With the heartache of the opening round in Marrakech, many could be forgiven for thinking Honda’s second full season in the FIA WTCC only really started just under two weeks ago at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France. With two third places and the four Honda Civic of Tiago Monteiro, Gabriele Tarquini, Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz all in the top eight of Race 2, it was an encouraging performance from the Honda squad. The first podium finish of the season meant a lot to Gabriele Tarquini too. And not only because it was his 200th race in the FIA WTCC.
“I would like to dedicate this podium finish to the entire crew of J.A.S. Motorsport,” the 52-year-old Italian stated after Race 1. “I am very happy and extremely proud of the boys, because after my crash in Marrakech they succeeded in building me a completely new Civic in just three days and gave me the opportunity to take part in my 200th WTCC race. The celebratory cake was ready and now they could cut it as well. I am very glad they could finally do so.”
After Morocco and France, the FIA WTCC caravan now travels to Eastern Europe and first stop is the Hungaroring in Hungary. It is the fourth time the WTCC has visited the 4.38km circuit and for the drivers it’s twisty and bumpy track always presents a huge challenge, not least by making overtaking nearly impossible. But that doesn’t matter much to the 60,000 enthusiastic fans that will fill the grandstands and paddock during race weekend. They will stand as one behind the black and red Honda Civic WTCC #5, in the hands of local hero Norbert Michelisz.
“The support of the fans is very important to me, and obviously I would like to thank them with a podium finish,” says the Zengő Motorsport-Civic WTCC driver. “In between qualifying, races and debriefs I am always very busy during the Budapest weekend, because everybody wants to see me and show me their support personally. I have learned to cope with that increased attention and apparently that extra pressure does not influence my performances, because I have been on the podium ever since the WTCC first came to Hungary. I can only hope that this will be the case again this year.”
The Hungaroring is best known for its Formula 1 Grand Prix and Norbert was only two years old when in 1986 Nelson Piquet won the very first Hungarian Grand Prix in his Williams-Honda.
“I was too young to remember! My uncle was a rally driver and through him I developed an interest in racing. In 1992 I saw my first Hungarian Grand Prix on television. Since I lacked the means to go racing myself, I focused on racing simulations. At home at first and then through competitions online. This is how I came into contact with Gabor Weber, one of Hungary’s most successful drivers. When watching me during a virtual race, he suggested that I should try racing for real and brought me into contact with Zoltan Zengő…”
At the end of 2005 the then 21-year-old Hungarian youngster was invited to do a test session on the Hungaroring.
“This was my first time on a real track! But Mr Zengő was so impressed he offered me a seat for a complete season in a promotional Cup. This is how our relationship started and I have raced for Zengő Motorsport ever since, competing my first full WTCC season in 2010.”
To promote the presence of the FIA WTCC even more in the country, a “Budapest Street Demo” will be organized on Thursday May 1st. The parade, through the streets of the Hungarian capital, along the River Danube and over the Chain Bridge, will feature two F1 cars and no less than twelve WTCC cars. On Friday May 2nd, the racing starts in earnest, with free testing beginning at 12.30…“After two extremely busy weeks in Marrakech and Le Castellet, we’ve had more time to prepare ourselves for the Hungarian race weekend,” said J.A.S. Motorsport Managing Director Alessandro Mariani. “We’re getting there, but it is still very difficult to have the first four race weekends within less than five weeks, especially with a brand new car that needs further development. The Hungaroring is a very technical track – overtaking is at a premium – and I gather that the gap with the opposition will be reduced. The results in France showed that the four Civic drivers really race as a team and are able to collaborate well on track, so I am filled with a lot of confidence for the races ahead.”