Why the WTCR's Nurburgring cancellation was “the least worst decision”

The World Touring Car Cup hit the headlines for the wrong reasons last weekend. Both races at the Nurburgring Nordschleife were cancelled at the 11th hour amid concerns about the Goodyear tyres, after multiple failures in practice and qualifying. Here’s how events played out and what the next steps are for the series

Why the WTCR's Nurburgring cancellation was “the least worst decision”

The decision to cancel the World Touring Car Cup races last weekend on the Nurburgring Nordschleife because of Goodyear tyre safety fears, just 15 minutes before the first was due to start, couldn’t be anything other than painful, costly and humiliating for everyone with skin in the game. But it was also the right call, or more accurately as Honda’s William de Braekeleer put it, “the least worst decision”.

You could say this was an ‘Indianapolis 2005 moment’, but let’s keep some perspective. Back then at the United States Grand Prix, on one of Formula 1’s darkest days, the ‘race’ went ahead despite Michelin-shod teams feeling compelled to withdraw at the end of the warm-up lap, leaving just six Bridgestone runners to take the start.

If that was the definition of travesty and farce, this new example fell well short. Instead, it was just desperately unlucky. But between Goodyear, promoter Discovery Sports Events and the FIA something much worse than embarrassment might have been side-stepped, in the nick of time.

Tiago Monteiro was among the six who raced at Indy, finishing a bizarre third for Jordan – and he should have been on the grid at the Nurburgring last weekend too, in his Engstler-run Honda that was one of many affected by the tyre problems.

PLUS: The driver who gained most from F1's famous farce

“This is out of our control,” he said. “We have an extra 60kg on the car [compared to rivals], it’s a fact we are heavy and it’s probably not helping. I’m very upset about it.

“It’s not good for the show, but it’s very dangerous for us as drivers. We have to be realistic and think about safety first. As everyone probably knows, I have been in a tyre drama in F1 and it played my way at the time. But you can’t play with this.”

“It was definitely the right decision,” said de Braekeleer, race programme manager for Honda Racing Corporation.

Monteiro found himself in the unusual position of tyre-enforced cancellations for a second time, having been part of the 2005 F1 US GP debacle

Monteiro found himself in the unusual position of tyre-enforced cancellations for a second time, having been part of the 2005 F1 US GP debacle

Photo by: WTCR

“As stated many times, safety has to come first. In this situation I welcome the decision of Goodyear to recognise there was a problem with the tyres and then everybody else, the promoter and the FIA, had to take the right decision to cancel. Knowing there is a problem, you cannot start the race.

“Yes, motorsport is dangerous, but here it was like Russian Roulette: you don’t know when your tyre might delaminate.”

Of course, there’s a difference between cancelling a grand prix in front of a packed house at Indy and a massive global TV audience compared to a touring car race that falls below the radar even for ardent motorsport enthusiasts. But make no mistake, to scale, the WTCR’s loss is significant, especially now.

It’s a funny series, but I have a real soft spot for it. There’s real talent on the grid mixed between youth and experience, the cars look and sound like touring cars should and most importantly it’s properly tough, as it should be for something carrying ‘world’ status (even if it’s as a lesser cup rather than a full-blown championship these days).

"The teams were reporting segments of the tread separating from the tyre carcass. To be clear, there were no tyre blow-outs and no deflations. The integrity of the tyre remained. It was the tread layer that was damaged" Goodyear

But like all weight-ballast Balance of Performance racing, too often you can’t help but wonder about the authenticity of the racing, when a car/driver combination soars one weekend then plummets into mediocrity the next. Also for a UK audience, the WTCR is something of a non-entity, thanks to a lack of a British round and entries, aside from good old Rob Huff. The WTCR exists in its own Eurosport TV bubble.

But racing on the Nordschleife, plus prestigious street tracks in Vila Real and Macau, does elevate and give credence to the WTCR. That makes a force majeure cancellation of one of those signature events, at a time when grid numbers have fallen to just 17 and after two years in which the series has been limited to Europe because of COVID, unfortunate to put it mildly.

Publicly, the series’ customer teams and five manufacturers who supply and support them, presented a reasonably united front. But as the Hondas and Lynk & Cos experienced a higher rate of trouble with the Goodyears, naturally some felt more aggrieved than others.

The Comtoyou Audis of Mehdi Bennani and Gilles Magnus had locked out the front row in qualifying as the only drivers able to complete three laps – a full Nordschleife WTCR race distance – in the 30-minute session, and now lost their best chance all season of a strong result because of something they had little or no control over.

Magnus was part of an Audi 1-2 in qualifying before the WTCR round was cancelled

Magnus was part of an Audi 1-2 in qualifying before the WTCR round was cancelled

Photo by: WTCR

“We have a good chance of winning with a car that is very strong around here,” Magnus said after qualifying. “We’ve been testing a lot around here, we know our car is made for this track, so we expect it to be stronger here than at others. We will probably struggle more on the other tracks.”

You’d forgive the Belgian team if it felt more than a little disenchanted with WTCR right now.

So what were the problems and how did they occur? Goodyear seemed a little non-plussed.

“The teams were reporting segments of the tread separating from the tyre carcass,” a Goodyear spokesperson told Autosport. “To be clear, there were no tyre blow-outs and no deflations. The integrity of the tyre remained. It was the tread layer that was damaged.”

Further analysis is required before Goodyear can offer a definitive report, on a construction of tyre it uses on every WTCR track and that was run successfully on the Nordschleife in the previous two seasons. One problem, on the Honda Civic TCRs run by Munnich Motorsport and Engstler, was bodywork deflection, evident at high speed on Dottinger Hohe, so much so that the right-front wheel arch on points leader Nestor Girolami’s car shattered under load on his first lap in qualifying.

Others reported severe vibrations, including Huff in his Zengo Motorsport Cupra, and even on the grand prix circuit before the drivers had made it on to The Green Hell itself – ruling out any suggestion the races could have been limited to the short circuit alone.

Huff’s spin and crash at the end of qualifying was likely caused by the vibrations that he and team-mate Daniel Nagy could feel at the rear of their cars, whereas Yvan Muller’s Lynk & Co troubles appeared to be on the fronts. In the face of so much doubt, no wonder Goodyear raised its hand.

Was it down to kerb strikes? Were teams sticking to Goodyear’s recommendations on tyre pressures and cambers?

“We want to make it clear we are not putting the focus on the teams and whether they stayed within our recommendations, because we believe they do,” said the company spokesperson.

The tyre problems were impacting each manufacturer in different ways

The tyre problems were impacting each manufacturer in different ways

Photo by: WTCR

Meanwhile, de Braekeleer gave full backing to his customer teams.

“They took a very conservative approach,” he said. “Of course, we do not control what they do, but they informed me they were even more conservative than the recommendation they’d received.”

Some sort of perfect storm scenario appeared to be at play. Goodyear will report and advise ahead of the next round at the Hungaroring on 11-12 June.

“One of the things that could be considered,” suggested the spokesperson, “is the pressure and camber is only a Goodyear recommendation and is not policed as part of any scrutineering process. In other championships it can be part of the regulation. It’s things like that that could be considered as part of the recommendation and analysis for next steps.”

So in the wake of this damaging episode, have we seen the last of the WTCR at the Nurburgring Nordschleife? Let’s hope not.

At a time when the WTCR is a little wobbly on its legs, cool heads are now required amid a solidarity of purpose for the series to bounce back off the ropes. Blame games make no sense

“It’s a wonderful circuit and it’s part of what makes WTCR unique,” said the Goodyear spokesperson. “I don’t think that question is even on Goodyear’s radar because in the first two years of supplying WTCR there were no issues. In the Nurburgring 24 Hours there were 32 cars on our tyres, including seven TCR cars, and this is a circuit that Goodyear and in the past sister company Dunlop have experience of, with cars that are heavier, more powerful and more complex than a touring car. There’s no real technical or capability reason why that should be a question for Goodyear.”

De Braekeleer believes it is “a one-off problem. It doesn’t mean we cannot go back to the Nurburgring. But for this year it was not possible.”

Goodyear, Discovery, the FIA, the customer teams and the five manufacturers took a big hit to the chin at the Nurburgring. At a time when the WTCR is a little wobbly on its legs, cool heads are now required amid a solidarity of purpose for the series to bounce back off the ropes. Blame games make no sense. Lessons can and must be learned, but the series still has enough of the right stuff to recover and avoid a drama turning into a crisis.

Can the WTCR recover from its latest setback?

Can the WTCR recover from its latest setback?

Photo by: WTCR

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WTCR Nurburgring Nordschleife races cancelled over Goodyear tyre failures
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