BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s new-for-2022 recruit heads title chase into home event
Spanish star on top form having won at WTCR Race of Hungary last weekend
Girolami 10 points behind after four races, Guerrieri and Urrutia also firmly in contention
King of WTCR Ehrlacher gaining ground in bid for his third FIA World Touring Car title
Wide-open action in store: No driver has won at WTCR Race of Spain more than once
Huff to defend WTCR Trophy points advantage in temperatures nearing 40 degrees centigrade
The heat will be on when MotorLand Aragón hosts the fourth weekend of the action-packed 2022 WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup season from June 25-26 with the ambient temperature expected to peak just below 40 degrees centigrade.
And while the searing heat will challenge the teams and volunteer marshals working trackside, temperatures onboard the Goodyear-equipped TCR cars from Audi, CUPRA, Honda, Hyundai and Lynk & Co are expected to top 60 degrees centigrade, making WTCR Race of Spain not only a test of speed but also physical and mental endurance.
With a 10-point advantage in the provisional standings, home hero Mikel Azcona is the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader after wins at Circuit de Pau-Ville last month and at the Hungaroing just last week at the wheel of his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse-run Elantra N TCR.
Azcona’s success in Race 1 in Hungary was his fifth since he stepped up to the WTCR in 2019 as the winner of the TCR Europe title. The result has helped to put him in a position that he hadn’t imagined would have been possible heading into the 2022 campaign.
“If I am honest I did not expect [to be leading] because we all know how tough the WTCR is and how difficult it is to be in front,” said Azcona, who turns 26 on Qualifying day at MotorLand Aragón. “But with the change to Hyundai Motorsport and BRC, the expectations before the beginning of the year were better than in previous years because we already saw that the Hyundai cars were very competitive, and I was saying to myself I had a better chance to be in the top positions. But to be leading is just incredible, it’s the first time I am leading a world series and it’s giving me extra boost. I’m very happy, very excited and very motivated to work and keep going on this line.”
While Azcona’s team-mate Norbert Michelisz has yet to hit the form that carried him to the 2019 WTCR title, Azcona has excelled since he swapped CUPRA for Hyundai technology. Spanish brand CUPRA helped to make Azcona a star and powered him to three of the five WTCR race wins he’s taken to date but its focus on the ETCR FIA eTouring Car World Cup, which is promoted by Discovery Sports Events, the same organisation behind the WTCR, was a catalyst for Azcona’s switch to a new customer racing department for 2022.
“Leaving CUPRA was difficult because [we were working] together with a very good relationship,” said Azcona. “It’s also a Spanish brand and I’m a Spanish driver. It was a difficult decision but, at the same time, I had to think of myself and my future. Sometimes it is not easy to do changes because you are very comfortable in one place, but I have been working for this opportunity and luckily it came. It’s a new car for me this year and a new team. At the same time it’s very positive because I am leading with a margin to improve even if I am always giving 100 per cent.”
While his huge talent has played a key role in Azcona’s seamless transition to BRC and Hyundai power, the involvement of the driver he replaced, Gabriele Tarquini, as Team Manager is also helping Azcona to adjust. Tarquini retired from full-time driving at the end of last season, but the Italian legend has been quick to pass on his considerable experience to Azcona in his new position.
“I am really thankful to Gabriele for being on the team,” Azcona said. “He’s very experienced and he’s always trying to super-guess to help Norbi and me about everything when we are driving. He’s trying to advise us on the start procedure, the position for the first corner, setting up the car, tyre management, every aspect of motorsport really. It’s very good to have him, he’s a very good tool for all the team and we use him a lot and I’m happy to work with him.”
While Azcona’s CUPRA alliance is no more, the manufacturer continues to be represented in the WTCR through the Hungarian Zengő Motorsport team, whose leader driver Rob Huff, the winner of the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship, was Azcona’s team-mate in 2021.
Huff heads the WTCR Trophy for independent racers but came close to winning Race 2 at the Hungaroring outright when he hustled Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver Santiago Urrutia from start to finish, settling instead for the runner-up spot by a scant margin of 0.380s.
Urrutia’s victory in Hungary has elevated him to third in the provisional title order, six points behind ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Honda-powered former Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Néstor Girolami, the winner of the opening race of the season in Pau. Barcelona-based Uruguayan Urrutia scored his breakthrough WTCR win at MotorLand Aragón in 2020 and is six points ahead of Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Yann Ehrlacher after four races.
King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher holds fourth in the standings after pulling off a late pass on Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport driver Nathanaël Berthon to take second in Race 1 at WTCR Race of Hungary, the Frenchman’s first podium of the year.
Like Urrutia, Argentine ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport racer Esteban Guerrieri has made Barcelona a home away from home, while Gilles Magnus moved to Spain from his native Belgium ahead of his third WTCR campaign with Comtoyou Team Audi Sport.
WTCR Race of Spain is the first of two consecutive events in the Iberian region with Vila Real’s iconic street track hosting WTCR Race of Portugal from July 1-3, the home event for LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler driver Tiago Monteiro.
ZENGŐ RACER HUFF STILL ON TOP IN WTCR TROPHY
Rob Huff remains on top of the provisional WTCR Trophy order following the WTCR Race of Hungary weekend. The category for independent racers with no financial backing from a manufacturer was introduced in 2020 and lists Jean-Karl Vernay and Gilles Magnus as its title winners to date. Huff won the category in Race 2 at WTCR Clean Fuels for All Race of France after Mehdi Bennani had triumphed in the opening counter for Comtoyou Team Audi Sport. British driver Huff then took a win double for Zengő Motorsport at the Hungaroring. Click HERE for the WTCR Trophy standings.
HE’LL BE ELECTRIC: AZCONA TO DO DOUBLE TIME AT HOME
Before he turns his attentions to chasing home success in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup, Mikel Azcona has a date to keep with Hyundai Motorsport N in the ETCR FIA eTouring Car World Cup with Circuito del Jarama hosting the ETCR Race of SP this weekend (June 17-19). Norbert Michelisz will also be in action at the famous venue close to Madrid in another Hyundai Veloster N ETCR, the car of choice for former WTCR racers Nicky Catsburg and Jean-Karl Vernay.
THE WTCR IN SHORT
The WTCR, which is broadcast in more than 185 countries, is the pinnacle of customer touring car racing and sits at the top of the TCR category ladder. Evolving from the FIA World Touring Car Championship, the WTCR is administered by the FIA and promoted by Discovery Sports Events.
Five car brands, Audi, CUPRA, Honda, Hyundai and Lynk & Co, are represented through their customer racing departments, while eight teams, all using Goodyear tyres and sustainable fuel from German company P1 Racing Fuels have signed up to pursue more FIA World Touring Car gold in 2022.
As well as coveted FIA world titles for drivers and teams, independent racers with no financial backing from a manufacturer are eligible for the WTCR Trophy. Meanwhile, a Balance of Performance formula helps to maintain a level playing field. Engine power is capped at 360bhp with speeds reaching 260kph.
The Goodyear #FollowTheLeader recognises the driver at the head of the standings after each qualifying session or race. They wear the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader jacket and carry the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader yellow windscreen strip on their car until such time that they no longer top the points classification.
WTCR RACE OF SPAIN ESSENTIALS
Rounds: 7 and 8 of 20
Date: June 25-26
Venue: MotorLand Aragón
Location: Crta. A-2404, Km 1, 44600 Alcañiz, Teruel, Spain
Track length: 5.345 kilometres
Race 1 distance: 30 minutes + 1 lap
Race 2 distance: 25 minutes + 1 lap
WTCR qualifying lap record: Norbert Michelisz (Hyundai i30 N TCR)
2m05.838s (152.9kph), 31/10/20
WTCR race lap record: Gilles Magnus (Audi RS 3 LMS)
2m06.689s (151.8kph), 01/11/20