The Big One will be a highlight of the 2015 season – and the hardest race of the year.
The toughest and most daunting race track of them all will test the FIA World Touring Car Championship stars to the extreme next week when the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife – and its 170 demanding corners – plays host to the bumper-to-bumper WTCC action for the first time.
Striking a chord with the WTCC drivers as the event they all want to win, The Big One will be a highlight of the 2015 season – and the hardest race of the year.
Racing legends have tried since the 1920s to tame the challenging track, known as the Green Hell due to its Eifel Forest setting and unforgiving nature. Now it’s the turn of the WTCC heroes as the venue stages an FIA world championship motor race for the first time since 1983.
Back then gifted German Stefan Bellof, driving a Porsche 956, lapped the 20.81-kilometre layout in a record-breaking 6m11.13s. But with the addition of the grand prix circuit loop, rounds seven and eight of the WTCC season will take place on a 25.278-kilometre course with two three-lap races scheduled ahead of the ADAC Zurich 24h-Rennen, making a huge challenge even more massive.
Add in the prospect of unpredictable weather, frequent changes of track surface and climbs and descents, the Nürburgring Nordschleife has all the ingredients to be a true test of car and driver.
José María López – the driver to catch
With wins in the opening three events of 2015, reigning WTCC champion José María López will once again be the driver to catch in his factory-run Citroën C-Elysée. The Argentine, who is vying to follow in the footsteps of his great countryman Juan Manuel Fangio by winning at the ’Ring, underlined his victory credentials when he topped the pre-event test last month in 8m38.028s.
Sébastien Loeb, his Citroën team-mate and chief title threat, spent much of that test trading times with López and believes he knows the track “by heart”, despite racing there just once back in 2001. Ma Qing Hua, from China, and Yvan Muller, who like Loeb hails from the Alsace region of eastern France, complete the Citroën attack.
The revamped Civic WTCC
Honda arrives at the Nürburgring on a high after Norbert Michelisz, who is of German descent, gave the revamped Civic WTCC its debut win at his home event in Hungary last time out. Works drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini have been building their Nordschleife experience by contesting a series of national-level endurance races at the track and will be vying to capitalise on that enhanced knowledge.
LADA Sport Rosneft has tweaked its driver line-up for The Big One, with Dutchman Jaap van Lagen replacing Briton James Thompson. Like team mainstay and former world champion Rob Huff, van Lagen is ranked as a Nordschleife expert. Huff’s preparations for WTCC Race of Germany haven’t gone entirely to plan after he sustained bruising in a testing crash in Hungary earlier this week, which inflicted considerable damage to his Vesta TC1. However, he will be fit to contest both three-lap races plus the ADAC Zurich 24h-Rennen.
Queen Of The ’Ring Schmitz to take on WTCC regulars
Home fans will have a local hero to cheer with Sabine Schmitz taking on the WTCC regulars for the first time. Affectionately known as the Queen of the ’Ring due to her rapid performances at the track, Schmitz will drive an ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1. She was 13th quickest in testing and will be one to watch. A full Q&A with Schmitz appears later.
Mehdi Bennani: With this Citroën C-Elysée requiring extensive repair following WTCC Race of Morocco, Bennani switched to a hired Audi TT for the pre-event test in an effort to learn the track.
Tom Chilton: A class winner in a recent VLN endurance race at the Nürburgring, Chilton’s confidence is on the up after a strong showing last time out at the Hungaroring.
Tom Coronel: The bubbly Dutchman reckons only Sabine Schmitz and Rob Huff know the Nordschleife better then he. The ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet driver will be hoping to make the most of that knowledge.
Stefano D’Aste: A former team-mate of Valentino Rossi’s during his previous career as a motorbike racer, D’Aste joked that he suffered “three heart attacks in one lap” when he tried out the Nordschleife for the first time back in March.
Grégoire Demoustier: Back in the points in Hungary after a tough Morocco weekend, the French WTCC rookie was born close to the Belgian border, making the Nürburgring his home track.
John Filippi: The WTCC’s youngest driver, 20-year-old Filippi will target building his limited experience of car and circuit ahead of chasing more points in his first season in TC1 machinery.
Rickard Rydell: The experienced Rydell’s participation in Germany remains in doubt after he was recently diagnosed with thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland.
Hugo Valente: Licence issues prevented Valente from taking part in a practice earlier this season but he gained useful Nordschleife knowledge during April’s official test.