BMW and Andy Priaulx travel to Turkey as Championship leaders.
Munich, 18th September 2006. This weekend, the drivers of the BMW national teams head into the final part of the 2006 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). At the "Istanbul Speed Park" in Turkey, the series will be staging rounds 15 and 16. Following the successful race in Brno, BMW is set to defend its lead in the Manufacturers' Championship by the Bosphorus. In the drivers' classification it's also the goal to consolidate the top spot in the championship: Andy Priaulx (GBR) of BMW Team UK currently has 58 points under his belt, leading second-placed SEAT driver James Thompson (GBR) by nine points.
Last year, the spectacular track designed by German architect Hermann Tilke celebrated its debut as a venue for top-class motor racing events. This August, the FIA Formula One World Championship made its second appearance in Turkey. For the WTCC it's the second race weekend in Istanbul as well. Priaulx especially can look back on a successful 2005 event: After the races at the 5.333-kilometre track, he gained the lead in the championship - and became World Touring Car Champion at the end of the season.
However, the top position in the standings also represents a massive disadvantage for Priaulx in Istanbul. The 32-year-old is forced to take the maximum handicap weight of 80 kilograms onboard his BMW 320si WTCC, thus carrying a heavier load than any other driver on the grid. Furthermore, the Guernsey-born racer is the first driver this season to be competing with the highest possible extra weight for the second time.
Jorg Muller (GER) of BMW Team Germany takes 70 extra kilos to the track after winning a WTCC round in Brno. His team-mate Dirk Muller (Burbach) and BMW Team Italy-Spain's Alessandro Zanardi (ITA) carry a ballast of 55 and 5 kilograms respectively into the two sprint races. It's only Duncan Huisman (NLD) among the BMW line-up, who will be competing without any handicap weight.
Andy Priaulx (BMW Team UK):
"Istanbul is a great motor racing facility and a fantastic circuit. Last year, the track proved to be a very challenging one. It's particularly difficult to find the right balance there. A special challenge is turn eight, a very long left hander. Everybody is talking about it. You've got to get the car working through this corner. The circuit also features some heavy braking. I'm not sure that I'll be able to keep my championship lead after the Istanbul races. Unless I have a really good qualifying, it will be very difficult to reach the top eight. The 80-kilo ballast is much too high. It's like driving a single-seater with the front wing broken. The maximum ballast is just too much."
Already in the second year after its opening, the "Istanbul Speed Park" is a vital part of the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Last season, the series was among the first to contest two rounds at the all-new facility.
Therefore, all BMW drivers apart from Huisman, who did not take part in the 2005 running of the event, know the circuit very well. Zanardi and Priaulx scored one podium finish each and came third in the races, thus being the most successful BMW representatives last year.
The 5.333-kilometre track is situated in the Asian part of the Turkish metropolis. As it was the case for the new Formula One tracks in Bahrain and China, German architect Hermann Tilke was also in charge of the Istanbul project. The result is one of the most modern racing facilities in the world today. Its impressive architecture also incorporates some elements of typical Turkish buildings. On 27th August, the BMW Sauber F1 Team contested the 14th round of this year's Formula One season at the demanding rollercoaster.
Not only the changes in elevation are characteristic for the "Istanbul Speed Park", but also the extreme width of the track. It varies from 12.5 to 21.5 metres, thus offering the drivers many good overtaking opportunities. Turn eight is an especially true highlight with four different apexes. Concentration in the cockpit is paramount, as the slightest mistake could cost the drivers valuable time.
The two WTCC rounds will both be 10-lap races, representing a total mileage of 53.33 kilometres per race. Round one will start on Sunday at 15:10hrs local time (13:10hrs BST), round two at 16:20hrs (14:20hrs BST).