Despite the hot conditions experienced by all at the fifth round of the FIA ETCR eTouring Car World Cup at the Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi the CUPRA EKS squad emerged from the weekend well, even if they did face a few curveballs early on.
CUPRA arrived in Italy with a 202-point lead at the top of the manufacturers’ table – and left with a 247-point advantage – but the weekend could well have gone very differently as the squad which dominated so well in the early races faced stern challenges from the conditions and also rival squads Romeo Ferraris and Hyundai Motorsport N.
The CUPRA EKS team had to adapt to the extremely hot and challenging conditions, where the Vallelunga track temperature compromised grip levels. It was thanks to the collective hard work by the skilled engineers and mechanics in the CUPRA garage and the drivers out on track that once again saw the team get the very best performance out of its all-electric CUPRA e-Racer.
Mattias Ekström and Tom Blomqvist scored a magnificent 1-2 finish for the team in the Pool Furious DHL Super Final and Adrien Tambay and Jordi Gené netted a fantastic 2-3 result in the Pool Fast Super Final.
Ekström and Blomqvist accumulated enough points to take their place on the overall weekend podium, finishing second and third respectively.
ETCR points-leading driver Adrien Tambay was unlucky in his Pool Fast Qualifying race as a rear left puncture dropped him to third, but he bounced back to win his Semi Final to line up on Row 2 for the DHL Super Final, where, in a close and exciting race, he took the chequered flag in second position.
“Again a very great turnaround for me this weekend finishing second in the in the Super Final,” said Tambay. “Okay, it’s not a win like we did in the first four Super Finals, but still a very good points finish.
“I kind of smelt that the tyre punctures were close and we had the same temperature as yesterday when I had one. I preferred to take it very easy from the beginning and this is what happened to the others. Sometimes you know building a championship is about being clever and today we were we were on this side. So now we will look forward to attack again in the next round.”
Tambay still leads the ETCR drivers’ standings and is now just 14 points ahead of CUPRA team-mate Ekström and it was a hard-fought weekend for reigning ETCR champion who overcame some early issues by taking a more conservative strategy than normal – compromising a little on outright pace in search of the best overall performance package.
Ekström put his rallycross skills to good use with a high-speed trip over the baked grass in Qualifying and then battled extremely hard in his attempts to win his Pool Furious Quarter Final and Semi Final races, coming home a very close second and third respectively. The Swede kept his best until last, winning the Pool Furious Super Final.
“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. “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.”
Tom Blomqvist was super-quick in Qualifying, with a lap time of 1:19.7754 setting the early CUPRA benchmark. He challenged for victory in each race after that and won his Pool Furious Semi Final to line up on Row 2 for the DHL SuperFinal, where in a close and exciting race he followed team-mate Ekström home for a splendid CUPRA 1-2 finish.
“It’s a big shame not everyone could compete this weekend due to the issues with the tyres and so on,” said Blomqvist. “We had a few dramas early on but managed to adapt to the situation, which is the reason why Mattias and I finished on the podium here in Vallelunga and big credit goes to everyone in our team for that.”
Try as he might, Jordi Gené was left frustrated in his heroic attempts to overtake in both his Pool Fast Qualifying and Semi Final races as he finished third both times. Then, from the back of the grid, the Spaniard fought a brilliant DHL Super Final to finish third.
“Well happy after a bit of bad luck in qualifying and in the Semi Final,” said Gené “In the DHL Super Final this bad luck we had in the beginning turned into our favour, so I’m happy. I’m also happy because I had good pace all weekend. In qualifying my lap was 1/10 from from third position, which is means I was fast.
“In the Final I was also quite fast as I could follow well the group in front but I could not attack the guy I had just in front of me because he’s my team-mate and I had to protect him! But on the stand I managed to fight well with Filippi, overtake him, catch them up in front and be with them, so happy with my base happy with the result we had in CUPRA on that Super Final so all in all, let’s say it’s a good way to go on holidays.”