Twice a winner en-route to third overall in the 2021 PURE ETCR standings, Azcona’s arrival at Hyundai Motorsport came with high expectations of a title challenge in the inaugural FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup.
Azcona was only driver to switch manufacturers after ending his long association with the SEAT/CUPRA brand in favour of a move to Hyundai Motorsport N where he made his mark the squad’s most competitive entry as its highest-placed driver in five of the six events.
Kicking the season off on the streets of Pau, Azcona’s 2022 ETCR campaign began with a literal bang in the Quarter-Final following a tangle with Romeo Ferraris driver Giovanni Venturini on the narrowing run down to the first turn.
With the right-front of Venturini’s Guilia ETCR snagging on the rear-left of the Hyundai just ahead, the glancing clip left both cars crabbing into an early retirement with suspension damage.
Thereafter though, Azcona’s weekend would only get better, culminating in a run to a close second behind Ekström in his DHL Super Final and fourth overall in the King of the Weekend standings.
While the twisting Hungaroring – venue for Round 2 and RACE HU – would prove a challenge for lesser-suited Veloster ETCR package, Azcona dug deep to show fighting form from the off.
Though a mistake two corners from the flag denied him a victory in his Quarter-Final, Azcona responded with a convincing win in the Semi-Final, earning himself pole position for his DHL Super Final.
However, a sluggish getaway would nix hopes of a victory challenge, Azcona swamped by his rivals before reaching the first turn. With high temperatures putting pressure on the tyres, Azcona would be forced to settle for fourth at the flag, placing him fifth in the final weekend classification.
“The Super Final was difficult, I struggled much more than expected,” he lamented. “Coming from a very good Semi Final, the expectations were quite high but the track conditions changed a lot – it was super hot – and we struggled. I had wheelspin on the start, and from that point I lost positions. I tried to recover but I couldn’t do more than I did in the end.”
Round 3 in Jarama for RACE SP delivered a similar story, Azcona – keen to impress on home soil – leading the Hyundai charge into the DHL Super Final with victory in his Semi-Final.
Starting on the front row alongside pole man Ekström, the former team-mates would refuse to give an inch down to the opening turn but despite Azcona’s best efforts to hold his nerve on the outside of the Swede, he was forced to relinquish both the lead and second position to an opportunistic Maxime Martin.
Remaining third for the remainder of the race, it left Azcona fifth overall for the second event in succession.
Another competitive weekend next time out in Zolder would see Azcona collect a strong brace of points through the rounds, even if he would find himself rubbing up against Ekström once more in the Semi-Final with contact coming into the chicane.
He’d go on to enjoy a more serene experience in his DHL Super Final, taking the flag in second position for fourth in the final classification.
With Romeo Ferraris joining CUPRA EKS in the winners’ circle in Belgium, it left Hyundai as the only team without a victory to its name in 2022 heading to the penultimate round at Vallelunga.
However, that was all about to change as Azcona stepped up to dominate throughout and, collect a perfect haul of 100 points after topping qualifying, winning both his Quarter-Final and Semi-Final, before sprinting to a clear victory in the DHL Super Final.
“This is an incredible feeling,” said Azcona after the podium. “I have wanted to achieve this result with Hyundai Motorsport for a long time this season, and we have done it here in Vallelunga – the place where I took my first King of the Weekend crown.
“It is a very positive moment, we have made a good improvement as a team and maximised everything from the car.”
Lifting him to third in the overall standings heading to the Sachsenring RACE DE season finale, Azcona had come into the weekend bidding to end the season on a similar high, only to be brought down by frustrating issues.
Pushed onto the back foot early on when he was excluded from qualifying for a technical regulation breach – triggered by damage from a momentary off-track excursion – Azcona nonetheless fought back to collect a win in the Quarter-Final.
He looked to have doubled up with victory in the Semi-Final too when he took the flag first on the road, only for a time penalty – for a robust pass on Luca Filippi – to push him back to second.
The slew of issues would be compounded further come the DHL Super Final by starting with no Power Up to rely on in the DHL Super Final, Azcona was vulnerable to his performance boosted rivals, dropping to the back of the order early on, eventually finishing fifth on the road.
Consigning him to a disappointing eighth in the King of the Weekend classification, not only did it spoil his hopes of finishing every round as the top Hyundai rider, he was also leapfrogged by Tom Blomqvist and Maxime Martin in the overall standings, leaving him fifth.
Hyundai Motorsport N
Hyundai Veloster ETCR
5th – 408 points