After a close season-long battle with Romeo Ferraris, Hyundai Motorsport N was able to edge further ahead of their rival to secure second place in the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup final standings after the final event, Race DE at Sachsenring, where Norbert Michelisz finished his season with a King of the Weekend podium.
Michelisz emerged as the lead Hyundai Motorsport driver despite the pace and potential of Mikel Azcona, who entered the weekend as a King of the Season contender but endured a weekend of penalties and frustrations.
In what was his strongest weekend of the season, Michelisz claimed third place from the weekend at a circuit he’d never seen before, and one which firmly became a new favourite.
The Hungarian began the event with the second fastest lap in Qualifying for Pool FURIOUS to gain a place in Quarter Final 1. From second place, he deployed his Power Up in the final corner in a bid to snatch the lead, only to lose out in a drag race to the finish line. An eventful Semi Final 1 saw him cross the line in second to net a front row start for the DHL Super Final. Michelisz went on to challenge the leader for position on several occasions in the final race, finishing second to claim his first FIA ETCR podium.
“It was a very solid race weekend – probably my best of the season, and it’s always nice to finish the year like this,” said Michelisz.
“It was a season mainly about learning and adapting myself to this new challenge, and I enjoyed every moment. We had some really tough ones, but I really feel now we are at the end that this is the best version of me as a driver. It’s always the most important thing for me to finish a year in this way. I’m very happy with the podium, I think I deserved it this weekend. I didn’t make mistakes and the pace was good. I really hope this journey will continue.”
For Azcona it was a far more difficult and frustrating weekend. Despite being second fastest in his Qualifying, the Spaniard was disqualified for a technical infringement on his car, which had been caused by damage after the Spaniard ran wide off the circuit during one of his runs. This demoted him to Quarter Final 2, where an intense race ensued.
Running in second, Azcona battled with Luca Filippi for position on the final lap, running wide in the downhill section, nudging his rival off-line and passing the Italian for first moments later. Whilst he took the chequered flag on track, but a post-race time penalty meant he was classified second. This placed him in Semi Final 2, where he claimed a victory to secure fourth place on the DHL Super Final grid.
Although Azcona was raring to fight hard in the last race, he had no Power Up boost and fell to last. He later gained a position to finish the weekend in fifth.
“Race DE in two words: bad luck,” mused Mikel. “It was a very difficult weekend for us, especially for me. I did an amazing lap in Qualifying but unfortunately after scrutineering, we were disqualified. That meant I was going into the races last in the standings, but I managed to win with my incredibly competitive car.
“Unfortunately my win in the Quarter Final was taken away from me, and what can I say about the Super Final. We were fighting for third in the championship, I came here on full attack and tried my best to secure it. However, even without Power Up, the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR was mega strong. If I had my boost, I think I could have won – I felt incredibly fast.”
In Pool FAST, Nicky Catsburg had shown initial promise in his first Qualifying run. However, he was battling against understeer in his second attempt and he set the fifth fastest time overall. In Quarter Final 2, a good launch saw Catsburg able to take advantage of Maxime Martin running wide at the first corner, and he manoeuvred his way into the lead of the race. Despite some contact between the two, he was able to stay ahead and cruise to a comfortable victory.
An eventful Semi Final 1 saw him battle hard with Mattias Ekström from start to finish; he ultimately had to settle for third. His weekend ended in heartbreak in the Super Final; after a fantastic move up to second place midway through the race, Catsburg and Martin made contact, sending the Veloster N ETCR sideways and dropping him down the order to last.
“It has been a very cool weekend, as always in FIA ETCR, with a bit of a bitter ending,” said the Dutchman.
“I got pushed off in the last lap of the Super Final when I was running in a second place finish, but it wasn’t meant to be. The racing is tough here. Sometimes we push others and sometimes they push us back, but that one in the Super Final was a bit over the limit. Unfortunately, it ended our race but I must say, I really enjoyed the event and I hope to be back in the future. Overall, I’m feeling very positive, in the end what happened today is what it is, but personally I am a big fan of this championship. I love it.”
After a disappointing Qualifying, Jean-Karl Vernay lined up alongside Catsburg in Quarter Final 2. Soon after his team-mate had overtaken the car ahead, Vernay was able to follow him through into second place. Although he was later passed on-track, Vernay regained the position following a penalty for Martin, securing a Hyundai Motorsport 1-2 finish.
Vernay initially lost ground to his competitors in Semi Final 2 and dropped to third until a fantastic move in the run down to turn eight helped him fight back up to second place. From fifth, Vernay made up ground in the Super Final and was running in fourth behind his team-mate by the third lap. Unfortunately, contact earlier in the race had caused damage to his Hyundai Veloster N ETCR, and he struggled to defend from the cars behind. He fell to back of the field and went on to finish fifth following Catsburg’s incident.
“Race DE has been like this year in general; really tough from beginning to end,” said J-K. “I had some issues and made a mistake in Qualifying. The Quarter Final and Semi Final were pretty good, and I made a great start in the Super Final. Unfortunately, I was hit from behind, which destroyed my rear tracking, and then the car was really hard to drive. I wasn’t able to help Nicky and it basically ended my race, so I am disappointed with the weekend. It is a shame because after Qualifying the car was really good and I enjoyed just racing here. The track is super nice and a lot of fun; we were really strong in the races.”
With second place in the standings secured and strong pace and potential displayed from the Veloster N ETCR once more, it was a happy Hyundai Motorsport N squad that left Sachsenring.
“It is fantastic to finish the year in second overall as a team and with another King of the Weekend podium,” said Stefan Ph. Henrich, Hyundai Motorsport Director of Marketing and PR.
“Norbert was on excellent form this weekend, and all of our drivers demonstrated the improved pace of the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR at Race DE. We have shown steady progress throughout the season, as we worked hard behind the scenes to extract the maximum potential and competitiveness from our package. Once again, we were very much in the mix for wins in the Quarter, Semi and Super Finals here in the Sachsenring. We would have loved to have finished the year with more, but we kept on fighting until the very last chequered flag in FIA ETCR.”