The increasingly competitive nature of the FIA World Touring Car Championship has evolved as the drivers that compete in the new TC1 class have had to compete with a very steep learning curve. Even with the exciting racing that took place at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, Citroën Racing may be leading the way so far, but there are those in hot pursuit.
One of those drivers is Portugal's Tiago Monteiro, who races with Honda Racing Team JAS alongside Gabriele Tarquini. He currently lies fourth in the overall standings, as the leading non-Citroën driver. His career has spanned the four corners of the globe, having raced in Formula 3, GP2, Champcar, Le Mans and Formula One.
The Porto native is now in his eighth season in the WTCC, and he kindly took the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us here at Nationwide Vehicle Contracts about his thoughts on the season so far, along with the differences that are involved with the new cars.
Nationwide Vehicle Contracts: Tiago, You’ve travelled around the world throughout your career, and raced at Le Mans, in F1, GP2 and ChampCar. What was the first thing that impressed you about racing in the WTCC when you joined Honda at the end of 2012?
Tiago Monteiro: The size of the company and the impact it has in the media, fans and followers ! It's a huge brand, it’s global and anything you do has an impact. It has tremendous resources at all levels. And it's a great big family!
NVC: The changes that have been made in order to make the cars faster and the action more exciting have brought along Citroën’s participation this season. What was the general feeling in the paddock when they started to dominate from the season opener at Marrakesh?
TM: That the decision they took to start 10 months ahead of everybody in order to prepare the 2014 season was the best one. The car is so different than former WTCC cars that it’s all new, and now experience and knowledge of the car counts more than anything.
NVC: What are the biggest changes that all the drivers including yourself have had to adapt to when it comes to the set up of the new cars, in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamics?
TM: High speed cornering, breaking and the usage of downforce now, which Is a first with a front wheel drive touring car.
NVC: When we spoke with Tom Coronel just before the season got underway, he was afraid of the series evolving into a GT-style championship. Do you feel that this has been the case, or has it made more enjoyable for you guys behind the wheel?
TM: In fact, before the season started, nobody really knew how it was going to evolve… But now its clear after half season that the racing is better than ever, and it’s a lot more fun as well!!
NVC: With regards to Citroën, Honda and Chevrolet being given performance weight increases, what has that done to the way the car behaves?
TM: 20kg is not a lot, and you only feel it a bit on braking and tyre degradation. When you reach 60kg though, it's a different story. You feel the car being a bit lazier and less responsive as a result.
NVC: How much of your extensive racing knowledge can you apply to the subtle changes that the team and engineers have to make when the package needs to move forward, either at the racetrack or during testing?
TM: A lot. It’s all about experience and speed in this championship. The cars are so subtle and so fine tuning oriented, that the all knowledge you might get from any series is important. Plus you keep learning all the time. That’s what’s great about this sport, you never stop learning!
NVC: Being lead Honda driver at the moment, what was your outlook after WTCC went to Spa-Francorchamps this past weekend, especially when you’ve driven there with Midland whilst in F1?
TM: I was very motivated to be back at Spa, I always had a great time there and it was also the same this time around. Great weekend and great results. Still the best of the rest…
NVC: Along with yourself, we have some great talent from Portugal racing in some of the premier categories at the moment, such as Audi’s Filipe Albuquerque racing in the WEC and at Le Mans, as well as Antonio Felix da Costa racing with BMW in the DTM. Are there any other drivers from Portugal that could be ones to watch in the very near future?
TM: You mentioned two great Portuguese drivers indeed. Being Antonio's manager, I am a little bit biased, but for sure, they are both great talents! Yes there is another young generation coming, but not that many to be honest. There are a few great ones in karting. But in single seaters, I see only one at the moment: Joao Carvalho, who is racing in the French F4 Championship.
NVC: Finally, your race car is the Honda Civic TC1, but what car is your everyday driver?
TM: I currently drive the Honda Accord Touring and the Honda CRV when I’m away from the track.
NVC: Tiago, thank you very much for your time, and all the best of luck for the rest of the season.
TM: Thank you very much.
In any form of racing, drivers are naturally competitive, no matter where they are in their careers, and Tiago is no exception. His range of experience makes him a very handy individual to have on any racing team, plus the will to win will always drive people forward.
We'll see further improvements from the likes of Honda and Chevrolet, so expect this well-seasoned veteran to take the fight to the other drivers on the grid. We'd like to thank Tiago again for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us and look forward to seeing how he gets on during the rest of the season.