Jean-Karl Vernay admits that he was not worried to lose the lead at the start of the opening TCR Europe race at Monza, with the Audi driver feeling confident in his pace before going on to pass Mikel Azcona for the win a few laps later.
A late change to Vernay’s clutch pedal setup, combined with his caution about not wanting to repeat issues he had in the FIA WTCR at Slovakia, caused the Frenchman to bog down at the start, allowing Azcona to take an early lead.
But Vernay then re-took the lead on lap five, after a brief safety car intervention, and he admitted to TouringCars.Net after the race that he felt he had the pace to take Azcona on any of the subsequent laps.
“I was not too worried, but you cannot be 100% confident until you are leading,” said Vernay. “I made a really bad start, as I had just changed the setup of the clutch pedal to be a bit safe, because in Slovakia in WTCR I burned the clutch.
“I just wanted to be safe and I didn’t want to take any risks. I was leading for a little bit [going into the first corner], but the guys braked really late and I didn’t want to have any contact or be in any trouble.”
After settling into third exiting the first turn, Vernay made light work of passing the Honda of Attila Tassi into the second chicane.
“Passing the Honda was pretty easy, let’s say, because we have a much better top speed. After that I was behind Azcona and that was the same – I took a good last corner and I was able to overtake him.
“The target was to control everything and to not be too quick for the compensation weight. Azcona also probably had the same philosophy because he has to be quick in Barcelona.
“The gap between him and [Dušan] Borković is still quite close, and I’m sure he does not want to have too much weight, so the target was to be not too quick compared to the other guys.”
Vernay was not surprised that Azcona did not make it difficult for him to re-take the lead, as he felt that he had plenty of time to keep trying during the race.
“If he had been fighting then I would have overtaken him on the next lap, because I think we are so much quicker.
“He had no other solution – if he wanted to fight I would have fought hard. I needed this win. You never know what can happen, but I’m sure for him 18 points was enough.
“I’m really happy – the start was bad but then we controlled the race and we won and that was the target so now let’s focus on tomorrow and try to win again.”
Vernay admits that with his gap to championship leader Azcona still standing at 34 points after his win, he has no other choice but to win again on Sunday to keep his title hopes alive.
“The race was pretty boring, with only six or seven laps of racing, so if tomorrow there is more of the same with safety cars then it will be tricky, and I must make a better start and take more risks.
“If there is no safety car then I think we have the pace to get to the front. But I have to win – there is no other solution.”