At the end of the first season of the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup we asked the drivers from Hyundai Motosport N to rate the rounds of this season.
In their own words, Jean-Karl Vernay, Norbert Michelisz, Mikel Azcona and Nicky Catsburg talk through 2022.
Jean-Karl Vernay on Pau
I’ve always enjoyed racing in Pau. Pau-Arnos last year but the street circuit was something I really, really enjoyed. It was the first weekend of the year so we were full of expectations and energy after the long winter and we couldn’t wait for this moment. It started very well with a great pole position. It is a moment I will, for sure, remember from last year. It was a fantastic lap. I yelled inside the car, inside the helmet on my way back to the pits because I was so, so happy. After all the work over the winter it was the perfect move from our side to show that we were motivated and focused to do our best for the season.”
From there, there were a lot of ups and downs, but a lot more downs than ups. In the Quarter-Final after my pole position I won the race but we made a stupid mistake with the power mapping. It was the most difficult season of my whole career – even if we scored another pole in Zolder – and tried to fight hard to help the team, but if I need to remember something it would be my pole positions, especially in Pau in front of my crowd on a track I love. On a street circuit there’s always an opportunity for a driver to show his skills.
Norbert Michelisz on his home evening in Budapest
Hungaroring is always special for me, and even more so this year because of racing in FIA ETCR. The series was a new challenge, and I was very excited before my home race. It wasn’t an easy race weekend. Racing in both WTCR and ETCR the timetable was very tight, and I already knew from the event in Pau that it would take everything from my side to be competitive and I did my best. I hoped that my circuit knowledge would help compensate for the lack of ETCR experience I had at the time.
To be honest, I realised that the series was more difficult than I expected. It wasn’t a straight-forward weekend for me, but I still enjoyed every minute of it. I was a bit sad that, in terms of results, it was not my best event, but nevertheless the atmosphere and the support from the fans, even late in the afternoon on Sunday, made up for everything. Looking back, I still have to say it was one of the nicest moments for me – realising that even though I was at an early level in ETCR I still had all the support from the team and the fans.
Azcona on his home event in Jarama
I prepared really hard for the weekend. It was my home race weekend at my favourite circuit in Spain. I really like the old-school tracks, where it’s difficult to nail a perfect lap. It was a big challenge to drive the Veloster N ETCR, especially with not so much experience as it was the first time for the series racing there. I was full of confidence before the weekend and really motivated.
Free practice was not easy. We were pushing really hard and all the team were working together to make sure we were on the pace for the weekend. I qualified in third position in my Pool. The Quarter Final was probably my most aggressive drive in that round for the whole season as we wanted to keep in the first group for the Semi Final, not finish third to drop into the second group for the next round. With the other drivers in the race I had to attack hard, because their pace was really strong I knew I had to overtake them on the first lap. I think we saw some of the most on-the-limit overtakes of the year, which led to some intense highlights. Finally, we took the position with good moves and kept in the first Semi Final.
I wanted to beat Mattias the next day, but that weekend we didn’t quite have the pace and it wasn’t enough. In the DHL Super Final I really wanted to be on the King of the Weekend podium, but my group was very strong. I didn’t get a good start – I didn’t take the right line for turn 4, taking the outside line with Maxime on the inside so I wasn’t very lucky there. I wanted to attack the leaders, but didn’t have the speed to close the gap and we finished P5 for the weekend. I really wanted more – especially in Spain at my home track – but we still took positives from the weekend. We increased our speed every session and worked really we together as a team.
Catsburg on his home event in Zolder
The weekend was obviously quite nice for me, and it’s close to home and I had some friends and family there to support me. It’s not quite a home race, but it’s certainly one of the closest. I had my friend Alexander Sims come to the track – he had a good interest in ETCR, as he was still racing Formula E himself at the time, so it was nice to have him over. We were team-mates together with Tom Blomqvist in the past. The atmosphere in the ETCR paddock is nice. We all know each other well, so it’s nice to race against the same guys I’ve been team-mates with before. It was even good to see Maxime Martin win his home event, with his family on stage with him.
I set my personal goals to improve qualifying and be more aggressive in the braking zones. It’s quite difficult because the weekend format doesn’t give us much time to get to know each track and find the limits, so you have to push yourself. Unfortunately, with 500 kilowatts it was not easy and we didn’t get the result we wanted from qualifying. Then, as always seemed to be the case, the race went really, really well. On 300 kilowatts I always felt like I was one of the strongest out there and we managed to put in some good race, including winning the Semi Final.
For me Zolder was still early days in my ETCR season, but as a team I think we did a good job. We kept improving and laid the foundation for the future events and the strong results that were to come. It’s a very nice track to drive – you have to be very aggressive on the curbs. Interestingly you can hear them so much better, both in and out of the car, than with a car with an internal combustion engine before of all the noise.
Azcona on Vallelunga
This was the best weekend of the year – winning everything; Free Practice, Quarter Final, Semi Final, DHL Super Final. It wasn’t easy, even though I felt super quick and super comfortable on the track with the Veloster N ETCR, because we made some changes on the car and our competitors were very aggressive, and very quick as well. They didn’t make my life easy, especially Bruno Spengler; he was in the same Pool as me and was probably my biggest rival.
In the Semi Final he was going for the lead, and we had some contact before I claimed the position. That race was the most intense moment of the whole weekend. After the start, before the first corner, we had some quite hard contact side-to-side. He almost put me in the grass, but I wanted to keep the position – I was focused on the King of the Weekend honestly. I gave it everything. We won the DHL Super Final with no problems – the car was working fantastically.
It was a special weekend for all the team – mechanics, engineers, everybody involved in the project. We’d been waiting for that moment. I remember on the podium, I could see all the smiles of the people. It was a very nice recompense for all the hard work from the whole team since the beginning of the season, and that was the result. Good things are coming. I am sure.
Michelisz on success in Sachsenring
Sachsenring was my most successful weekend of the year, but the season went by so fast! While I was on the track walk there I realised it was probably the fastest season – in terms of races passing by – that I’d ever had. It was a very tight season, but I still left that I had a lot of energy left, and a lot of goals to achieve in Germany. Because of that I was very motivated and looking to get a good result.
Straight away I realised that I really enjoyed driving the circuit. It’s a special track, it’s very difficult. Qualifying went above expectations – I was very close to the fastest time, and then being the first group in the Pool always makes things a bit easier to score good points. Also internally this was a race weekend where I felt I was at the right level of pace compared to the other drivers. Sometimes I was even a bit faster which gave me a lot of confidence.
From the first moment Sachsenring was a very good weekend. I never made any mistakes, which is never easy in ETCR. I really felt that all the work I’d done this season, together with the team helping to develop the car and helping me to improve my driving, clicked and this was the key to get on the podium. It was fantastic achievement. I was looking forward to this moment since the beginning of the season and I’m very happy that I got to reach it Germany.