Despite some incidents involving Gabriele Tarquini and Norbert Michelisz, the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Touring Car Cup season was largely a good one for Hyundai, especially within the Team Engstler side of the garage.
The new Elantra N TCR has looked rapid since it first turned a wheel in free practice on Thursday, and that form only increased as the week progressed.
Had it not been for a misjudgement at the end of lap two, Tarquini may well have won the first race of the year, but then in the second round Jean-Karl Vernay made amends by achieving that first World Touring Car won for the car.
Luca Engstler was arguably the star of the Hyundai show though, as after a tumultuous rookie season in 2020, the young German had a real breakthrough at his home event this time around.
“First of all, big thanks to the team, to Hyundai, [for] giving us an amazing car this weekend,” he said.
“It was difficult here at the Nordschleife, bringing everything together. I think today definitely was a gamble and we gambled in the right spot, we put everything on [it being] dry.
“But I think if there had been some rain drops we would definitely have been far back and we decided to put everything on the dry car. That’s the reason why we were there.
“I was attacking from the first to the last lap, I wanted this victory and to be honest I was probably a bit too young and stupid in over-driving, but luckily it worked today and we are here with a one-two.”
It was evident just how much the youngster wanted to take the race two win on home turf. He certainly had the pace to overtake Vernay, and was audibly distraught when team orders prevented him from doing so.
Nevertheless, after taking time to reflect, it would appear that Engstler can now see the bigger picture from a brilliant weekend which ultimately gave him his first WTCR podium.
The German’s new team-mate Vernay also had plenty of praise for the way that he performed and carried himself here at the Nordschleife.
“It’s not a surprise, not everybody is surprised and I am not,” Vernay said. “I saw what he did and I’ve known him for a long time and know how fast he can be.
“Now he has experience, even if he is young, he has experience of TCR. So I’m not surprised which is why I’m really happy to be pairing with him, because we are going to push each other. That is quite important.
“I’ve always wanted to have a super-fast team-mate because that’s how you continue improving yourself and we’re going to do good. It’s a good mix to have Luca next to me and I’m quite sure we are going to come back with strong results for the team.”
Vernay himself can also walk away from the Nürburgring with his head held high. After all, this was his first competitive appearance with his new car and new team, so to leave Germany as the championship points leader is quite an achievement.
“First of all, congrats to Tiago [Monteiro – for winning race one], that’s a perfect weekend for Skywalker [Management]. And congrats to the other guys on the podium,” Vernay beamed.
“The weekend started not the way we wanted. We’ve already talked about it, but the most important thing was scoring points in qualifying and both races.
“This morning we were struggling a little bit and we found out why, and in the race it was quite perfect. I just wanted to make some changes on the set-up this morning and it really worked.
“The key was to take a better start than Néstor [Girolami] and that is what we did. After I was really in qualifying mood, trying to push the first two laps to secure a gap and the car was handling amazing, I was driving at 150%.
“When you are feeling good you can take risks and it just comes naturally. I’m really happy with the way we worked with Team Engstler and my engineers, with all the guys from Hyundai.
“It was important also for Hyundai to get the first victory for the new Elantra TCR and it was good we took the responsibility to make it. With all the people from the board of Hyundai here it’s a really positive weekend.”
After a very strong year in 2020 which saw him in title contention as a privateer, Vernay has been tipped to do great things again this season in the WTCR, especially now that he has backing from a manufacturer again.
However, the Frenchman isn’t getting ahead of himself just yet.
“It’s just the beginning, but that’s my target [to win the title].” he admitted. “That’s why I cannot really show how happy I am because it’s just a long way and the target is to win the championship.
“But I’m already happy that we are leading. And finally I’m going to win my first prize for doing the best lap, I’m quite happy after five years winning a watch!
“That’s great but we need to keep focused and if we keep doing the job we are doing right now all together we should not be far from the top ranking.”