The first-ever season of the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup got underway in May 2022 with its inaugural event on the streets of Pau Ville for the Infinite Reality Race FR.
Taking place as part of the Pau Motors Festival – Grand Prix de Pau, the event was one with impressive history yet most certainly looking to the future, with the competitive debut of the innovative FIA ETCR a particular highlight.
Testing had given some clues as to the level of competition between the three contenders, but now the shift got real. As well as all the challenges of new technology at the start of a new season, with a new format for the new FIA-status for the series, it was the added challenge of a street course with harsh, barriers the counter for any exceeding of track limits.
It was CUPRA EKS driver Mattias Ekström who was the man of the moment at the end of the first day of action, with the winner of FIA ETCR’s predecessor PURE ETCR title not putting a wheel wrong all day as he proceeded through the day’s qualifying and Quarter Final sessions in his Pool FURIOUS group to end the day with 35 points, eight ahead of nearest Pool FURIOUS rival, Mikel Azcona (Hyundai Motorsport N).
Come Sunday, the sun truly shined down Ekström as he was crowned King of the Weekend after a near-flawless display from the Swede, indeed his only faux pas over the weekend was reversing in the pit lane, for which he coped a fine from the Stewards.
The weekend showed that for the first round at least, CUPRA EKS had stolen a march on their rivals, with Ekström’s CUPRA EKS team-mate Adrien Tambay impressing all weekend with his approach and aptitude at a track he loves to take second in the weekend standings.
In fact, it was a CUPRA coup for the premier weekend podium of the season as third in the standings was Tom Blomqvist who impressed all weekend but was a victim to Tambay off the line from his morning Semi Final pole and finished behind Tambay in the Super Final, withstanding constant pressure from Romeo Ferraris man, Maxime Martin.
Elsewhere, there was work to do.
The first non-CUPRA finisher was Hyundai Motorsport N’s Mikel Azcona who tried his hardest to take the fight to former team-mate Ekström in the final and left Pau seven points adrift of Blomqvist.
Bruno Spengler was the top Romeo Ferraris driver, enjoying great Battles and winning his Semi Final heat. His team-mate Maxime Martin also adapted well to the series, also on his debut.
Hyundai Motosport N’s Jean-Karl Vernay wasn’t able to have home glory thanks to his Saturday disqualification from his Quarter Final due to an incorrect power setting, but was to be involved in the biggest and most controversial incident of the weekend when he clashed with Romeo Ferraris’ Luca Filippi in an incident which retired the Giulia from the rest of the day, denying Giovanni Venturini the opportunity to compete in his DHL Super Final.
The incident was adjudged to require no further action from the Stewards despite the fury expressed by the Romeo Ferraris squad.
The Pau Motors Festival, of which Infinite Reality Race FR was an element, saw over 100,000 people visit the charismatic city of Pau on the northern edge of the Pyrénées in south-west France.
“A dream result finishing 1,2,3 on our first weekend with CUPRA EKS,” said Ekström afterwards.
“Adrien and Tom did a perfect job the whole weekend as well. There can only be one winner for sure and I’m happy that it’s me. But I would also be happy for the others and to get maximum points put us in a strong situation to start off the season like this.
“I also have to say it was very hard Super Final and a big fight with Mikel. I know him from last year when he was my team-mate, so it feels like racing my little brother who I gave all the tricks last year and now had to eat them! And yeah, he was very fair, but we all pushed very hard. In the end I look forward to more great Battles as there’s lots of racing left this year.”