Jean-Karl Vernay enjoyed a solid start to the FIA World Touring Car Cup season at Zolder, as the Team Mulsanne driver finished in the top ten in both races on Sunday.
Vernay is contesting his first races at the wheel of the Italian team’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta, after switching teams during the long off-season.
The Frenchman qualified in ninth on Saturday, just over half a second off the pace, but also giving him a front-row grid position for the first, reverse-grid, race.
From there, Vernay slipped back at the start, dropping to fourth away from the line before then slipping to fifth at Turn 4, behind Tom Coronel.
The Frenchman stabilised thereafter and held on to finish fifth in the first race of the season, admitting that he was a little disappointed to miss out on a podium finish.
“For sure it’s disappointing when you start P2 and you’re not on the podium,” said Vernay. “It was just a lack of experience with the car.
“My start wasn’t bad, but the others, with their launch control, it looks like they are faster than us.
“At the end I was quite surprised about the balance of the car – the balance was quite the opposite we were seeking, so I was struggling a little bit.
“It was not that bad about rhythm, I just wanted to be safe and to finish the race because I was always outside in Turn 1 and Turn 3, and if I was resisting I could have finished in the gravel.
“It’s the first race of the championship, it’s still some points from fifth place.
“I have to still learn the car and the tyre I’m quite disappointed about the podium, but it will come for sure, we just have to work.”
Race two saw Vernay start from ninth, and the TCR International champion was able to make some progress, taking the chequered flag in seventh after benefitting when Honda’s Attila Tassi made contact with Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk on the opening lap.
“It was a good race,” said the 32-year-old. “I took a really good start so this is a good news for the next races.
“I’m really starting to get a feeling and to know how it works. In the first corner I couldn’t have any opportunity, really; I got stuck.
“After that it was a pretty calm race for us. I just tried to be consistent and to stay in contact with the guys in front if something happened.
“We can be happy with how we scored some points in both races. We showed a strong pace, not good enough to win but it’s going to come.”
Vernay added that he needed to work to understand his Italian team better in the coming events.
“We have to learn each other, and I have to learn the car. We need also to learn the track; the quality of the track improved a lot during the weekend, and we should have made some changes, but we didn’t.
“I’m extremely happy to be with Team Mulsanne and it’s a good start.”