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A rulebook scrapped with two-thirds of its planned existence remaining and the disintegration of a 'world championship' - yet everyone's a winner from one of modern motorsport's greatest acts of martyrdom.
How did it come to this? Just four years ago, revolutionary new machinery was supposed to signal the start of a new age for one of the world's most popular racing categories.
Now, with two years remaining in a second three-year cycle of rules, that chosen path has been abandoned in favour of a low-cost alternative - based closer to standard production models - created by the series' original founder after his split from the championship.
The World Touring Car Championship's move to higher-tech, aero-dependent cars by the name of TC1 was made with good intentions, but instead brought a once thriving series to its knees. Series head Francois Ribeiro admits TC1 went both "too far" for the privateer teams and drivers that had grown financially weary and "not far enough" for the higher-end manufacturers it aimed to appeal to.
Four years isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but the slow and inevitable demise of the TC1 era has its roots - hardly the most stable of foundations in the first place - in the mapping out of the concept. The WTCC announced it would change regulations for 2014 at the December meeting of the World Motorsport Council in '12, but it took more than six months from that date for a defined rulebook to be revealed publicly. Teams were, of course, in the loop - but the existing manufacturers were still left scrambling to build cars.
Citroen and Lada both started 2014 with three factory cars, Honda had two - and claimed to have completed just "70% of our development" - while an additional two privateer Civics and six RML-built Chevrolet Cruzes completed the field of TC1 cars. Limited demand for the expensive new breed of cars was problematic enough, but an even more limited supply was hardly going to drive privateers to the scene.
Then there was the competition, or lack of it. Testing is only testing, but when you have six months under your belt before your rivals have turned a wheel you can be sure you're going to be competitive. The WTCC's new generation of regulations were announced in early July 2013, yet before the end of the month, Citroen - which had only in June confirmed it would join for '14 - was ready to unveil its new challenger.© FIA Jose Maria Lopez, Citroën
Jose Maria Lopez, Citroën
Photo by: FIA
Unsurprisingly, the C-Elysee swept the floor with its rivals in 2014. Citroen won 16 of 23 races in its first year, and full-season rookie Jose Maria Lopez clinched the first of his eventual three drivers' titles with three races to spare. More cars had joined by the season's end, but the grid of TC1 cars (the field was still being bulked out by older-spec Super 2000 'TC2' racers) never threatened to rise above 20.
Add to that the fact that the WTCC's godfather Marcello Lotti had walked away from the series on the eve of its biggest regulatory shake-up since its relaunch due to disagreements with promoter Eurosport, and the shine had already come off the championship's supposedly triumphant new era.
Volvo's planned involvement was barely a secret by the time it was finally confirmed in October 2015 and it offered the WTCC some respite, but the Swedish manufacturer was only prepared to commit two cars for its first campaign. That breather was shortlived, too, for Citroen announced a month later it would quit the WTCC at the end of 2016. Utterly dominant and backs patted, the French firm exited with 45 victories as a factory entry and a clean sweep of drivers' and manufacturers' titles.
But now solely in the hands of the privateers, the C-Elysees would help to fill the 2017 grid and add to a competitive order alongside manufacturer entries from Honda, Volvo and Lada... until news of Lada's plans to exit the series (to build a Vesta to TCR regulations) at the end of 2016 came with one month's notice, and for many was the death knell for TC1's future.
"The critical player into this was actually when Lada decided not to continue, because when you're down to two and one has an old car well, what do you do then?" says Alexander Murdzevski Schedvin, head of motorsport for the Polestar team that ran Volvo's effort. "That was a very critical moment for us."
With insufficient time to hurry in another set of regulations, the WTCC sought to add an appendix to its rules and a WTCC-2 class - for the TCR cars it would ultimately adopt with upgraded safety measures - was crowbarred in for 2017.© Stefano Arcari Tom Chilton, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, Rob Huff, All-Inkl Motorsport, Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
Tom Chilton, Sébastien Loeb Racing, Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, Rob Huff, All-Inkl Motorsport, Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
Photo by: Stefano Arcari
TCR hadn't been without its own problems at this point; two seasons down, the TCR International Series had become embroiled in a row with Macau Grand Prix organisers and later clumsily announced it would race on Formula 1's Monaco GP support bill before that suggestion was quickly refuted by organiser the Automobile Club de Monaco.
But the unstoppable freight train continued, as first rumblings of a TCR UK Series emerged and Hyundai announced it would commit its customer racing resource to the build of an i30 N TCR car - its first factory-built circuit racing car.
Miraculously, the WTCC managed to get to a point where organisers knew a 16-car grid (the minimum required by the regulations to avoid a race promoter being allowed to cancel a round) would be feasible early on in the season, and quietly scrapped the WTCC-2 class for 2017.
"If you can run a world championship [team] at lower budget level and still benefit from media coverage and so on, it makes sense. But if we can have only one class [TC1] it is better," said Ribeiro last March.
But that couldn't mask some fundamental flaws. By now, almost €4.5million was being assigned to assist the privateers on the grid and Honda's base car - the ninth generation Civic Type R - was no longer its most up-to-date model by the middle of the year. The Japanese manufacturer is understood to have made it clear it would not be willing to build a new FK8 version of the Civic Type R - which exists as a TCR model - to TC1 regulations, and it soon became clear the 2017 would have to be the last season run in that name.
The DTM and Super GT's shared Class One principle was initially presented for 2019 - and possibly '18 - to WTCC teams, but met with a lukewarm response and was mentioned increasingly less frequently as last year went on, leaving only one viable option: TCR.
"The point where we saw there was no future for TC1 rules, we were pushing for this [TCR] to happen," says Honda Europe motorsport manager William de Braekeleer.© TCR media Start action
Photo by: TCR media
And yet to the outside world, there was an apparent lack of urgency to complete a deal, a deafening silence from all parties. September's WMSC meeting came and went without any passing mention of touring cars, and some were even concerned - not least given Ribeiro and Lotti's much talked about fractious relationship - the whole thing might not go ahead.
"I was worried it was not going to happen," says WTCC veteran Tom Coronel. "I knew they were talking, but it's about money and egos. I'm in business myself, and you only make the deal if it's interesting for both parties."
It took until November for any hint of an agreement to make the news. A meeting between the chief stakeholders involved (namely Ribeiro and Lotti) took place in the third week of the month, before the two flew separately to the WTCC round in Macau and the Dubai TCR International finale to inform teams of the settlement. Information was disseminated in the Dubai paddock, and by the time of the WMSC meeting on December 6 only the finer details of the deal remained unknown.
Out goes the much-maligned TC1 era, and in its place steps the revolutionary TCR framework. The World Touring Car Championship is no more, for now, replaced by an FIA World Cup - 'WTCR' - that prohibits the direct involvement of manufacturers. A cap on entries will limit the grid at each round to 26 cars plus two wildcards, while the purchase of a car brings running costs to a little more than £180,000 per car; seasonal budgets for TC1 privateers often exceeded £1million.
"To be honest, the decision was a no-brainer," says Alan Gow, president of the FIA touring car commission. "Lotti had the TCR International Series, and this will take its place.
"With the TC1 regulations, we were getting less and less manufacturer involvement and it simply couldn't last. I think TC1 was too expensive for privateers - which is why there weren't many on the grid - and it wasn't sexy enough for the manufacturers."© TCR media Gabriele Tarquini, BRC Racing Team, Hyundai i30 N TCR
Gabriele Tarquini, BRC Racing Team, Hyundai i30 N TCR
Photo by: TCR media
The deal gives the TCR a proper global platform on which to be promoted, too, but this is still a lot closer to an act of martyrdom than a cuckoo's egg in the WTCC nest; Class One still appears to be the favoured option longer term and, as Gow says, the FIA now has two years to "redefine the regulations" for the WTCC. That means a short lifespan at the top of the tree for TCR, but that only highlights just how impressive its framework is.
Look at the most successful periods for global touring car racing, and there's one common theme: widely adoptable, affordable regulations. The British Touring Car Championship's current NGTC rulebook might be an outlier in this regard, but consider the 60 years of heritage the series has, an established and loyal fan base to boot as well as one of the most experienced organisers in TOCA/BTCC director Gow.
Costs rise with time, but TCR's solid original foundation has played a huge role in its success, just as, conversely, the absence of that proved to be a fundamental flaw in the design of TC1.
"If you look at it, was it a good regulation? Yes it was," says Ribeiro of TC1, before adding "[the] racing was good, but it was somehow in between two different categories; too expensive for privateers and not strong enough for factory [teams]. From that perspective, I'm certain about adopting TCR regulations."
TC1 was brave, and bold - but perhaps neither brave nor bold enough. It takes a lot to admit things went wrong, but by sacrificing itself the WTCC has ensured a global tin-top series continues, and has created circumstances for its potential later revival without damaging its reputation further.© TCR media Rob Huff, Leopard Racing Team WRT, Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
Rob Huff, Leopard Racing Team WRT, Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
Photo by: TCR media
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Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/motorsports/why-a-world-championship-made-the-ultimate-sacrifice/ar-BBI9tgN