Jean-Karl Vernay charged into the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup with his sights set on upgrading silver into gold for 2022 ending the previous year as runner-up in the predecessor PURE ETCR.
The Frenchman – a former IndyLights champion and Le Mans 24 Hours GT class winner – has carved himself a reputation as a master of the touring car discipline in more recent years, a transition that earned him the 2017 TCR International Series title and seven victories in the World Touring Car Cup.
After stints with Volkswagen, Audi and Alfa Romeo, his defection to Hyundai Motorsport in 2021 brought with it the chance to dovetail successful campaigns in both WTCR and ETCR, with Vernay steering his Elantra N TCR to third overall in the former and finishing a close runner-up to champion Mattias Ekström at the wheel of the Veloster N ETCR in the latter.
Indeed, with just four points separating him from the PURE ETCR throne in 2021, Vernay – the only familiar name in Hyundai Motorsport’s revised four-man line-up – began the 2022 ETCR season as a clear favourite to go one better this time around.
Even so, with a fresh weekend format to adjust to and the 2022 ETCR field replenished with a talented cast, Vernay had his work cut out to pick up from where he left off the previous year.
Things didn’t get off to a stellar start during the RACE FR opener on the streets of Pau, scene of Vernay’s one and only victory a season earlier.
After being disqualified from his Quarter-Final heat due to an incorrect power setting on his before a tangle with Luca Filippi during the Super Final cost him time and sent the Romeo Ferraris Giulia clouting the Armco.
Despite this, seventh in the final reckoning at the end of the weekend served as his best result from the first-half of the season, Vernay relegated to ninth overall during Round 2 at the Hungaroring after a spin during the DHL Super Final, before a turbulent weekend in Jarama for Round 3 pegged him to 11th at the conclusion.
“[In Hungary] after two laps we had a lack of speed and the other cars were able to come back and overtake me. I tried to fight but as soon as I touched him, I broke the rim and I spun, and that was the end of our race.
“Race SP was maybe my most difficult weekend of the season so far. This year, when you see the level of our competitors, there is such a small margin – there is no room for error.
“I was able to bounce back from a difficult Qualifying and finish all the races. Towards the end of the weekend, I was really starting to get comfortable with the circuit and the car felt great. We are definitely making good progress.”
A positive turn of fortunes come Round 4 in Belgium led to Vernay enjoying his strongest weekend of the year at Zolder, among his highlights topping the timesheets in Qualifying and taking the fight to the mighty CUPRAs in the Quarter-Finals, before shrugging off a poor start in the DHL Super Final to take a season’s best third at the flag.
“My weekend started and finished well with pole position and third place in the Super Final,” Vernay remarked. “I tried to be smart to learn what we could improve from the last races. We had a plan and we executed it very well.
“I am a bit frustrated because I had high expectations after my pole position in Qualifying but it was quite dirty on that side of the track, so we couldn’t use it to our advantage. Having said that, we learned a lot during the event and I feel I did the maximum I could, which I can be happy about.”
Placing sixth in the King of the Weekend reckoning, the result would hold firm as Vernay’s best of the season after the concluding Rounds 5 and 6 at Vallelunga and the Sachsenring could only yield a seventh and 11th in the final classification respectively.
It would leave Vernay unable to match the heights of his 2021 PURE ETCR campaign, ending the season eighth in the overall standings.
Hyundai Motorsport N
Hyundai Veloster ETCR
8th – 254 points