The 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship kicks off with its now traditional first event, at the gorgeous Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Italy’s cathedral of speed. Easter chill – and the possibility of snow – aside, the high-speed circuit in the historic Royal Park should serve to give us our first indicators as to who the Championship front-runners might be.
There can’t be many who doubt that three-times World Champion Yvan Muller will be the expected pace-setter. With the same car that has won the past three World Championship titles (a change to the 1.6 turbo engines two years ago hardly broke Chevrolet’s stride) and the same team of engineers backing him up, the Frenchman surely has the most complete package at his disposal. Chevrolet may have departed as a Manufacturer but the car is unlikely to have got much slower over the winter and you can bet that Yvan’s fire burns as bright as ever.
Reigning World Champion Rob Huff, meanwhile, has a number of new challenges. He did his deal for 2013 while Yvan was still wondering whether he might be driving at all, joining another World Champion team. Not a touring car champion team, however but the FIA GT1 World Champions, ALL-IINKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. Rob is lining up alongside team owner René Münnich and GT1 World Champion Marc Basseng – who is also the team manager!
The deal marks Huffy’s return to his roots, as he won the British SEAT Cupra title a decade ago, launching his touring car career. With support from SEAT Sport, and the team’s undoubted engineering and racing pedigree, they will soon get on top of this new discipline but he already knows that the León is not quite a match for the Cruze.
The third World Champion in the field and doubtless the home favourite – for pole at the very least – is Gabriele Tarquini. His SEAT overalls have been consigned to the attic (which must have quite the wide-ranging collection of racesuits in it by now) as he suits up for Honda for the first time.
Sorry. Did I say first time? First time in the WTCC, of course, as he already has five seasons under his belt driving Hondas in the Super Touring era, in German, British and European Championships, posting no less than 15 race wins for the Japanese Manufacturer, more than his total score for SEAT and half his Alfa Romeo tally, though those 30 wins were spread across eight seasons, in Super Touring 155 and ETCC/WTCC 156. He has yet to win a championship for Honda, though. Think he’s motivated? Me too!
With a heavily-revised Civic, in response to Tiago Monteiro’s input during the three final race weekends of last season, the JAS-run squad is aiming to challenge for the title in their first season. No five-year-plan for these guys, their ambition is clear – the want to mix it at the very front from Day 1.
Throw in privately-run BMW, Chevy and SEAT cars, new teams and drivers, a host of winter seat changes and the return of LADA as a full factory effort (with engines courtesy of ORECA, who also produce SEAT’s impressive 1.6 turbo power unit) plus the imponderables of weather and tyre wear at the ultra-high-speed Monza circuit and we have a mouth-watering weekend in the offing.
Who’s going to win, you say? Well, I’d have thought that was clear! Muller, obviously. Or Huff. Tarquini, perhaps, or Monteiro… or a bamboo Chevy… a BMW… maybe a SEAT…
I suppose – as ever – there’s only one way to find out. See you on Eurosport for the start of Race 1…