After some technical troubles in the opening WTCR practice session, Jean-Karl Vernay has kickstarted his career with Hyundai in a very positive manner, when it counted during qualifying.
The Frenchman qualified in second place for race two tomorrow, and as such was also the quickest of all four of Hyundai’s manufacturer-affiliated drivers.
As Vernay went on to explain though, it hadn’t been easy to get to this position.
“We were a little bit late finishing the car,” he explained. “As you can see Hyundai has sold many [new] cars for the TCR Europe and WTCR, but [we had] just a little issue like Esteban [Guerrieri]’s steering rack – a minor issue I would say, but here it can be dangerous with this kind of problem.
“But we were able to get it solved thanks to the team. Pretty much the same situation [as at Münnich Motorsport], they worked a lot to make sure we were there in FP2 for me to get some rhythm, to discover again this track in this condition.
“We know the quality of the grid in WTCR. If you want to be in the first row of the grid, you always need to give everything. And yeah, I felt good, I took many risks and thought that it would maybe be already finished after the first lap, by going onto the grass!”
After escaping that close encounter with the edge of adhesion, Vernay is excited for what the rest of the weekend may have in store, though is all too aware that he’ll need to stay out of trouble at the same time.
It will also be his first weekend of racing with a new team, which is proving to be an extra motivational factor for the Frenchman.
“Everything is new for me, the team is new, I’m working for a new manufacturer,” he said. “I have two team-mates which are world champion and a young rookie which is really really quick with Luca, so my target as a driver is always to win and to win championships.
“But yeah, I also wanted to show them [Hyundai] that they made the right choice [by signing me].
“I know that I have their confidence, for Hyundai I’m doing all the programmes: PURE ETCR, FIA WTCR, and the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. So they already gave me the confidence, and now it is my time to give it back, and if I want to give it back I need to bring them results.”
Had Vernay been racing for Hyundai last year, it would have been rather difficult to bring home the very best results, as the I30 N TCR model became massively hamstrung by Balance of Performance measures.
However, with the new, longer wheelbase Elantra N TCR model, things certainly seem a lot brighter for the South Korean marque.
“The car is well-born, for sure,” Vernay revealed. “It’s an improvement compared to the previous one. I had the chance to test the I30, but not so much so it’s difficult for me to compare, but obviously yeah they were improving all the little negative points.
“The I30 won so many championships so it was already a fantastic car, but the main thing I can say is that the new car gives you confidence, especially here in the fast corners.
“Through all the crazy corners the car is a bit more stable and gives you more confidence, especially for a new driver like I am for Hyundai Customer Racing.”
Hyundai’s return to form should be seen as a major boost for the championship. If the running order in the WTCR’s opening few sessions is anything to go by, then fans look set to be treated to a wide-open battle for the title this year as a result.
Cyan Racing Lynk & Co and the Münnich Motorsport Honda team look as strong as ever, but now with the new Elantra, Hyundai appear to have their mojo back too.
Admittedly, Audi and CUPRA have struggled so far at the Nordschleife, but the Volkswagen Group brands should certainly not be discounted for success as the season progresses.
All in all, the racing this year looks set to be tantalisingly close, and it all gets underway tomorrow, Saturday the 5th of June at 09:00 CEST (08:00 BST).