Hyundai Motorsport N departed Race BE, the fourth round of the 2022 FIA ETCR -eTouring Car World Cup, feeling positive with the potential it demonstrated around Circuit Zolder.
After setting the early pace in Free Practice, with three Hyundai Veloster N ETCR 1-2s across the four sessions, the team secured pole position in Pool FAST with Jean-Karl Vernay and ended the weekend celebrating second place for Mikel Azcona in Pool FURIOUS Super Final.
Azcona topped both Free Practice sessions in Pool FURIOUS, however both his qualifying attempts were disallowed for breaching the track limits. The Spaniard went on to win his Quarter Final with ease and progressed into the higher-scoring Semi Final on Sunday.
Although he was able to claim second place in the first corners of the race, contact on the second lap pushed him off the circuit and he fell to third place. His position was later reinstated after a post-race penalty for Mattias Ekström and he started the Super Final on the front row of the grid. From there, he made a good getaway off the line to maintain his place, and managed the challenge from behind to take the chequered flag in second.
“An intense and tough weekend at Race BE,” said Azcona. “On Friday I was feeling confident we would have a good event, having been fastest in Free Practice. The Hyundai Veloster N ETCR felt perfect. However then I made two big mistakes in Qualifying and it was very difficult for me to recover, but I have to say a big thanks to my team for helping me to fight at the front in the races. I felt very strong and I was able to battle with the other cars.
“We have definitely taken some steps forward this weekend. We came back fighting and recovered to second place in the Super Final, which is an amazing result. Now we have some good points in our pockets as we head into the next event.”
Nicky Catsburg continued his forward trajectory in the series at a very familiar circuit to him. He demonstrated good speed on Friday, finishing second in both Free Practice sessions. The Dutchman helped to secure a Hyundai Motorsport N 1-2 in the Pool Furious Quarter Final, finishing second behind Azcona. A comfortable victory in his Semi Final, where he finished almost 4.5-seconds ahead of the other competitors, saw him net fourth place on the Super Final grid. In the final race of the weekend, he challenged Ekström for third place, going door-to-door on several occasions, but was unable to pass and finished in fourth.
“Race BE was interesting, another steep learning curve for me. I would have loved to have won more than the Semi Final, just like I did in Race SP a few weeks ago, and do something in the Super Final but it wasn’t possible to achieve more today,” said Catsburg.
“We will keep pushing hard and focus on extracting the maximum from the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR to score more points in each event. I’m feeling very positive about the next races; the car was really strong, particularly in my Semi Final victory, and we are making improvements with every on-track session, so I feel really good.”
In his best points-scoring event of the season, Vernay set the fastest lap in his Pool’s Qualifying to claim pole position for his Quarter Final. A poor start dropped him down to second, although he regained the lead on the second lap with a timely use of his Power Up boost. However, Vernay was unable to keep the chasing CUPRAs behind and he fell back to third on the final lap. In Sunday morning’s Semi Final, he was unable to convert his second pole position into a win and had to settle for second place. From fifth on the Super Final grid, the Frenchman initially dropped to the back of the pack; undeterred, he soon got to work and successfully executed three overtakes to claim third place.
“My weekend started and finished well with pole position and third place in the Super Final,” sid Vernay. “I tried to be smart to learn what we could improve from the last races. We had a plan and we executed it very well. I am a bit frustrated because I had high expectations after my pole position in Qualifying but it was quite dirty on that side of the track, so we couldn’t use it to our advantage. Having said that, we learned a lot during the event and I feel I did the maximum I could, which I can be happy about.
“The team is working very hard and we improved throughout the weekend, so now we look forward to having a strong weekend in Vallelunga.”
Finally, Norbert Michelisz was fastest in the second Free Practice session on Friday but could only manage fifth fastest in Saturday’s Qualifying. After a good start in his Quarter Final, Michelisz was pushed wide and dropped down to third. While he was able to overtake and reclaim the position, he was pipped to second place in the final metres of the race. Wheelspin off the line in his Semi Final affected his launch, and the Hungarian finished the race in third. A great start in the Super Final saw Michelisz rise three places to third in the opening lap, although he was later passed by team-mate Vernay. He finished in a fine fourth.
“Finishing fourth in the Super Final was a positive end to Race BE,” said Michelisz “It was nice to have a strong race, as it’s one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend and I enjoyed it a lot inside my Hyundai Veloster N ETCR. I struggled at the beginning of the event in Qualifying and the Quarter Finals, but we improved as the weekend progressed and I was running in third place by the second lap of the Super Final.
“Now our focus is to ensure that we are fighting at the front from the very beginning of the remaining events of the season. The pace and potential is there, so I think we can be competitive in Italy later this month.”
With an overview, Hyundai Motorsport Director of Marketing and PR, Stefan Ph. Henrich gave his appraisal.
“Race BE was an incredibly close fight amongst all of the competitors and we were firmly in the mix for the top positions at Circuit Zolder,” he said. “We demonstrated that we have a strong package with the Hyundai Veloster N ETCR, with all of our drivers topping the classifications during the weekend’s sessions. Jean-Karl, Norbert and Nicky all gained positions in the drivers’ standings as a result of their efforts, while Mikel remains in the fight for the top-three. We look forward to returning to Vallelunga, where we made history with the first-ever PURE ETCR victory, in just a few days’ time and continuing this forward momentum.”