He’s the King of WTCR after claiming the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup during the 2020 season showdown at MotorLand Aragón last November driving a Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR on Goodyear tyres.
Ahead of the 2021 title chase getting underway at WTCR Race of Germany from June 3-5, Frenchman Yann Ehrlacher, 24, talks fitness training, ice racing and finding ways to improve. He also reveals his liking rather than his loving of the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife, the world’s toughest race track and venue of the new season opener, plus a whole lot more.
With the countdown to the new season underway, how are you keeping sharp and in shape?
“I am training a lot on my bike, completing 250 kilometres per week. But when it’s too cold outside I have my home training machine so I can put my bike inside. I also use a cycling simulator so I can cycle with other guys, like Bebu [Néstor Girolami] and it’s quite fun. Soon we will start testing for the new season, trying to develop new things on the technical side. But on my side I’m mainly cycling and I’ll also be doing quite a lot of esports.”
Are you having to monitor your diet, something you took very seriously in the first lockdown?
“During the winter it’s always a little more difficult to keep a sharp line with your diet. When you finish the season, you enjoy yourself a bit and take on two or three kilograms. But since the end of January, I come back to a normal diet and my full training and I am now in a normal routine again.”
Does skiing ever form part of your training schedule or is that off limits because of the risks?
“I was skiing since I was three years old and I loved it but it’s far too dangerous [when you are racing]. It’s easy to have an accident yourself but it’s not easy to manage another guy who might not have the right skill or talent. So, since I started racing I stopped skiing.”
How important was your participation in the Trophée Andros, how can it help you?
“It’s good for the skills and keeps you sharp and active during the winter. It’s not like WTCR races but you have a start, you have qualifying and driving in those slippery conditions is quite interesting and makes you more confident to drive when you have to adapt yourself. I’m not sure I would have had such a good result at the Nürburgring Nordschleife if I didn’t have the experience of this series so it’s definitely a good thing.”
You drove for your uncle Yvan Muller’s team, were you happy with your Trophée Andros season?
“He’s a really good team boss and we had a good season. It was a bit difficult at the end with some technical stuff, but we did a lot of podiums and we won a race. We didn’t win the championship and when you start winning championships you are always a bit sad when you don’t win.”
Does winning the WTCR title once give you the belief that you can continue your success?
“I don’t want to continue my success, I just want to win more, that’s it. When you win once you realise it’s possible, so definitely you think about being champion again. But then there is a lot of things to put together to be a champion and you think about all these things. Because you realise it’s possible it makes it a bit easier to think about it and to look forward trying to be champion again.”
Will the pressure to defend your title be more than winning the title in the first place?
“The pressure is more on myself. When you do a good year, you are always scared to do a little bit less the next year. If I have some pressure it’s because I want to deliver a bit more than what I did last year. My only target is to be satisfied with the work I do and I don’t have any pressure from what the others will think about if I am champion or not because I was once. It’s just from my side that I am happy about what I am delivering.”
Having won the title, how can you deliver more?
“There were a few mistakes. Even if we won the championship there was maybe one race or another we could have won and I did some mistakes during the qualifying. Sure, you cannot have more than winning the title. Okay, I didn’t get the most victories during the season so I was a bit disappointed about this, but in the end, the main thing was to win the title. Now I want more in terms of just maximising my chance and my work to be sure everything is done in the proper way. Even if we won there were a couple of mistakes I don’t want to do again.”
You didn’t claim a DHL Pole Position in 2020. Is qualifying an area you need to improve?
“Yes, exactly, that’s one of the things I want to optimise, being a bit more pointy on putting a full lap together with all the sectors. That’s one of the things I want to improve.”
Do you think your lack of experience contributed to some of the mistakes you mention − you’re still only 24 and were a late starter compared to some of your rivals?
“I think so it can come by experience, it can come with a bit of confidence. At this level, it’s not easy to put the perfect lap together. Sometimes when you want to do a pole in WTCR you need a good car for that weekend and make sure everything is properly right when you see the gaps between every car are so small. That’s something I have to focus on. I was doing progress during the season but at the end of the year in Aragón, when you were thinking more about the championship than anything else, we finished qualifying in P2 with quite a lot of pressure. It was maybe the best qualifying I did so I want to keep going with this momentum.”
Your title defence is due to begin at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, regarded as the world’s toughest race track. Are you excited or apprehensive about that prospect?
“It doesn’t matter, everyone will do a bit of testing and be back in the car on a normal track before they go there. We will do some simulator work and we can go there with our road car to check the track a little bit just to accommodate a little bit the speed and all that the Nürburgring Nordschleife is. For me, there’s no problem with this. At some point, we will all know the track and the cars.”
Having won there on the back of a great performance in difficult conditions, does that give you the extra confidence that you can win again?
“Exactly, it’s a track I kind of like but you can’t say you complete like this track unless you lie or are not going fast enough. I am quite confident when I am driving there. I like the fact it’s a narrow track with fast corners where if you are brave you can go quick.”
You mentioned at the start there are things to develop on the technical side but what exactly can you improve on the Lynk & Co 03 TCR, given the success it has achieved?
“Some bits you can improve and bit by bit everything makes some tenths. Yes, the car looks good but even if the car is quick we keep working all the time because at some point we will get some weight and we will have to compensate with less power, things like this. We need good tools on our side to go quicker and with the engineer, we have had all the winter to think about things and there are always things you can improve.”
How important is racing online and will you do more Esports WTCR events this year?
“Actually, last year I did a lot, but the lockdown helped a bit do this because I was always home. As a racing driver, it’s not normal to have so much time at home. But I could spend two or three hours every day on the sim, especially on RaceRoom where we could drive our car against other WTCR drivers. It was good preparation because you had the pressure of the qualifying and the races. The RaceRoom game is good because the car modelling is really accurate and it’s a good option to prepare for the new season.”