FIA World Touring Car racing makes its first appearance in North America this weekend at Sonoma, and Ford driver James Nash is confident the World Touring Car Championship can engage with American spectators.
Nash gained insight into the circuit, and the WTCC's possible reception, when he accompanied SEAT drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini to Sonoma's NASCAR race in June. The Briton is realistic about the timescale it will take for the WTCC to establish itself in America, but is adamant the move will be an astute one for championship.
"I think for WTCC it will be a slow burn," said Nash. "It will be two or three years before the crowds build, but certainly for me and Ford it is the sort of area we want to be in. It is ideal for us."
Despite the considerable differences between the series, Nash felt there were elements of NASCAR's presentation and promotion that the WTCC should aspire to emulate.
"Watching NASCAR as an event demonstrates what the WTCC should aim for, because it is a huge event," said Nash. "What the WTCC is doing with Twitter and social media should accelerate the process.
"There was a lot of interest for WTCC out there, but whether that translates into ticket sales I don't know. One thing America seems to be very good at – and I'm not sure if this is just NASCAR – is getting behind the whole thing and really supporting it.
"I just hope the interest that seemed to be there in June turns into actual spectator numbers."
Unlike NASCAR, the WTCC will use the infield section of Sonoma. The layout includes the Carousel chicane (Turn 7a), the motorcycling chicane (Turn 9a) and the final hairpin (Turn 11). The WTCC will run two sprint races of 13 laps each. British Touring Car series graduate Nash believes passing will be particularly hard-fought.
"I had a couple of laps and did get to see where the track went," said Nash. "It's a fantastic place and a good addition to the calendar. It will definitely provide good racing. It is quite an undulating track, but it looks fairly hard to overtake so it is likely to be a round where you have to force mistakes on others to overtake."
The touring cars are co-headliners for the Sonoma weekend with Auto GP. The WTCC races will air on SPEED on a delay basis Sunday night at 10:00 p.m.