WTCC introduces ‘joker laps’ but bizarre practice crash prompts safety questions

Weekend Racing Wrap

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The World Touring Car Championship took the controversial decision to introduce rallycross-style ‘joker laps’ for its event in Portugal. But a crash in qualifying which saw a driver strike a fire response vehicle which was parked in a run-off area prompted questions over safety.

Here’s the best of last weekend’s racing action.

World Touring Car Championship

Races 9-10: Portugal

The WTCC introduced a joker lap into the series this weekend, akin to the kind found in World Rallycross, with the above left video from Tom Coronel explaining the idea. Unfortunately for Coronel he never got to try it out in race conditions, after a strange and scary crash in practice (above right) ruled him out of the weekend.

Mehdi Bennani won the opening race after jumping from fourth to second at the start and slicing past Honda’s Ryo Michigami shortly after to driver to an uncontested win. Tiago Monteiro used the new joker to great effect to finish second from seventh on the grid, with Thed Bjork completing the podium.

The second race was a more straightforward affair, with Norbert Michelisz winning from pole position, though fellow front row starter Rob Huff was lucky not to be collected on the line as he struggled to get away. Thed Bjork and Tiago Monteiro completed the podium in the reverse order to race one, while Huff used the joker to recover to fifth.


Race 10: Road America

Scott Dixon arrived at Road America leading the championship but lacking a win in 2017. He put that right with a classy drive to his first victory of the year, fighting off a late challenge from Josef Newgarden as he single-handedly saw off a quartet of Penske cars which had dominated qualifying.

Dixon became the eighth different winner from ten races in 2017, while Helio Castroneves completed the podium having started the race from his 50th career pole position.


Race 16: Sonoma

Kevin Harvick notched up his first victory of 2017 as NASCAR made one of its rare visits to a road circuit. The race ended under caution following a late crash for Kasey Kahne.

World Series Formula V8 3.5

Races 9-10: Motorland

It was a weekend of contrasting fortunes for the Lotus drivers as Pietro Fittipaldi moved backed ahead of team mate Rene Binder on top of the standings. Fittipladi threw away his advantage from pole position yet again on Saturday and was out before the first lap was over. That left Egor Orudzhev, a pre-season favourite for the title, to finally take his first victory of the year.

But on Sunday – Fittipaldi’s birthday – he stylishly converted pole to victory despite late pressure from Alfonso Celis Jnr. This time it was Binder whose races was over within a lap after contract with Yu Kanumaru. That left the top six in the championship separated by just 24 points.

Videos not available yet.

Also last weekend

Daniel Ricciardo took his first victory of the season in a crazy Azerbaijan Grand Prix, having run as low as seventeenth at one stage. Valtteri Bottas – who had been further back still and a lap down early on – was second, just pipping Lance Stroll on the line, though the Williams driver still secured his maiden podium in third. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and fifth with both drivers delayed; Vettel with a ten second stop/go penalty for swiping at Hamilton, while the Mercedes racer was forced to pit for a loose headrest.

Johann Zarco took his maiden podium in MotoGP at Assen, but endured a miserable race as Valentino Rossi took his first win of the season. Danilo Petrucci ran him hard in the closing laps but had to settle for second with Marc Marquez completing the podium, while fifth for Andrea Dovizioso was enough to put him into the championship lead after Maverick Vinales crashed out.

Over to you

What racing action did you watch last weekend? Let us know in the comments.

Next weekend’s racing

The following series are in action next weekend:

  • Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races 7-8: Norisring
  • European Formula Three races 13-15: Norisring
  • Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup races 9-11: Hungaroring
  • IMSA race 6: Watkins Glen
  • NASCAR Cup race 17: Daytona
  • World Rally Championship race 8: Poland
  • World Rallycross Championship race 7: Sweden

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12 comments on “WTCC introduces ‘joker laps’ but bizarre practice crash prompts safety questions”

  1. Absolutely loved the dutch MotoGP, thinking Baku could never top this in terms of entertainment value, but i was wrong

  2. watching the wtcc craah, i can’t understand how there wasn’t a barrier. very dangerous.

    Also, joker lap is such a gimmick

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      26th June 2017, 9:19

      Agree. I think it is really stupid that they have no barrier in a sport like that and why there are vans parked there. The van driver should always have been aware that something like that could happen.

    2. +1
      Joker laps work in Rallycross because the races are shorter, the tracks are shorter, and the field is smaller. These give joker laps more strategic significance. Here, they’re purely a gimmick.

  3. A minor correction :

    “Johann Zarco took his maiden podium in MotoGP at Assen” should be “Johann Zarco took his maiden pole in MotoGP at Assen” ;)

  4. After Marcello Lotti departed the WTCC, I thought it will be an upturn in the series in many ways, I was naive maybe.
    The racing was good under his leadership, but he had so many shenanigans, like the case of the Mexican track, when it was FIA graded before even the asphalt got laid down…
    But what goes around since his departure is simply a disgrace to the series and the sport. This joker lap gimmick is simply a horrid try to spice up the show, and try to increase the number of overtakes, which went sharply downhill, since the TC1 spec got introduced, with very high focus on aero…
    Another issue is the inconsistent stewarding. Take for example the Moroccan Bennani. Even in BTCC measures, he would already collected a few race bans, he is THAT reckless, and driving dangerously, but in the end, he escaped everything with small penalties. He is well funded by the Moroccan state, which also pays a huge amount of benjamins to the series with their first place in the calendar, since 3-4 years.

  5. That WTCC crash is an absolute horror show – so lucky he didn’t hit the lamp post, and also lucky the poor chap in the van wasn’t injured. Something like that should never be possible. Unbelievable.

  6. Pikes Peak, Keith – Romain Dumas wins again, driving a Norma MXX RD. Though he was disappointed he couldn’t break his team’s goal of breaking the lap record due to spark plug issues, he still was better than anyone else out there.

  7. Joker laps belong in Rallycross.

    They makes about as much sense in normal circuit racing as a handbrake on a canoe …

    Thank God Bernie didn’t implement it in F1 …

    1. Robert McKay
      26th June 2017, 21:53

      The joker laps in the WTCC were as uninteresting and pointless as I expected them to be, but that is largely par for the course for WTCC. The problem is compounded by the fact that, for all the difference they made, they still resulted in the commentators talking about little else for the (short) race.

      However I’ve never truly understood the rationale for joker laps even in rallycross. The whole attraction of the show there is surely that the cars are all tightly bunched together, bumping and barging on super short tracks, in super short races. So obviously the natural thing to do seems to be to add joker laps that they all end up taking on different laps (because the only real tactical decision the joker can add is the ability to search for clearer air), which substantially reduces the likelihood of two cars fighting for the same piece of track at the same time, and makes it more like a time-trial format.

      I can’t say I get it, particularly, I don’t really see what it adds, but maybe it’s just me.

  8. Coitados dos bombeiros de Alijó XD
    That wasn’t well planned, that runoff, that’s for sure.

  9. Incredible driving performance by Scott Dixon. The Penskes were dominant all weekend, and he played his typical stealthy killer Alain Prost-like act by saving his tires and going for it towards the end. That proves he is the best driver in IndyCar right now.

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