As 2022 comes to its conclusion, we have a look back over the historic first season of FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup and its first title winners, CUPRA EKS and Adrien Tambay.
Taking place over six events from May to September, the season wasn’t as straight forward and anybody would have wanted with the legacy of the pandemic proving problematic for particular reasons as the calendar schedule was modified over the course of the year.
This gave teams – particularly the logistics and travel organisers – an added challenge along the way but throughout the season CUPRA EKS proved dominant, with drivers Adrien Tambay, Mattias Ekström, Tom Blomqvist and Jordi Gené all having their moments of glory.
Here’s the round-by-round recap of the season.
Pow in Pau!
With the historic and picturesque racing venue of Pau Ville as the backdrop, Mattias Ekström got his FIA ETCR campaign off to a fantastic start at Infinite Reality Race FR as CUPRA EKS ruled the roost at the season-opener by taking the top three positions after two thrilling DHL Super Finals.
The sun shined down on Pau as Ekström was crowned King of the Weekend after a near-flawless display from the winner of the FIA ETCR’s predecessor PURE ETCR. Indeed, Ekström’s only faux pas over the weekend was for reversing in the pit lane for which he coped a fine from the Stewards.
The Swede powered through Saturday’s Qualifying sessions with the top time in both Q1 and Q2 of his Pool FURIOUS then won his Quarter Final with ease as his rivals clashed. Sunday dawned cool and humid and despite both earlier Pool FAST pole-sitters in the Semi Finals losing their advantage off the line, Ekström found no issue from his pole and cruised to a win whilst the action took place behind him.
Second in the standings over the weekend was Ekström’s CUPRA EKS team-mate Adrien Tambay in Pool FAST, who impressed all weekend with his approach and aptitude at a track he loves. Tambay was perfection off the line in his morning Semi Final and won his DHL Super Final in peerless fashion as behind him things didn’t go quite so well as Battles ensued.
Third in the standings was another CUPRA driver, 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 driver Maxime Martin.
“A dream result finishing 1,2,3 on our first weekend with CUPRA EKS,” summed-up Ekström at the end of the weekend.
“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. 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!”
Hungary for More
Appetites for action were no less diminished come Hungary for Race HU at the Hungaroring with Tambay taking the initiative, despite a bit of rough and tumble with team-mate Blomqvist over the course of the weekend.
CUPRA EKS extended its lead at the top of the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup Team-Manufacturer standings after Tambay won the DHL Pool Furious SuperFinal and was crowned King of the Weekend to take the lead in the drivers’ standings – with team-mate Mattias Ekström only two points behind.
It wasn’t all plain sailing however, as the first Pool FURIOUS Quarter Final had seen Tambay and team-mate Blomqvist make contact from which Tambay was able to recover, Blomqvist less-so.
“The DHL Super Final was amazing,” said Tambay at the end of the weekend.
“I had to make ground following my mistakes from the day before and I put a bit of pressure on myself because I wanted to reward the team for all their hard work with a good result.
“I knew the CUPRA e-Racer was very quick around the Hungaroring and that I had to have a trouble-free SuperFinal. I started from second on the grid and I knew I had to take the lead early which I did after the first two corners. Plan A worked.”
The Reign in Spain
Ekström bounced back for the third round to be crowned King of the Weekend in a thrilling Race SP at Circuito Madrid Jarama-RACE at an event of extreme heat, bracing winds and electrifying action.
Ekström stood on the top step as King, flanked by Tambay and local hero Jordi Gené in a dream weekend for the Spanish manufacturer, with the narrative playing out in front of CUPRA CEO President and CEO, Wayne Griffiths and guests at their home event.
Whilst Ekström won the Pool FURIOUS DHL Super Final, the Pool FAST one went to hitherto points leader and Budapest King of the Weekend, Tambay. For Gené, it was a return to form at a track he knows so well, with the Spaniard setting the weekend’s fastest race lap and winning his Quarter Final.
“It was a super successful weekend,” confirmed Gené.
“We had a super good qualifying, our car had very good pace, even with the really tough conditions because of the heat – but it’s a Spanish car so it adopted well to the high temperatures – and in fact everything worked really well here.
“The proof of that is that there are three CUPRA drivers here on the podium at the end of the day.”
Bolder in Zolder
Spoiler alert: CUPRA EKS did not propel the King of the Weekend for the first time of the year, however they did score more than their rivals in the Team-Manufacturer standings to build a fast-becoming unsurmountable lead in the standings for Race BE at Zolder Circuit.
Whilst Romeo Ferraris and local-hero Maxime Martin were to the fore in the ascendency to King, it was still a strong weekend for Tambay and Blomqvist who finished on the podium in second and third position respectively.
“Zolder is a very technical circuit and, as we had anticipated, it posed many challenges for the team,” explained CUPRA Racing’s Head of Technical Development, Xavi Serra.
“Due to the low grip on the track and the demanding braking, we had to work hard to find a good pace.”
Victorious in Vallelunga
If Belgium was a challenge, then Italy was the same, but more. With once more extreme heat at an unforgiving circuit all the teams had a challenge and for the first – and only – time this season CUPRA EKS would not win the round as Hyundai Motorsport N and Mikel Azcona navigated the challenges to score a memorable victory for the German-based Korean team.
Yet, even though it was their lowest scoring weekend, and even though they didn’t know it at the time – with the remainder of the calendar yet to be announced at that stage – CUPRA EKS left the Italian round of FIA ETCR with what would become an unbeatable lead in the title race.
It was a race weekend where their rivals looked strong – with both Romeo Ferraris and Hyundai Motorsport N seeming to manage better with the unique challenges presented by the Italian track than CUPRA. CUPRA were given a gift – as if they needed one – after the retirement from the event of Romeo Ferraris after Bruno Spengler’s dramatic smash.
This scenario enabled Hyundai Motorsport to leapfrog the Italian cars in the standings, but the crucial number was that CUPRA EKS left the round with a 247 lead in the standings – enough to be overcome by their rivals if there were two more rounds to come; insufficient if a solitary event would be announced as the calendar culmination.
In the drivers’ standings, Ekström and Blomqvist accumulated enough points to take their place on the overall weekend podium, finishing second and third respectively, meaning Ekström was edging closer with a mere 14 points separating the duo leaving Italy.
“We had a little bit of early issues, so we tried to be conservative and took a strategy for this which for sure cost us a bit of pace,” explained Ekström after the event.
“But we had to drive smart, because it felt like we had a lot of energy going into the tyres, so it wasn’t always best to be flat-out all the time. When you have very hot days like this you just have to try the best you can.”
Tambay takes it in Sachsenring
The season-finale of the 2022 FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup would be played out at Germany’s Sachsenring for Race DE over the weekend of September 24-25.
With the FIA ETCR calendar confirmed as being six rounds – not seven – with the announcement coming after the Vallelunga round, it was now a fait accompli for CUPRA EKS as title winners in the Teams-Manufacturers standings, but all focus would be on the battle between Tambay and Ekström to see who would be crowned the first-ever FIA ETCR King of the Season.
Even though the Team-Manufacturer title was secured, it was the most dominant weekend for CUPRA EKS, with Tom Blomqvist taking his turn to be crowned King of the Weekend as the squad registered its greatest points haul of the season with 200 on the board to be, once more, the winning team from the weekend.
“Perfect weekend for me so I’m really happy,” said Blomqvist. “It didn’t start great as I was a bit off the pace, but anyway it was then three clean races for me where everything kind of went to plan. For me personally it was a great way to end the season.”
Tambay meanwhile proved faultless in his ascension to the season throne, winning his Pool Furious Quarter, Semi-Final and DHL Super Final to increase his end of season total to an unbeaten 535 points.
Fourteen points behind coming into the event, Ekström was unable to overhaul his team-mate but was nevertheless happy with the success from his squad.
“To secure a one two three in FIA ETCR is pretty awesome,” said Ekström “I’m very happy for the team, this weekend was so good. I enjoyed all my races with some beautiful battles; very, very intense and very close. I’m very happy for Tom as well, as he had a perfect weekend.”
For Xavi Serra, the success of 2022 was a reflection of all the hard work behind the scenes for CUPRA.
“We achieve a lot, probably the maximum we could do, with the icing on the cake being not only taking both titles, but finishing with the top three places in the drivers’ standings too,” he said.
For Tambay, it was a hard-fought World Cup title.
“After the first race in Pau Ville I knew that I could win if we were consistent and didn’t make any mistakes,” he said.
Tambay gave praise to his father, former Formula 1 driver, Patrick Tambay, who was to sadly pass away late in the year, after Adrien had taken his title.
“He always gave me good advice, first as a father, but also as a driver,” said Adrien.
“I started driving really early, when I was just five years old, and when you’re young you don’t usually pay much attention to what your parents tell you. But in the end, it’s stayed with me all this time in my head and I see that now I put all his advice into practice every time I get behind the wheel.”