One of the coolest things about being an automotive journalist is that you not only get a chance to write about and comment on awesome vehicles; you also get to drive them. Most top-ranking automotive journalists have sat in many an outstanding machine in the course of their careers, so it’s difficult to break through their reserves. But rest assured: The Astra TCR pulls it off with gusto.
Opel, the brand with the lighting bolt logo, invited fifteen leading journalists from eight European countries to experience the fascination of the new customer sports touring car to the utmost. And just as if the gods of weather had recognized how important the day was, they arranged for glorious sunshine in the middle of an especially unpredictable April in Eifel, a Rhenish region with some of Germany’s most erratic weather patterns. A temperature of nearly 20 degrees Celsius, a cloudless blue sky, a group of people in high spirits, a series of fantastic cars in the pit lane, and an exciting program for the day – what more could the journalists want?
WHERE THE DAY WENT
For the journalists, the program was aligned as tightly as a sports car. And the same was true of the test day’s thematic focus
Item 1 on the agenda: A comprehensive briefing in the lounge on the pit roof with Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott delivering a briefing on Rüsselsheim motorsports philosophy and Astra Chief Engineer Marc Schmidt presenting an overview of the development highlights of the ‘Car of the Year.’
Item 2 on the agenda: Racecar driver and Opel driving instructor Sascha Bert leads an introduction and warm-up for the track layout of the Grand Prix track at the Nürburgring complex in a 200 horsepower production Astra.
Item 3 on the agenda: A switch to the Astra TCR and a half hour of pure racing pleasure, starting with several laps behind the Astra pace car driven by Opel’s brand ambassador, Jockel Winkelhock (55).
During a brief pit stop, Winkelhock hinted at the car’s driving potential before finally letting the media representatives off the leash to put the pedal to the metal in the 330 horsepower Astra TCR.
Item 4 on the agenda: For some, it must have seemed like a wakeup call at the end of a beautiful racing dream as they rode with Swiss racecar driver Jasmin Preisig, 23, in an Astra TCR that was converted into a racing taxi. Preisig fully intends to cause a stir at the ADAC TCR Germany once the development program for the new customer sports racecar with the lightning bolt is finished.
“The car inspires a lot of trust.”
– Jens Dralle –
THAT’S HOW A RACING GEARBOX WORKS
Why it’s not possible to switch to the wrong gear with a sequential six-speed transmission
The TCR concept is geared towards both the ambitious gentleman driver and the semi-professional. While electronic driving aids such as ABS and traction control are frowned upon, the Opel Astra TCR offers modern technical features such as a sequential six-speed racecar transmission by the French specialists Sadev. It is controlled by a paddle shifter on the steering wheel. Pulling with the left (downshift) or right hand (upshift) triggers an electronic signal that sends
commands to a hydraulic system. The system applies an operating pressure of 45 bars, causing the gearbox to shift up or down one gear. Incidentally, this makes it impossible to switch to the wrong gear. If the selected gear and the engine RPMs aren’t right for the current speed, the system ignores the switching signal. This saves materials and money.
“You can trust the car’s reaction.”
– José Ribeiro –
The racing writers, or rather, the writing racers, were unanimous in their praise of the brake system of the Astra TCR. The six-piston brake system with the giant, internally ventilated 378 millimeter discs on the front axel offers reliable and effective stopping power for the 1,285 kilogram touring car. At the Nürburgring complex, this is especially noticeable at the end of the start/finish line, when the racecar is in sixth gear doing over 210 km/h and has to be slowed to an urban speed.
Portuguese journalist José Ribeiro praises the overall concept of the Astra TCR: “I consider myself a gentleman driver and can honestly say that from the very first moment I felt good and was able to increase my speed gradually. You can count on the car’s reaction. This is very important in my country, because the sports regulations of the Portuguese TCR series mandate a one-hour race in which two drivers share a single car. Experience has shown that one of them usually pays for the car and then looks for a very fast professional as a team partner. And they both have to be able to drive the car well. The Astra TCR is an excellent car for an excellent racing series.”
Jörg Petersen, a Swiss resident of German extraction, even speaks of “good-naturedness personified”: “The Astra TCR corners very straightforwardly and has no unpleasant surprises in store. It does what you expect it to do. And it offers a genuine driving experience without electronic driving aids. So it really does challenge you behind the wheel.” Stefan Ziegler, a German journalist relatively new to racecar driving, still managed to drive fast from the outset and was simply blown away: “As a beginner I had the feeling I could control the car well within my own limits – except where starting is concerned. As a trade journalist, being able to operate a vehicle like this myself opens up new horizons. It shows you how hard a racecar driver has to work, and how intensely focused you have to be at every moment to keep from messing up. And then you climb into the racing taxi with Jasmin and realize: This car really has a lot more to offer.”
SO HOW WAS IT THEN, JOCKEL?
Opel’s brand ambassador Jockel Winkelhock isn’t about to miss a chance to take a spin in the Astra TCR
With so many journalists singing the car’s praises, it’s no wonder that lead driver Jockel Winkelhock eventually declared that, while the Astra K series is no doubt a fantastic car, he would very much like to see the racecar from the perspective of the cockpit rather than the rearview mirror. If time permits, that is. And because no one wants to refuse a request from a former Le Mans winner, and since the opinions of a motorsports legend are far from irrelevant when a touring car is in the middle of
its development phase, Opel’s brand ambassador was soon strapping himself into the Astra TCR. So how was it then, Jockel? “Terrific! The Astra TCR has everything a racecar needs. On the one hand, the car handles very neutrally and does nothing stupid when its limits are reached. It responds very well to the driver and is incredibly fun to drive. These are all features that are very important for a customer sports vehicle. On the other hand, it lacks technical gimmicks such as ABS and traction control, which make things easier for the driver. I’m fully convinced that this car will separate the wheat from the chaff. And that’s how it should be!”