Touring car racing fans of a certain age will remember fondly the halcyon days of the European Touring Car Championship in the mid-1980s when manufacturers entrusted their factory-blessed programmes to top race teams and let them get on with it.
Fan support was divided between the Tom Walkinshaw Jaguar XJSs and Rover Vitesses, the Schnitzer BMW 635 CSis and the Eggenberger Volvo 240 Turbos. Top drivers were recruited and the racing was great.
Back in 1985 there was a particular fondness for the Swedish underdog which, with less racing pedigree than its rivals, took the ‘Turbo Brick’ to the title with Gianfranco Brancatelli and Thomas Lindstrom, thanks to the Italo-Swedish pairing’s six wins from the 14 races.
Now, 30 years on, Volvo has announced it is returning to top-flight touring car competition in 2016, with a multi-year programme in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in conjunction with its performance brand Polestar and Cyan Racing, Polestar’s official motorsport arm.
And the car that will fly the flag in next year’s WTCC and beyond? The S60, which harks back to the 240 Turbo of the 1980s thanks to its turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Happily for Volvo, aerodynamic comparisons between the two are not relevant!
It won’t be the first time we’ve seen Polestar Volvos in the WTCC, of course. Back in 2011, the firm ran a single car for Robert Dahlgren. That assault with a C30 led to a best finish of fourth at Oschersleben and 11th in the final reckoning.
Fast forward five years and the approach is more serious. This time Polestar Cyan Racing will pitch two of the slippery S60s against competition from the factory Citroens and Ladas and the privateer Hondas and Chevrolets.
It’s not a challenge the team, which has concentrated on the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship (STCC) and Australia’s V8 Supercar series in recent seasons, is taking lightly.
‘The STCC series has given us a good benchmark for how good our team is,’ says Alexander Murdzevski Schedvin, Head of Motorsport at Polestar. ‘But the WTCC is more competitive, so we will have to raise our game.
‘We hope that the journey to the midfield in 2016, a learning year, will not be too difficult, but we don’t underestimate how hard getting to the top will be,’ he adds.
‘We welcome competition, it’s like a busy nightclub – that’s the one you want to go in!’
With two drivers required in year one and three in 2017, if plans to run an extra car come to fruition, Polestar Cyan will need to work out which of its trio of superswedes to parachute into the WTCC: Thed Bjork, Frederick Ekblom or Dahlgren.
‘We’re undecided on which of our drivers we will use at the moment,’ admits Murdzevski Schedvin. ‘We want a quick R&D process, of course, so it makes sense to use drivers who already know the engineers.’
With the three drivers having secured scores of domestic touring car race wins and six drivers’ titles, their proficiency for the job is not in doubt.
What’s also beyond doubt is Polestar Cyan Racing’s ability to mix it in WTCC circles. Since it effectively represents a fully-blessed factory effort, its commitment to the WTCC may lead to other manufacturers joining the series.
‘We welcome competition,’ says Murdzevski Schedvin. ‘It’s like a busy nightclub – that’s the one you want to go in!’
And, of course, the 2016 season offers another exciting challenge to the WTCC circus: the tie-up with the Festival of Speed. Many of the frontrunners from the series will make the trip to West Sussex for the 24th running of motorsport’s annual garden party – and they’ll go head-to-head in cars sporting unique liveries.
Naturally, Polestar Cyan Racing wants to be part of next summer’s celebrations, when it hopes to be able to call itself a WTCC race winner.
‘We’re really looking forward to Goodwood,’ says Murdzevski Schedvin. ‘It’ll be great to be surrounded by people who love cars and, of course, we’ll try to put on a good show.’
We’re pretty sure that’ll also be Polestar Cyan Racing’s maxim for its return to the global motorsports arena.