WTCC to cut European rounds, moves Qatar finale

The World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) is set to reduce the number of European races to four in its 2016 calendar, according to general manager of the motor racing series, Francois Ribeiro.

Austria’s Salzburgring and iconic Belgian track Spa-Francorchamps were dropped for the 2015 campaign, leaving six European venues – the Hungaroring, the Nurburgring, Slovakia Ring, Moscow Raceway, Paul Ricard and Vila Real.

According to the Autosport.com website, the Slovakia Ring and Paul Ricard in France are the most vulnerable to losing their spots. Replacement rounds in South America – a street race in Santa Fe – and Asia are thought to be under consideration.

“We will reduce even further the amount of WTCC events in Europe,” Ribeiro told a press conference ahead of the inaugural WTCC round at Vila Real in Portugal. “I think we can keep only four, maximum.”

Vila Real does not yet have a deal to stage races beyond this season but Ribeiro is hopeful that the venue can become a success. “Vila Real has a strong identity whether we like it or we dislike it,” he added. “If the first event is good, if the mayor likes it, if his people like it, then normally we should be here for the next three years.”

Meanwhile, this season’s finale in Qatar – itself a replacement for Macau – has undergone a date change. Initially due to take place on November 21-22, the series’ inaugural night race meeting will now be staged on November 26-27 – meaning the main event races are now scheduled for a Friday night – a prime television slot for the series’ European television audience.

The decision was approved by the International Automobile Federation’s (FIA) World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) at its meeting in Mexico City following a request by the Qatari government.

“Running the WTCC finale in Qatar on Friday late evening is a great opportunity for the championship to deliver high TV ratings in Europe between 19.30 and 21.30 CET (Central European Time), a slot which will also work for Central and South America,” Ribeiro said.

“Friday is also the first day of the Middle East weekend, and late evening cool temperatures should provide ideal racing conditions. Obviously changing dates during the season is never ideal. However, I’m glad we have been able to respond to the request from the Qatari government.”