CUPRA racers Mattias Ekström and Mikel Azcona ended the first-ever day of running for PURE ETCR at the top of the drivers’ standings, after winning all of their heats respectively.
After drivers were split into two groups of six drivers, Pool A and Pool B, on Friday, Saturday commenced with Rounds 1 and 2 of the weekend.
Round 1 saw drivers take part in three-way fights, followed by Round 2 with head-to-head sprints against the first, second and third placed drivers from Round 1 respectively.
Round 1 – Battle 1/2
The first battle of the day in Pool A saw Augusto Farfus in his Hyundai drawn up against Jordi Gené’s CUPRA and Rodrigo Baptista’s Alfa Romeo.
At the start it was Gené who leapt into the lead, the Spaniard having been randomly awarded the ‘driver’s choice’ selection from which he immediately selected to start from the inside lane, effectively pole position.
On the second lap, with Gené under intense pressure from the Hyundai of Farfus, the Brazilian dived up the inside at the first corner and snatched the lead.
Meanwhile Baptista, who had dropped back on the opening lap after saving his extra power, closed in and by lap three the trio were running effectively nose-to-tail until the Brazilian dived up the inside of Gené at Turn 3.
Gené spun and blocked Baptista’s path, effectively giving Farfus a free run to the chequered flag over the next four laps of the seven-lap sprint around the club circuit to claim the first ETCR battle win, with Baptista taking second.
In the second battle, Mikel Azcona (CUPRA) was drawn alongside Stefano Coletti (Alfa Romeo) and Tom Chilton (Hyundai), with Azcona drawn to start on the favourable inside line.
Azcona leapt into the lead at the start, closely followed by Coletti, whilst Chilton followed in a more distant third on the first lap of the seven.
The battle quickly settled into a fairly sedate sprint and Azcona ultimately won ahead of the Roemo Ferraris and Hyundai Motorsport drivers.
Luca Fiippi, Oliver Webb and Jean-Karl Vernay lined up for the first battle in Pool B, with Filippi taking the lead from the inside line at the start ahead of Webb.
However, the battle had to red-flagged half-way around the first lap due to issues with one of the start gates failing to rise up and out of the way of the track. It was an early sign that whilst the series is trying to be innovative with its procedures, it must also accept the niggling troubles which come associated with that.
After a lengthy delay, when the battle resumed it was for just six laps due to the stoppage, and Vernay immediately pressured Webb, passing around the outside at the first corner with a dab of additional power.
Filippi and Vernay broke away from Webb in the first half of the battle, with Vernay using more boost than his rivals, and despite being glued to the rear bumper of the Alfa Romeo for the rest of the battle, Vernay couldn’t find a way past Filippi, with Webb coming a more distant third.
The second battle saw CUPRA racer Mattias Ekström start on the inside line, with Hyundai’s John Filippi in the centre and the second CUPRA of Dániel Nagy on the outside.
Ekström quickly scampered into the lead, whilst Nagy took until lap four to get past an increasingly slower Filippi, who seemed to lack the pace of the electric CUPRAs. Ekström, meanwhile, had scampered away at the front to win, ahead of Nagy in second, who battled past Filippi towards the end of the sprint.
Round 2 – Head-to-head battles
The first head-to-head saw Farfus go up against Azcona, as the duo both won their respective battles earlier in the morning.
Azcona led at the start, and was closely chased by Farfus, the Brazilian keeping on the tail of the CUPRA throughout the seven lap sprint, but being unable to mount a pass, with Azcona ultimately winning by almost two seconds.
The second head-to-head was for the earlier second-place finishers, pitting Baptista up against Romeo Ferraris / M1RA team-mate Coletti.
Coletti leapt into the lead at the start from the inside line and, like the previous head-to-head, was then able to keep his rival at bay for the seven laps, with no real overtaking opportunities presenting themselves, even though the battle was much closer than the first throughout the duration.
Third against third was the final battle, pitting CUPRA racer Gené against Hyundai driver Chilton. Gené almost jumped the starting gate at the beginning but was able to stop himself, and when the gates did open the Spaniard seized the lead.
With no power ups available in the head-to-head battles of Round 2, Gené was able to eke out enough of a lead to prevent Chilton from challenging, and the battle quickly settled down, with Gené taking the full 12 points and Chilton 6.
Battle winners Ekström and Filippi lined up for the first head-to-head battle in Pool B, where both drivers run without boost for the race, with Ekström gaining the inside line.
Whilst Filippi ran the Swede close at the start and through the first few corners, Ekström ultimately extended a comfortable lead in the boost-free race to win and secure maximum points for the first day.
Vernay went up against Nagy for the second battle, and whilst the Hungarian kept close to the Frenchman through the first sequence of turns, ultimately Hyundai driver Vernay enjoyed a relatively straightforward run to the win.
The final head-to-head was between Alfa racer Webb and Hyundai’s John Filippi, and like the other battles in Pool B it turned out to be a run-of-the-mill affair, as Webb controlled the seven-lap sprint from start to finish whilst Filippi circulated around a second behind for most of the duration.
ETCR completes its first day of running
Aside from the issues with the start gate in the Pool B running, the first-ever day of ETCR could be considered a success. All six cars ran faultlessly, and there was some genuinely close and exciting running.
Whilst some of the running became a little stale, with the lack of cars on track and in the head-to-head battles in particular the lack of power ups, this shouldn’t detract from the overall show too much as all series feature their moments of quieter action earlier on in the weekend.
Sunday promises even more action, as six cars will take to the track for the first time in the final sessions of the weekend.
At the end of Saturday, in Pool A, it was Azcona who ended the day on top with 27 points, ahead of Coletti (22), Farfus (21), Gené (16), Chilton (10) and Baptista (8).
Pool B saw Ekström on top with the full 27 points from Vernay (22), Luca Filippi (21), Webb (16), Nagy (16) and John Filippi (10).
Action resumes on Sunday morning with cars taking on the longer 3.2-km circuit for the time trial, with more power (500 kW) to set the grids for the two SuperFinals.