The 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship kicks off in Morocco this weekend with Honda and drivers Tiago Monteiro, Norbert Michelisz and Ryo Michigami targeting nothing less than the title.
An exciting season-opener is in store on the 3.0km Circuit Moulay El Hassan, which combines a permanent first half of the circuit introduced last year with a temporary portion that usually serves as part of the city’s road network.
Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team drivers Tiago Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz finished third and fourth in the 2016 points and are the highest-placed finishers from last year’s championship who return to battle for the title this season.
Tiago, 40, became the first Portuguese driver to lead an FIA World Championship last year and provided the most memorable moment of the entire season with the podium ceremony following victory in front of his home crowd on the streets of Vila Real.
After completing his most successful WTCC campaign to date by winning twice and finishing third overall, he has now set his sights even higher.
Norbert, 32, is Hungary’s biggest motor racing star and last year led home a Honda podium lock-out in Japan to add to seven other podium finishes.
New signing Ryo, 43, leaves behind a championship-winning career in Japan’s prestigious Super GT and Super Formula series to become a full-time WTCC driver for the first time.
Unlike his team-mates, the Honda Racing Team JAS racer has never driven on the Marrakech circuit, but has been learning several of the other tracks on the calendar during winter testing as he has acclimatised to the latest evolution of the Civic WTCC.
A number of regulation changes will play a part in deciding the destiny of the title in 2017 with increased points for MAC3 victories and longer Main Races (Nurburgring excepted) with five extra points on offer to the winners compared to last season.
The Civic WTCC will compete in both the Marrakech and Monza rounds free of compensation weight; the rolling system to ensure performance parity between rival cars not coming into force until the Hungaroring event in May.
Tiago Monteiro #18 : « We start the season with the aim of capturing the WTCC drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles and have worked incredibly hard over the winter with the developments on the Civic to give us the best chance of doing this. A year ago I said it was the biggest step forward in performance I’d witnessed in the WTCC. Twelve months on, we’ve made an even bigger progression with an improved aero package and a more driveable engine, which should help us on every kind of circuit. Of course, I know our rivals haven’t been standing still during the winter, and I’m expecting a really close battle for position in every race from Norbi and Ryo, who I’m sure will be tough rivals, and from some of the drivers in the other teams too. »
Norbert Michelisz #5 : « My target is simple; to become World Champion this year, and that has to start with a good points score in Morocco, especially while the Civic isn’t carrying any compensation weight. Last year we were very fast at the revamped Marrakech circuit, which features a lot of low-speed corners and rewards a car that is well-balanced under braking and has good traction. Several upgrades to the car were made at our final pre-season test at the Hungaroring and I think we’ve taken a significant step forwards compared to where we were even a few weeks ago, so everyone in the team can feel confident of a strong performance. »
Ryo Michigami #34 : « I am very excited about competing in a full World Championship for the first time. I enjoyed my debut as a wild-card at Motegi last year, but was very aware that I needed to learn the subtleties of a front-wheel-drive touring car after spending the past 20 years in single-seaters and GT cars. But the team and drivers have been incredibly welcoming and have worked hard to help me get up to speed. I’m setting realistic expectations for myself ahead of Marrakech, a circuit I’ve never driven on except on Honda’s simulator, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. »