CUPRA’s Mikel Azcona leaves Vallelunga in Italy as the early leader of the all-new PURE ETCR series, after claiming victory in Sunday’s Pool A SuperFinal, whilst Hyundai’s Jean-Karl Vernay is second after winning in Pool B.
Sunday’s on track activity saw the world’s most powerful touring cars take to the track in the morning for solo single-lap shootouts to determine the start order for the two seven-lap SuperFinals later in the day.
More points were on offer for those six-car SuperFinals than any of Saturday’s sessions, making them the most significant battles in terms of the new series’ drivers’ championship.
The earlier time trials had given Hyundai’s Augusto Farfus the pole position, with Tom Chilton alongside, ahead of CUPRA’s Jordi Gené, Romeo Ferraris’ Rodrigo Baptista and Stefano Coletti, with the second CUPRA of Mikel Azcona completing the six.
Azcona had earlier suffered from a puncture-induced spin on his solo time trial, forcing him to start from the back of the half dozen pack.
At the start, the two Hyundai Velosters of Farfus and Chilton surged into the lead, whilst Azcona got the jump on Coletti for fifth.
Further around the first lap Coletti would go off into the gravel, then slow with a technical issue, reducing the race to five cars.
Lap two then saw Azcona muscle past team-mate Gené for third, as Chilton in second caused the trio to bunch up.
On the following lap Chilton went off with a right-rear puncture, limping back to the pits and out of the race, leaving just one Hyundai in the race out front.
Farfus held the lead for another lap and a half, before the Brazilian spun out of the lead, and the race, on lap four, handing the lead to Azcona.
The Spaniard would be unchallenged for the final three laps, whilst Gené claimed second despite heavy late-race pressure from Baptista, with the Brazilian actually passing Gené into Turn 1 before having to give a place back later in the lap when he cut the chicane as Gené came back at him.
Having been fastest in the time trial, Mattias Ekström should have started from the front, but the Swede was disqualified for violating the Parc Fermé results surrounding his lap.
That handed the top starting position to the Hyundai of Jean-Karl Vernay, ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Luca Filippi, Hyundai of John Filippi, Alfa Romeo of Oli Webb, the Hyundai of Dániel Nagy and the CUPRA of Ekström.
At the start Luca Filippi threatened Vernay for the lead but the Frenchman held on to his line through Turn 3, resulting in no immediate changes to the top four, whilst at the back Ekström immediately got past Nagy for fifth.
Ekström seized fourth from Webb at the final corner of lap two, and then by lap four closed the gap to the leading trio, who were getting ever closer.
Luca Filippi tried to send his Giulia up the inside of Vernay’s Veloster on lap four but couldn’t quite hold his line, but the battling held up Filippi and he fell into the clutches of John Filippi on the next lap, the squabbles allowing Ekström to sniff a pass.
Ekström superbly threw his car around the outside of John Filippi at Turn 3 on lap five, and then with a super-late braking move took Luca Filippi at the next chicane, despite sliding the 1,800 kg car through the esses.
With two laps to go and in second with more power ups than any other driver in the top four, Ekström set about charging to close Vernay’s lead, but couldn’t quite do it, leaving Vernay to claim the win ahead of the Swede, Luca Filippi, John Filippi, Webb and Nagy.
King of the weekend
After winning all of his sprints during the weekend, Azcona emerged as the top points scorer, or ‘King of the Weekend’, with 77 points, the only blot on the Spaniard’s copy book being his lack of a lap time in Sunday morning’s solo time trial.
Victory for Vernay in the big-scoring second SuperFinal means the Hyundai driver sits second in the standings on 72 points, ahead of the charging Ekström in third on 69 points, the Swede having topped every session he took part in prior to the Pool B SuperFinal.
Gené completed a strong opening weekend for CUPRA to end up in fourth on 58 points, ahead of the top Alfa Romeo of Luca Filippi in fifth with 56 points.
Baptista was just behind his team-mate in sixth with 43 points, ahead of Hyundai’s Filippi (37), Romeo Ferraris’ Webb (36), Hyundai’s Nagy (31) and Romeo Ferraris’ Coletti (22).
The next PURE ETCR event takes place at MotorLand Aragón in support of the FIA World Touring Car Cup on 9 – 11 July.