With manufacturer support at an all time low heading into the 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship season, the promotors of the sport have been quick to address the steady decline and have recently announced a raft of changes to the sport in the hope of spicing up a show that is fast becoming a mere shadow of its former glorious self. Touring car racing is perhaps one of the closest and most competitive forms of motorsport anywhere in the world. Particularly attractive to the general public as many of the vehicles used are instantly recognisable to their road going counterparts, the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) has long been the pinnacle of international touring car racing since its birth from the previous guise as the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) back in 2005. Once attracting the very pinnacle of tin top driving quality and backed up by many high profile manufacturer teams in the form of such legendary marques as BMW, Volvo, Honda, SEAT, Alfa Romeo and Chevrolet to name but a few, the WTCC has sadly found itself in somewhat of a decline of late. With ill judged new regulations replacing the popular S2000 spec cars forcing many established teams and manufacturers away from the championship, and the growth of the very popular TCR series further reducing the relevance of the WTCC, the sports promoters have had to act quickly in order to holt an inevitable decline into the abyss for this once great series. With the conclusion of the 2016 season seeing the withdrawal of both the all conquering works Citroen and Lada teams, plus the retirement of multiple WTCC champion and championship mainstay Yvan Muller and potentially Gabrielle Tarquinii, the WTCC is heading into a very dark winter period as the FIA and Eurosport Events look at ways to reinjection some excitement back into the championship. Due to the high cost of running a TC1 specification car to current WTCC regulations, Independent team participation has again fallen this year with many of the previous regular squads such as Bamboo Engineering, Wiechers Sport, Engstler Motorsport and Proteam already having moved away from the series, and other big name teams such as ROAL struggling to find a budget post 2016 the grid looks to shrink yet again in 2017. To combat the issues facing the WTCC in the current financial and racing climate, several innovative and just plain desperate measures have been proposed for approval to the World Motorsport Council for next year. We will go in to more detail as to what these changes mean for the sport below, but in summary the WTCC are proposing Rally Cross style 'Joker Laps' on some street circuits, a cheaper secondary 'WTCC 2' class to boost grid numbers, longer feature race events with more points on offer and increased points for the winner of the MAC 3 event as well as reducing the length of events from three to just two days, in an effort to reduce costs to the teams taking part. So what is going to be different in 2017? Let's have a look at each new proposal in more detail below: New Schedule WTCC Race of Morocco (Marrakech): 7-9 April 2017 S WTCC Race of Italy (Monza): 28-30 April 2017 WTCC Race of Hungary (Hungaroring): 12-14 May 2017 WTCC Race of Germany (Nürburgring Nordschleife): 25-27 May 2017 WTCC Race of Portugal (Vila Real): 23-25 June 2017 S WTCC Race of Argentina (Termas de Río Hondo): 4-6 August 2017 WTCC Race of China (Shanghai International Circuit): 13-15 October 2017* WTCC Race of Japan (Twin Ring Motegi): 27-29 October 2017 WTCC Race of Macau (Circuit de Guia): 17-19 November 2017 S WTCC Race of Qatar (Losail International Circuit): 30 November-1 December 2017 N S=street race; N=night race; *Subject to event promoter agreement 2017 should see a welcome return for the jewel of the crown in the WTCC schedule, the Race of Macau on the tight twisting confines of the circuit de Guia. “We’ve always kept the door open to Macau and we’re very happy to go back to one of most iconic street races in the world,” said championship promoter Francois Ribeiro. “Macau is very special, probably the strongest race in Asia. Discussions with the new local management resumed earlier this year and were smooth and straightforward with a great willingness on both sides to create an extremely successful event. There’s obviously a synergy with other FIA categories included in the Macau Grand Prix weekend.” Also making a welcome return for 2017 is one of the best venues in all of touring car racing, the Monza Grand Prix circuit in Italy, following a three year absence from the calendar. Scene of many epic racing moments in ETCC and WTCC history, the Monza circuit has been a regular venue in touring car racing and never fails to provide outstanding close racing across its 3.6 mile track. As well as Monza's return to the WTCC schedule on April 30th, the venue will also mark the first round of the European Touring Car Cup season, as a double header event for touring car fans. Races in Slovakia, Russia and France have been dropped from the new schedule, as a reduction to just ten events for next season has been made in order to help reduce costs for the participants and allow great traveling time between events, negating the need for the fast but expensive air freight relied upon in recent years. New Points The WTCC Feature Race event is scheduled to be awarded more points in 2017 as the series looks to acknowledge the greater achievement of success in the second of the two scheduled races per event. The weekend-closing Main Race will be two laps longer than the opening race, while the points structure will be changed as follows: 1=30 points 2=23 3=19 4=16 5=13 6=10 7=7 8=4 9=2 10=1. Exception to the new regulations will be round four of the championship at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Due to the size of the track the race will be limited to just three laps. MAC-3 Gets More Points The new for 2016 Manufacturers against the clock (MAC3) events are due to be adjusted for next season, with Volvo joining Honda for next season. Points for victory have been upped by two points to twelve, whist second place remain at eight. Event Length Reduced to Two Days The traditional Friday opening day of activity for WTCC events has been dropped for next season, with all the on track action condensed to two 45 minute practice sessions and qualification on Saturday, and races one and two to be held on the Sunday. In order to ensure no track time is lost for the WTCC field, Practice One and Two have been increased in length by 15 minutes each to 45 minutes, with qualifying remaining as per the 2016 rules. It is expected that an exception will be made for the Nürburgring Nordschleife event, due to the WTCC sharing a schedule with the 24h GT event, however the details of this arrangement have yet to be confirmed. Silly Rule #1 - Introducing 'WTCC-2' As mentioned earlier in this article, the WTCC has suffered from increasing drops in grid size of late. To combat the issue of lack of support from manufacturers and independent participation the new for 2017 WTCC-2 regulations have been introduced. Officially running under the FIA TCN2 specification, the new, slower class will participate in the same race as the faster main TC1 category. Essentially the cars will be the same vehicles as run in the European Touring Car Cup, with variations of these featured in the various TCR series around the world. “We recognise the challenges being faced by drivers and teams to secure the finances required to race a TC1 World Touring Car,” said promoter Francois Ribeiro. “While the WTCC will clearly remain the pinnacle of touring car racing, WTCC-2 will provide a good platform for aspiring World Touring Car champions of the future to showcase their talents on a global stage, compete for an FIA title, but at a reduced cost by limiting WTCC-2 to TCN2-specification cars, which are more affordable to prepare and maintain. “WTCC-2 competitors will benefit from the high event organisation standards, global media exposure and promotional activities in common with the WTCC.” Basically the WTCC-2 class cars will be slightly modified TCR spec machines. Intended to be predominantly the same as their TCR counterparts but with enhanced safety equipment and an FT3 fuel tank in line with current FIA regulations, the irony that a series setup as rival to the WTCC has been adopted as a support class to prop up the grid hasn't been lost on me... The new regulations should provide a more cost effective alternative to running the often expensive TC1 cars, and allow the FIA and Eurosport Events a stronger possibility of maintaining a reasonable grid size for each event. A minimum of 16 competitors must be present for each race according to the rules and commercial agreements of the WTCC, and with no Lada or Citroen on the grid next season and both remaining manufacturer teams confirming they will be unable to support more than three cars each in 2017, the move could be seen as a desperate measure by the organisers to ensure enough machinery takes to the track next year. It will be interesting to see exactly how far away from the race leading pace the WTCC-2 class cars will be once they hit the track together for the first time in Marrakech. Silly Rule #2 - Joker Laps With the ever increasing number of tight street circuits on the schedule in recent years, and the subsequent lack of any on track action and overtaking they produce, the FIA have proposed an FIA World Rallycross-style ‘joker’ lap to be implemented to the Marrakech and Vila Real events. The new rule enforces each driver to use an alternative route once during the race in an effort to spice up the action on track. The 'Joker Lap' configuration will be slightly longer than the regular track layout and could mix up the field as drivers look to make a tactical decision as to when to take the alternative route. The new regulations state a driver must not take his or her Joker Lap before the third lap and can only use the alternative layout on one occasion per race. Amendments to the Marrakech and Vila Real tracks are subject to the FIA’s Safety and Circuit Commission approval. Changes to the Macau event have been ruled out due to space limitations. The official FIA statement regarding the inclusion of Joker Laps at Vila Real and Marrakech did indicate this new regulation will require "further investigation" before it can be officially implemented in the 2017 regulations: "Providing the FIA’s Safety and Circuit commissions approve their introduction, ‘joker’ laps cannot be taken until the third lap of a race and their addition at events will be subject to a full safety inspection being completed." Now personally I'm all for change, and I also appreciate the series needs a serious rethink before the hard earned respect the WTCC has won over the years has completely diminished in the eyes of fans and teams alike. Do I agree with the new regulations and do I think they are the right direction for the series going forward? Well the jury is out on that one at the moment. As a lifelong fan of all kinds of touring car racing I genuinely hope this is a step in the right direction for the WTCC, but you can forgive me for being more than a little pessimistic about that prospect at this moment in time. Check out the RaceDepartment Motorsports Sub Forum for more news and discussions regarding this series. Join in with your fellow WTCC fans and discuss the good, bad and the ugly in modern day World Touring Car racing. Is the future bleak for the WTCC, or is this the beginning of something special? Have your say and "debate" it all in the Motorsports sub forum today! Are you happy to see the return of Macau? Do you like the new schedule? What do you think of the prospect of Joker Laps in Touring Cars? WTCC-2 a good or bad thing? Let us know in the comments section below!