- Fourth WTCR round to take place at the rollercoaster circuit near Amsterdam
- A unique set-up of North Sea breeze, sand dunes and 100,000 spectators
- Data analysis and practice in the simulator assists preparation
No time to catch a breath: Just a week after round three at the Slovakiaring (SK), the next WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup race weekend is right around the corner for Volkswagen Motorsport and the Sébastien Loeb Racing team. From 17 to 19 May, Mehdi Bennani (MA), Rob Huff (GB), Johan Kristoffersson (S) and Benjamin Leuchter (D) will line up at the ‘Jumbo Race Festival” at Circuit Zandvoort (NL). 100,000 spectators are expected at the race weekend, where local hero Max Verstappen will drive a few exhibition laps in his Formula 1 car. From Volkswagen’s perspective, the results from last year are promising: In 2018, Rob Huff took pole position in the first qualifying session and finished third in the race, before taking second place in race three.
“Last year, we had some good results in Zandvoort, but in 2019 the cards have been reshuffled,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets. “The intensity of competition has increased enormously once again in comparison to 2018. Rob Huff’s fifth place in Slovakia was a real accomplishment. Now we must look to take the next step in the right direction. The lower weight of our cars will hopefully work in our favour.” In comparison to the last round at the Slovakiaring, the compensation weight for the Golf GTI TCR will be reduced from 60 to 30 kg for the race weekend in the Netherlands. This means that the 250-kW (340-PS) car will weigh 1,265 kg in Zandvoort, in accordance with the ‘balance of performance’ adjustments.
Circuit Zandvoort is one of the most demanding racetracks on the WTCR calendar. Set in the dunes on the Dutch North Sea coast, the drivers have to contend with a challenge that no other circuit in the international racing series poses: Sand on the track. “Depending on how the wind blows, this can change the grip conditions from lap to lap,” says Volkswagen driver Benjamin Leuchter. “The track features a variety of very fast and slow corners. In some places, a clean line is important, on others we drive well over the kerbs. As such, you have to find a good compromise for the set-up of the car.”
Data and simulator: Preparation for the next race
For the drivers and engineers, a WTCR weekend like the one in Zandvoort starts well before they arrive at the circuit. “First, I look at on-board videos from the past few years. Afterwards, I spend a few hours in the Volkswagen Motorsport simulator in Hannover,” explains Leuchter. In doing so, the WTCR rookie not only gets an impression of unknown racetracks; in these virtual laps, he also works together with the Volkswagen Motorsport engineers on the Golf GTI TCR’s suspension set-up and aerodynamic configuration.
The basis for this is the data collected in previous years. “In the 2019 season, however, this can only be applied to a limited extent, because now we have a different mandatory standard tyre,” explains Fabrice van Ertvelde, Project Manager of the WTCR at Volkswagen Motorsport. “Especially with regard to the set-up of the chassis, there is little to go off, both on the track and in the simulator.”
The standard tyres are not the only measure in the WTCR that have cut costs; at the same time, The opportunities to tune the touring cars to the specific demands of each individual racetrack are also limited. The regulations have also set narrow limits for aerodynamics. “Unlike in Formula One, for example, we use the same rear wing, diffuser and front splitter versions throughout the season,” explains Van Ertvelde. Adjustment is only allowed within narrow limits. “Aerodynamic factors can only be represented to a certain degree in the simulator,” continues Leuchter. “An important consideration is the wind. Especially in fast turns, it makes a big difference whether there is a tail-wind reducing downforce or a stiff head-wind literally pushing the Golf GTI TCR into the track.”
The optimal aerodynamic configuration is therefore high up on the agenda for the practice sessions at the track. The rear wing of the Golf GTI TCR can be adjusted in less than two minutes. “This is perfect,” says Benjamin Leuchter. “Because of this we can react just before the start, should the wind suddenly pick up or change direction.”