sessions due to accidents and breakdowns. The qualifying results were similar, with Michelisz securing pole position. Azcona, initially second in qualifying, received a penalty for impeding and dropped to 5th grid, with Elaisher, Girolami, and Huff slotted between the Hyundai duo. Butti, having changed his engine, started from the back.
The first final race on Saturday spanned a total of 9 laps. Michelisz surged to the lead at the start, with Azcona climbing to fourth. Elaisher, hesitating at the start, was seventh. Throughout the race, Michelisz and title contender Huff had to fend off Azcona’s intense challenge. Azcona created a thrilling moment at the Lisboa corner on the main straight, attempting to overtake using the slipstream.
Meanwhile, Michelisz smoothly widened the gap from second-place Girolami, clinching his first victory in Macau and gaining an advantageous position in the title race. Girolami and Huff completed the podium. With 428 points, Michelisz extended his lead over Huff by 18 points and Elaisher by 20. Azcona finished in fourth place.
The second final took place on Sunday. In the season’s final race, Urrutia started from pole position, with Azcona and Michelisz in 9th and 10th. Right after the start, a crash involving Elaisher and Bagnanna at the Mandarin Bend brought out the safety car. When the race resumed on the 4th lap, Urrutia led, followed by Vervisch, Bjork, and Huff, with Michelisz and Azcona remaining in 9th and 10th. Vervisch overtook Urrutia in the 8th lap using the slipstream, while almost simultaneously, Huff passed Bjork to climb to third, fueling his title ambitions. The race was close, with many cars nearly touching bumpers at every corner; Then, something happened.
Huff’s bonnet suddenly opened, likely due to the impact of hitting Urrutia’s rear bumper, obstructing his view. After receiving emergency tape repairs in the pits, his title hopes had already vanished. Vervisch won the race, with Urrutia and Elaisher finishing 2nd and 3rd. Michelisz and Azcona finished 8th and 9th, securing Michelisz as the first season champion of the TCR World Tour. It was a triumphant return to the throne for Michelisz, four years after his 2019 WTCR victory.
On his victory, Michelisz commented, “We had almost every scenario written down on paper. It’s not that we were prepared for every scenario, but we wanted to avoid any problems during the race. Having experienced Macau in the past, we focused on finishing the race safely. Macau is very special to me. It became one of my favorite places after my first World Touring Car win (WTCC) here in 2010. Winning the championship title at the same place is really special.”
In the concurrently held final round of the TCR China series, Hyundai N team’s Martin Cao became the drivers’ champion, and the Elantra N TCR won the overall car model title (Final Car Model Standing), culminating in a festive atmosphere for Hyundai Motorsport. Notably, five of the top ten in the TCR China title were Hyundai customer racers.
The TCR World Tour, which emerged abruptly after the discontinuation of WTCR in 2022, started this year’s season amid some turmoil. However, it expanded its stage across Europe, South America, Australia, and Asia, showcasing new possibilities. With Norbert Michelisz crowned as the inaugural champion at the final round in Macau, the TCR World Tour is preparing for a World Final that encompasses all TCR participants globally.
The World Final is scheduled for March 1-3, 2024, at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal. The event will feature 60 racers, comprising 15 from the TCR World Tour and 45 from other global TCR series. The line-up includes wildcard entries recommended by the WSC Committee and manufacturers. After real-time ranking based on the performance and series grading, the qualified drivers have been confirmed.
The top 15 from the TCR World Tour automatically enter the final race. The next 45 in the world ranking form the first priority list (Priority List 1), followed by the next 20 as the second priority (Priority List 2). There are also seven wildcard entries.
Included among the World Tour participants are inaugural champion Michelisz and the last WTCR champion, Mikel Azcona, along with notable Hyundai customer drivers like TCR Eastern Europe champion Mat’o Homola, Italy’s Kevin Ceccon and Marco Buti, TCR UK’s Bruce Winfield and Alex Ley, and TCR Australia’s Sweeney.
Given the large number of cars, not all can race simultaneously. Therefore, the 15 selected from the World Tour automatically advance to the finals, while the remaining grid spots are determined through playoff races among the 45. These drivers are divided into three groups (A, B, C) and compete in two playoff races each (A+B, B+C, A+C), with the top 15 qualifying for the final race. If there are vacancies, the opportunity passes to the next priority list.
On the third day, a 20-minute + 1 lap qualifying race will take place. Next, out of the 30 players who were eliminated from the playoffs, a Last Chance Race will be held to give four drivers an opportunity to advance to the Final Race. The Final Race, which is 30 minutes + 1 lap, will feature a total of 34 drivers: 15 selected from the World Tour, 15 who have made their way through the playoffs, and 4 who survived the Last Chance Race. There are three titles up for grabs in the TCR World Ranking Final: the Drivers’ Championship, the Team Championship, and the Manufacturers’ Championship. The Drivers’ Championship will be awarded to the winner of the Final Race, and the Team Championship will go to the winning driver’s team. For the Manufacturers’ Championship, the points of the top six cars from each manufacturer will be summed to determine the winner.
By Lee Su-jin (Automotive Critic)
He started as an automotive journalist after passionately sending letters to the launch of the Korean car magazine
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
Pursuant to the Creative Commons License (CCL) 2.0, all users can copy, distribute, and transmit Information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom, or use it for exhibitions and performances. Please note, however, that all information is protected by copyright. Information users must use the information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom for strictly private/personal purposes only.HMG Operation Policy