WTCC boss Ribeiro: "The current grid is not enough"
The promoter of the WTCC, Francois Ribeiro, has conceded that the current number of cars entered in the series "not enough" for a world championship.
The first half of WTCC's 2016 campaign was run with 17 full-time entries - three below the original announced number of 20, with the NIKA Racing Chevrolet, the second Campos Chevrolet and the second Zengo Honda yet to make a race appearance.
And while this does not represent a drop in entries compared to 2015, where the grid oscillated between 16 and 19 cars, it is still regarded as insufficient by Ribeiro.
"It's not enough, of course," Ribeiro told Motorsport.com. "The ideal number is between 20 and 24.
"We need more, but what is more important, we had a good start of the championship because the balance of forces and the split of the best drivers amongst the teams and the dynamic inside each team is good.
"Obviously, the dynamic of Honda between last year and this year is different - with three cars; Duncan [Laycock] as a technical director, coming from RML; [Rob] Huff coming with his world champion pedigree and a great motivation; Norbi [Michelisz] being promoted as a factory driver - the dynamic inside Honda is completely different, is much more positive, it's a great job that they are doing.
"The dynamic inside Lada is also positive - and you see Volvo coming and learning and they realise how high the level is. It's difficult - they have a super engine apparently, but look how much they are struggling in the wet.
"Maybe I prefer to have a championship with 18 cars but with a good spread of forces and a good fight, than 25 cars with all the best drivers in the same team and a very dominant team."
Ribeiro on the future of WTCC
Are you concerned about the possibility of losing some of your biggest stars - like Jose Maria Lopez and Yvan Muller - in 2017?
"Well, I think Muller was probably supposed to stop at the end of last year. Finally he did not. Gabriele [Tarquini] was planning to stop anyway, cause he's over 50. And when I heard he was out of Honda, in less than 10 minutes I called Lada and Viktor [Shapovalov, team boss] and I said 'you need a guy like this, he'll be a very valuable asset for your team'.
"But some day they will stop - it's also good to see profiles like [Norbert] Michelisz becoming factory drivers. I mean, he's not shy of competing with Huff, world champion, or [Tiago] Monteiro, ex-Formula 1 driver. See what [Nicky] Catsburg is doing ever since the beginning of the championship? He's young - those guys are the future stars of WTCC.
"I don't know what Lopez will do in the future, I don't know what Muller or Tarquini will do in the future - for sure, we cannot keep racing with Tarquini for another 10 years, I doubt, or even Yvan for another 10 years.
"I talked to both of them, with the same message to Gabriele and Yvan, and I said: 'It's not up to me to say when it's time to retire, it's your decision and your decision only.'
"One day their motivation as drivers will be gone. And then they will stop - but I gave the same message to both of them: 'The day you decide to stop as a driver, I would like to find a way for you to stay in touring cars and make your own experience beneficial to someone else - a team, a manufacturer'. Because they are unbelievable assets.
"Would Citroen would have been successful so quickly without Yvan Muller? I don't think so, I really don't think so. I think he brought so much, in terms of organisation, process, test, development, and so on - spend the money at the right place, guide engineers to develop proper car.
"And look at the gap of performance of Lada - it's not a coincidence. Gabriele has gone on his own probably more than 80 percent of the winter testing, on his own, because he gives unbelievable feedback for engineers."
Do you think you can have 20 or more cars in 2017?
"If we have 20, I'm very happy. I'm working on what we can do with Citroen and Sebastien Loeb Racing and those cars, because I'm still convinced that that car will be very competitive next year - even though they will probably not develop it between the two seasons, that car will still be very competitive.
"And if Lopez is not driving it, that car will lose, what, 20-30 kilos [of ballast] immediately. Because based on the regulations, the compensation weight is applied upon the best lap in qualifying and the best lap in the races. Who's doing always the best lap at Citroen? Lopez.
"So the day he's not driving that car anymore, that car will mathematically lose weight, which will make it competitive. I think there is something to do to keep those cars in the championship."
If the engine prices are lowered, can you attract more privateers - and competitive privateers at that - for 2017?
"Yes. I'm spending some time, for instance, with Volvo to talk about customers, because I have questions from teams. And they would certainly have the technical capacity to supply cars to customers, for sure.
"They are going to put more cars on the grid, as they've already announced the third car - what I'd like to see is three official cars and at least two customer cars. The way Citroen has done it, the way Honda has done it.
"I'm also talking to Lada about this, my position with Lada is very clear - Viktor told me 'why not, but first, let me get that car performing. Once you have a good car, then you can sell it - but the priority has to stay on getting the performance of the factory team'. And he's 100 percent right on this.
"Now that his performance is better, that the car is more reliable, I will have a talk again with him to say 'okay, if you build new cars for your factory team next year, shall we organise something, a satellite team?'
"Probably, I don't know, I would love to have a satellite team, probably put a Russian driver in it - that would make sense."
Do you think the increase to an 80kg weight ballast limit has panned out?
"It helped a bit. I know that Citroen reaction was very negative about it, and their drivers'.
"I remember Pechito [Lopez] coming to me at Paul Ricard, the first event, and he told me 'you know, Francois, with 80 kilos, we made all the calculations with engineers, I cannot be on pole position, it's just against the physics. It's impossible, I won't be [on pole].'
"And then he was on pole position. I said nothing to him. He probably had to fight harder than he did last year, but look, his laptime at the Nurburgring was, what, two second quicker than last year? And I don't see Lopez being starved of pole positions in 2016.
"So it's helped, I don't think it's had such a huge impact on Citroen. I think the impact of the work of Honda, Volvo, Lada and so on, have certainly been higher than the impact of 80 kilos on Citroen.
"And also the Chevrolet, the privateers, frankly speaking, when you see Tom [Coronel] or [James] Thompson being quite often in Q3, winning a race in Marrakech, it means that the potential of that car, when it's properly set up and well-driven, is still competitive."
Are you worried that Lada could exit the series because of a change in management?
"You can always be concerned about manufacturers changing their minds, always. The rational reason they're racing at the international level stays the same irrespective of the management changes.
"Since Viktor is racing in WTCC, how many different presidents, marketing directors or technical directors - how many times, him and I, we've had to present WTCC to new management? I don't know, but a lot. A lot.
"But when I see that next year Lada Sport is going to sell six thousand cars in Russia, in one country only, with those 'sporty' editions - and the Lada Vesta Sport is coming out next year... then I reasonably think that WTCC is a good platform to help the brand transformation of Lada."
Are you planning any new events for 2017?
"Yeah, I have one or two events in mind, one or two countries in mind, one or two circuits in mind. But it's too early to say.
"I think now what I'm trying to do is to make the events we have bigger, increase the fanbase. This is what matters to me - make WTCC bigger in Hungaroring, bigger in Nurburgring, bigger in Moscow, bigger in Slovakia, bigger in Argentina, bigger in Thailand, bigger in Japan, bigger in China - that's what we need.
"Look at the consistency of MotoGP calendar over the last 15 years and look what Dorna is doing. Are they changing the location of the French Grand Prix five times? No. They're just concentrating on Le Mans to make it bigger, bigger, bigger every year. At some point you need a bit of consistency - if there are events which are not working, you have to change.
"You always also have to listen to manufacturers' opinion, too. Yes, Volvo would like to go to US because US is premium market, very important, both in volume and value. But to go to US and to crack that market without a US driver - super-difficult."
Basically impossible, even?
"No. We have a lot of resources in Discovery - Eurosport belongs to Discovery and Discovery has a lot of resources - but it's very, very difficult."
Are there any races that you're especially happy with and that are safe in the long-term?
"Yeah, but you have to understand why particular events are working in particular countries.
"Would Hungary work the same without Norbi? No. Nurburgring is working without German manufacturers or German drivers - okay, we do a one-off with Sabine [Schmitz], but Sabine is not a championship player, it's a one-off. And yet it's working. That means that probably the Nordschelife is a good place for WTCC, because that brings something very particular.
"There is no general rule for this, for your question, but there is individual answers to each particular event."
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