International news

WTCC set for ’Ring
Series targets Nordschleife date in 2015 | By Gary Watkins

World championship motor racing is set to return to the Nürburgring Nordschleife for the first time in more than 30 years, with a round of the World Touring Car Championship scheduled for next season.

The WTCC has agreed a three-year deal with the organiser of the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the ADAC Nordrhein, and a race is scheduled for Saturday morning ahead of the endurance classic. It will be the first world championship event to grace the 12.94-mile Nordschleife since the 1983 Nürburgring 1000Kms and the first major touring car race at the track since it was dropped from the DTM calendar ahead of the 1994 season.

François Ribeiro, boss of the WTCC in his capacity as COO of Eurosport Events, said the event would “definitely be the highlight of the season”.

Former WTCC champion Rob Huff, who dovetailed his participation in this year’s WTCC event at Spa with racing in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, said: “I’m well up for it. I’ve raced in the WTCC for the past 10 years and happen to think it is the best championship in the world. The Nordschleife is the best circuit in the world, so why not combine the two?”

Touring car veteran Gabriele Tarquini said that the fixture had the potential to become “the Monaco of the WTCC”.

There are notable hurdles to overcome, however. Ribeiro wants to have one 120km event – which would mean four laps of the combined Nordschleife and the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit – rather than the two 60km races that make up each regular WTCC fixture. This would require a change in the sporting rules, which needs FIA approval.

The idea is for a mandatory pitstop, involving a tyre change and refuelling, in the middle of the race. Current WTCC cars are not set up for quick refuelling and have multi-stud hubs.

After the German Grand Prix moved away from the Nordschleife following the 1976 race, the circuit remained on the world sports car calendar until the modern grand prix circuit was built for the 1984 season.

The DTM stopped racing on the Nordschleife after a spate of tyre blow-outs in 1993.

WEC revamp likely

The World Endurance Championship is on course to switch to a calendar starting in the European winter and climaxing at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June – and it could happen as early as next year.

Series bosses have refused to rule out bringing in such plans, outlined earlier this year, and are known to be trying to make them a reality. This would involve a short 2015 season starting in February and made up of four races, plus Le Mans, before a full 2015/16 schedule begins in the autumn.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest at Le Mans has extended its agreement with the FIA to promote the WEC for another three years, starting in 2015.

Lotus LMP1 racer revealed

The German Lotus LMP team unveiled its new LMP1 contender at Le Mans during race week. Lotus, which is moving up from LMP2 for 2014, took the wraps off its AER-engined P1/01 ahead of the 24 Hours after delays precluded its participation in the opening two rounds of the World Endurance Championship and then the 24 Hours.

The car is scheduled for a summer of testing ahead of its race debut in round four of the WEC at Austin in September. Lotus LMP will use a pool of drivers that includes Christijan Albers, Christophe Bouchut, James Rossiter, Pierre Kaffer and Thomas Holzer.

Trulli commits to Formula E

Former grand prix driver Jarno Trulli will return to the cockpit later this year, with a team bearing his name in the Formula E Championship.

The 39-year-old Italian, who has not raced since the 2011 F1 season, will drive for his own TrulliGP team, backed by a group involving former Maserati and Ferrari GT boss Claudio Berro. Trulli described it as “a new challenge, not only as a driver but also as a team owner”.

TrulliGP replaces Drayson Racing on the 10-team, 20-car grid for the inaugural championship, which begins in China in September. Drayson, run by former minister Lord Drayson, will be one of the team’s technology partners.

Double honours for Audi

Audi claimed a second 24-hour victory in seven days when it won at the Nürburgring in the wake of its Le Mans triumph. The locally based Phoenix team reprised its victory of 2012 with an R8 LMS ultra shared by the all-German line-up of Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase, René Rast and Christian Mamerow, who finished three minutes ahead of 2013 winner Black Falcon’s Mercedes.

Sparky ZEOD hits its marks

Nissan’s radical ZEOD RC Le Mans 24 Hours racer achieved its two major targets, despite retiring from the event after only 23 minutes.

The petrol-electric hybrid hit 300kph (186.4mph) through the speed trap on the first section of the Mulsanne Straight and then completed one full lap of the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on electric power over the course of the event.

Satoshi Motoyama recorded that top speed during qualifying on Thursday night and then Wolfgang Reip achieved the full electric lap during Saturday’s pre-race warm-up.

Reip’s all-electric time was a 4min 22sec, some way short of the team’s four-minute target. Nissan global motor sport boss Darren Cox said the team was confident it could have moved closer to that mark during the race, as well as lowering its 3min 50sec best with its three-cylinder turbo engine.

“We have done what we wanted to do, but there is frustration because we could have gone faster,” he said.

Gearbox failure put the car out of the race on lap six of the 24 Hours. Plans for the ZEOD to compete in some end-of-season WEC races, including Fuji and Interlagos, remain fluid.