Changing from the all-conquering CUPRA squad to the Hyundai Motorsport fold for the transition from PURE ETCR to the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup this year, Mikel Azcona is uniquely placed to give his view on the 2022 season.
Azcona made history at Vallelunga in 2021 by winning the inaugural PURE ETCR event and was the first two-time ETCR King of the Weekend, finishing in third spot in the overall standings last year.
Currently in third in this year’s standings with one round to go and with a mathematical chance of taking the Drivers’ title, Azcona gives his opinion on his season so far.
How would you rate your 2022 season to date?
It’s been a very progressive FIA ETCR – eTouring Car World Cup season, coming from difficult weekends to finish fastest in Vallelunga. I think I have adapted very well this season to a new car, new team, new manufacturer. At the beginning it wasn’t an easy change and I think we suffered in the first events trying to improve the car in a very short time, but I have to say after the last few rounds, all of us – the team, my team-mates – we are doing a very good job and we are ready for more success. The good progress and improvement over this year helped us to get our first King of the Weekend crown at the Race IT.
What have been the highlights?
For me, the highlight has to be Vallelunga. We won every session from Free Practice to the Super Final, we were the quickest of the weekend – which in the high temperatures wasn’t easy! A few cars were suffering with the tyres but we were the only ones who survived and did a proper set-up on the car that maintained our super-fast pace. This was a very good highlight, especially as last year in the first event in PURE ETCR, I was the King of the Weekend there as well. To repeat it this year with a different manufacturer and different car was something very special.
What has been more challenging?
The most challenging moment was in Zolder. I suffered a lot and it was very tough for me personally after being very quick in Free Practice and jumping into Qualifying the next day and both my attempts were deleted after I over-braked and missed the chicane. It was difficult for me to analyse this because we had such good pace the day before, and then all of a sudden I was last. It’s true we recovered a lot after this in the Quarter and Semi Finals. It was also a challenging fight with Mattias as well; he pushed me to the limit, and battling with the other drivers wasn’t easy either.
How does FIA ETCR compare with its PURE ETCR predecessor?
For sure, having the FIA supporting us as a series is fantastic. It’s growing in popularity and has become a really professional competition. In terms of safety, they are taking good care of us – especially as it is the first time a lot of us are competing with this new technology and the different incidents that we might come across as a driver in an electric car. We have done a lot of training on safe extrication, and as a driver it really makes your life easier and you are more relaxed.
Meet Mikel Azcona
How different is it racing against your various rivals? (there’s a big mix of background and experience in the series.)
It’s very difficult; the driver level is so high this year. Bruno Spengler, Maxime Martin, Adrien Tambay, Tom Blomqvist, all of these drivers are coming from very high level GT3, DTM, and WEC categories. As a driver it is making FIA ETCR even more competitive – and entertaining – but to win is even more difficult this year. We had a few drivers always competing for the top results in PURE ETCR but this season we are much closer, so it’s not easy when you are fighting against such world class drivers! The way they defend their position or attack you, they are so good. They put you onto your last limit. Sometimes you are learning a lot from these drivers – sometimes you lose, sometimes you win – but for me as a driver it’s very good to have these conditions because you improve every day. When you have tough races and you win, it’s a good feeling and you and the team really enjoy the moment. You never want to lose and when you do, but when I do I still improve and learn a lot. That’s a really good aspect of this year. I’m really growing as a driver.
Azcona vs Spengler
Azcona vs Spengler…. again
What’s your approach heading into the season finale?
As it’s the last race of the year, I want to make sure we finish in third. If we are realistic, second is a bit out of our reach and we would have to take a lot of risks to gain that position and you might end up losing it. My goal is to bring home that third place and I will defend it hard. We have seen that Maxime has been very competitive in the last few weekends and he will be the man we have to beat – and lose as little as possible to.