Marcello Lotti, a name likely very familiar with touring car fans.
If there is one person responsible for the shape of the touring car racing scene as we know it today, it's Marcello Lotti. Following the collapse of the Italian Super Touring series (Campionato Italiano Superturismo) back in 1999, he almost immediately founded the European Super Touring Cup. The series, established on the ashes of the Italian championship, kept growing every year, reaching world championship status in 2005.
In January last year its creator decided to leave WTCC. And now, 12 months on, the Italian is about to launch his latest brainchild – a unified, cost-effective platform for national and international touring car racing called TCR. The new set of rules is going to be used in the TCR International Series as well as in a vast number of domestic championships, thereby creating the first common concept for touring cars since the heyday of Super Tourers.
Piotrek Magdziarz: The TCR International Series is set to take off this year. When was the first time you came up with the idea of creating this entirely new touring car racing concept?
Marcello Lotti: This was in my mind for quite a long time. An analysis of touring car situation around the world showed that a common strategy at the national level is missing. It was clear that it wasn't a good situation. It's not enough to have only the World Touring Car Championship without a basic touring car category. That's the reason I ended my relationship with Eurosport Events and WTCC.
So the idea was about creating common roots for touring car racing?
There were different rules in all the national championships, but there was one thing everywhere – that was the Seat Supercopa. Russia, The Emirates, The Dominican Republic, China – everywhere. Perhaps in this situation – for example, economic problems and lack of clear strategy for national championships – the fact that all these promoters opened their doors for Seat meant that this was the concept we needed. We decided to see if the others manufacturers were interested in this kind of car for customer racing. We've started to discuss it with Ford, Volkswagen Group and we realised that all of them were interested in developing a car like this.
Do you see TCR International Series as a feeder to WTCC or rather its rival?
For us it was important to develop a concept that can close the gap. We're receiving requests from a lot of national promoters who've decided to follow this concept and that was our target.
The concept of TCR, initially known as TC3, looks similar to what Stephane Ratel did to the GT racing scene by introducing the GT3 category a couple of years ago. Was that an inspiration for you?
We were already looking at the Seat, but clearly there's a link. We called it TC3 at the beginning to communicate the concept of the technical regulation better amongst the motorsport community.
Compared to GT3 it's a bit easier in terms of balance of performance because we started with cars that all have the same 2.0-litre turbo engine, the same cylinder capacity and everything, and that's completely different to GT3 where dimensions, weight and cylinder capacity are different.
There are certain sets of rules that seem to work very well in certain countries, but for a long time there wasn't a single one that could work across the world. DTM, BTCC, Australian and South American series are all based on entirely different concepts. What makes you think that TCR cam work worldwide?
I think this concept can work worldwide because there's one common aspect everywhere – that's the economic situation. Budgets are different from what they used to be. When you talk about the V8s in Australia it's because the manufacturers are completley involved. It's hard to fing this kind of approach at the national level elsewhere. We're confident because we offer an affordable product.
It was announced recently that one of the national championships running under new rule set is going to take place in the USA. NASCAR is massive there and both WTCC and the North American Touring Car Championship that was held back in the '90s weren't a success.
You can not compete with NASCAR because it's an institution in the US. I think that the promoter doesn't want to compete with it, but believes that this product, affordable for the teams, can help his championship.
You're pretty much a BMW man, having worked for the brand for years and being involved in rally and touring car programmes. In the movie 'Adrenaline – the BMW touring car story' Steve Soper said: 'Of you're a Formula 1 driver, you want to drive for Ferrari, if you're a touring car driver, you want to drive for BMW.' How much do you want to have BMW on board?
I have to say that from a promoter's point of view you have to have as many brands as you can. Especially the most important brands linked to the category that you're promoting. In the meantime we have to stick to the concept that we've developed and that doesn't include manufacturers' involvement.
I don't know if they have internal structures for touring car customer racing like in the past. Today their customer racing is focused on GTs and I don't know what they want to do in the future.
Touring car racing is all about short, sprint races. WTCC tries a different approach now, introducing races at the legendary Nordschleife. What do you think about this idea?
In terms of communication it's a very good idea – to be in Germany and to be in all the newspapers and media in Germany.
What are your long term goals? Where would you like to see TCR in five years time?
Five years? It's difficult to say. In three years time we want to consolidate what we're doing now.
From a fan's point of view, what's your favourite touring car series? Which kind of races do you most enjoy watching on TV?
I'm waiting to see TCR in Malaysia.
Anything that you've watched in 2014?
I've decided at the beginning of 2014 not to follow any kind of racing apart from Formula 1 because I've attended nine events last year. I've decided to enjoy my golf more now.