After taking its first Manufacturer and King of the Weekend crowns of the season at the fifth round of the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup, Race IT, Hyundai Motorsport N is determined to continue its winning ways.
Mikel Azcona was the man of the moment for the squad as he scored maximum points in every round at Vallelunga but there were strong performances from the other three Hyundai Motorsport N drivers as Nicky Catsburg and Jean-Karl Vernay secured a Hyundai Veloster N ETCR 1-2 in Pool Furious Quarter Final 2, with Norbert Michelisz taking victory in Pool Fast’s Quarter Final 2.
“In the blistering heat of Vallelunga, we worked hard to keep our cool and as a result, we’ve enjoyed our best result of the season yet,” said Hyundai Motorsport Director of Marketing and PR, Stefan Ph. Henrich.
“All of our drivers have been competitive this weekend as we chased that elusive first Manufacturer and King of the Weekend. The team has worked so hard to continue improving and maximising our potential, and it has paid off here at Race IT. It is a fitting return to the location of the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR’s first-ever victory, and now the target is to continue this form in the final events of the season.”
En route to being crowned King of the Weekend, Azcona demonstrated blistering pace from the first session of the weekend and went on to top the timesheets with both his Qualifying attempts in Pool Fast.
Starting from pole in Quarter Final 1, he briefly lost the position to Bruno Spengler at turn one but managed to successfully undercut at the fourth corner to regain the place. In an intense Semi Final, the Spaniard took his second victory of the weekend to claim pole position for the Super Final.
He was under pressure for the lead in the opening laps of the last race and was pushed wide into the gravel, but Azcona saw off the challenge to win the Super Final and top the King of the Weekend standings.
“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. I think we have plenty of opportunities ahead of us in the next events to fight for this result again. Thank you to my team for working so hard every single day – what an amazing weekend.”
Norbert Michelisz was third and fourth fastest in Qualifying, which resulted in a pole position for Quarter Final 2. He went door-to-door at the start but was able to keep his Hyundai Veloster N ETCR in front; he went on to cruise to a comfortable win to secure a place in Semi Final 1.
While putting pressure on Spengler for second place, he ran wide onto the gravel, resulting in a vibration on the car. He eased off for the remainder of the race to bring the car home in third. The Super Final ended in heartbreak for the Hungarian, who was running in second place behind Azcona at the midway point of the race, before a puncture brought an end to his progress and he finished down in fifth.
“It would have been my best-ever finish in an FIA ETCR Super Final, which is disappointing,” said Michelisz. “The car felt great so it is a real shame for us. This year I feel things are not really coming my way, but in my experience bad periods are often followed by good ones. While this is a bit more difficult at the moment, I’m confident better things are ahead of me. In the end we scored important points at Race IT, the car was competitive, so I leave Vallelunga with a good feeling and prepared for our next event.”
In Pool Furious, Nicky Catsburg was second in Qualifying 2, although his lap time was fourth fastest overall. This placed him in Quarter Final 2 with team-mate Jean-Karl Vernay. Together they brought home a 1-2 for the team, with Catsburg triumphing.
In Semi Final 1 on Sunday, he elected to slot into third off the line in a bid to mount a challenge for position later in the first lap. The Dutchman went door-to-door with Mattias Ekström and managed to pass him before the chicane sequence. He was hunting down first place in the final lap of the race, but had to settle for second at the chequered flag. In a brutal blow, Catsburg picked up a puncture in the final corners of the Super Final while leading comfortably, and he fell to the back of the field to fourth.
“The Super Final was a blemish on an otherwise positive weekend,” mused Catsburg. “I was leading quite comfortably and everything was going to plan. We saw a lot of punctures during the day so my plan was not to use any heavy kerbs, and it worked really well. I was managing the pace while maintaining the gap, but unfortunately with three corners to go until the chequered flag, it happened to me. I would have loved to win; I could have been second in the King of the Weekend standings, which would have been nice.”
Vernay meanwhile was fourth in both Qualifying sessions, although his best attempt was only fifth fastest overall, and he began Quarter Final 2 from the middle of the Starting Gate. He was involved in close on-track battles throughout, successfully seeing off a challenge from behind to finish second in the Quarter Final.
The Frenchman fought hard at the start of Semi Final 2 to move into first but was unable to pass the car ahead, and he had to settle for second. In the Super Final, he was fighting from start to finish with those in front of him and ultimately finished in third following his team-mate’s misfortune.
“Really happy for the team and Mikel,” said Vernay. “We had really good pace all weekend which was really satisfying. Overall it was a challenging weekend for me. When you have a difficult Qualifying it is quite difficult at this circuit as there are not many opportunities to overtake.
“My start in the final race was good, pace was there but to make the most of it you have to start at the front. There are still plenty of positives to take from Race IT – we have the car to fight at the front and for the King of the Weekend title.”
As a result of its triumphant weekend, Hyundai Motorsport N moved up to second in the Manufacturers’ standings whilst Azcona regained third place in the drivers’ title battle.