After months of anticipation, Honda’s customer racing teams are raring to go ahead of what is certain to be a unique edition of the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup.
The 2020 season, which will kick off at Circuit Zolder in Belgium this weekend, comprises 16 races over six rounds in the space of 10 weeks, all at venues in Europe – a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
The quick-fire nature of the calendar means consistency is likely to be key to a title bid, and the teams and drivers with the Honda Civic Type R TCR at their disposal are well-placed to hit the ground running.
No team scored more victories during the 2019 season than ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, and the outfit, who finished third in last year’s Teams’ standings, have consistency in spades.
For a second year in a row, they will field Argentinian duo Esteban Guerrieri and Nestor Girolami, who last year combined to claim seven wins.
Esteban took four of those in the Honda Civic Type R TCR in 2019 on his way to runner-up spot in the Drivers’ standings, which included a heroic bid for the title at the Sepang season finale, and has pedigree at this year’s season-opening venue as well; Zolder was the scene of his first podium finish on European soil, when he claimed second in a Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 race in 2001.
His team-mate Nestor made WTCR history last year, becoming the first driver to win back-to-back races at the same circuit when he claimed victory in the opening two races at the Hungaroring. ‘Bebu’ added another victory at the Slovakiaring – another venue on this year’s calendar – and is eager for more success in 2020; he also boasts recent experience at Zolder, having conducted some driver coaching at the track in February.
There is one significant change for the squad, however, as they expand to a second operation – ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport – meaning this year both Honda-powered teams will be run by the same umbrella outfit.
Though that represents an expansion for 2020, there will be plenty of familiarity in the ‘second’ Honda camp – with World Touring Car stalwart Tiago Monteiro and Hungarian hotshot Attila Tassi pairing up as team-mates for a second season.
Tiago, who was World Touring Car Champion-elect in 2017 until he sustained injuries that ruled him out for the rest of that year and the majority of 2018, made a triumphant full-time return to the WTCR last year by claiming an emotional victory in front of his home fans in Vila Real.
The Portuguese driver tested a Civic Type R TCR at Zolder in 2018 as he evaluated a comeback, and Tiago’s previous highlights at the circuit include a brace of World Touring Car Championship podiums – one in 2010 and another the following year – and a double victory in the World Series by Nissan in 2004.
As the WTCR’s youngest driver last year, Attila made a big impression – setting the fastest lap in the very first race of the season, and later becoming the youngest polesitter in WTCR history in Vila Real. Attila will head to Zolder without prior experience of the circuit, but the 2017 TCR International Series runner-up has crammed in hours of simulator practice to ensure he is prepared.
Both outfits will benefit from Customer Support provided by JAS Motorsport, Honda’s long-standing motorsport partner, who have developed the Civics in TCR since the introduction of the TCR regulations in 2015.
A number of changes have been introduced for the 2020 WTCR season, chief among which is the arrival of Goodyear as the new tyre supplier.
Race weekends have generally been shortened to two days and, as part of this, one qualifying session will set the grid for all the races being staged; the WTCR’s traditional three-part format has been retained, but in instances where three races are held during a weekend times from Q1 will be used to determine the grid for race one – adding an extra incentive to the first part of qualifying.
Esteban Guerrieri said: “After last year’s campaign, I cannot wait to get going again at Zolder this weekend in the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR. It took a little bit longer than we expected to be racing in 2020, but I am just as hungry, and have the same focus, the same motivation to build up towards the same objective, which is again trying to be fighting until the final race of the season for the title. It’s going to be tough with such a condensed calendar, but I think this is a good thing for us because I felt that last year we were always on the pace as soon as we got to the racetrack. With the team structure for 2020 and the four of us working as one, I feel as motivated as ever to focus on clinching the title for the team and Honda – whether it’s me or one of my team-mates.”
Nestor Girolami said: “It feels strange to be preparing to start the season in September, but I’m really excited to be back on track with ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport and the Honda Civic Type R TCR. It’s the perfect blend of consistency from last year and a new exciting chapter, with the familiarity of the team and working with Esteban as well as this expansion, which means we welcome Tiago and Attila as team-mates and have four cars with one common goal: winning the title for the team and Honda. I was fortunate enough to do some coaching at Zolder in February and, although the situation will be different because the track temperature will be much higher than it was, I got a very good feeling for what is a demanding, old-school track. I think it should suit the characteristics of the Civic Type R TCR, so hopefully we can score a very good result for the team to begin the season with.”
Tiago Monteiro said: “It’s going to be a very, very special and unique season, and as a team we will need to be good and strong right away with the Civic Type R TCR. My comeback last year was very good, I’m happy about it, but there are things that we can do better. And I think that working together now with Nestor, Esteban and Attila again as part of the same team will make us much stronger; there’s almost no downsides really. I’m excited to be back after so many months of unknowns – you start to get those itches in the week before the first race. We’ve done an extensive job during the winter and summer, and I think we’ve done the best possible preparation we could have done. But now we need to prove it out on the track.”
Attila Tassi said: “My ambition for the season is to improve as much as I can, and I think I have everything I need to do this. We had the perfect winter testing – or summer, in this case – and now that there are four of us together I see a very good opportunity to learn from three talented team-mates because they have a great amount of experience I can call on. I’m looking forward to getting some serious results this year, because I think it’s time – last year was a learning year, this is when I have to put that into practice. I’ve never driven at Zolder before, but I am always up for a new challenge and naturally I’m really looking forward to it because it’s the first race for us in the Honda Civic Type R TCR after nine months away.”