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Mattias Ekström crowned inaugural ETCR champion after SuperFinal dramas

Mattias Ekström was crowned the inaugural PURE ETCR champion at Pau-Arnos in France, despite the CUPRA driver being involved in a controversial first-lap incident in his SuperFinal.

Heading into Sunday’s track action, all Ekström, who had put his car on pole position on Saturday, had to do was finish his SuperFinal with at least six of the seven laps completed.

The track action would take place in two parts, with the Pool A drivers going first followed by the Pool B runners, with the two main title contenders, later in the afternoon.

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SuperFinal A

With Augusto Farfus on pole position and Dániel Nagy having secured a surprise second, it was Farfus who led through the sweeping first chicane on the opening lap.

The only title contender in the battle, Mikel Azcona, dropped to last at the start, after losing out to the Hyundai of John Filippi off the line, whilst Luca Filippi jumped ahead of Romeo Ferraris’ team-mate Oliver Webb.

Azcona tried to pass Filippi for fifth at the Turn 10 chicane, but made contact with Corsican, causing damage to both cars.

Lap two saw the CUPRA driver pass John Filippi for fifth at Turn 4, before catching up to the back of the leading quartet.

Luca Filippi seized second from Nagy into Turn 10 on lap four, then on the following lap Azcona moved up to fourth with a strong pass on Webb into Turn 9, making the slightest of contact.

Nagy then allowed Azcona by into third on the penultimate lap, but time ran out for the Spaniard and he couldn’t catch the leading duo, as Farfus went on to secure a relatively straightforward win ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Luca Filippi.

The result ended Azcona’s chances of claiming the overall title ahead of SuperFinal B later in the afternoon, with Ekström only having to complete six of the seven laps of his final to clinch the title from the Spaniard, notwithstanding the performances of Jean-Karl Vernay in SuperFinal B.

Jean-Karl Vernay, Hyundai Motorsport, Hyundai Veloster N ETCR

SuperFinal B

Championship leader Mattias Ekström started from pole, with non-title rival Philipp Eng alongside in his Alfa Romeo, whilst Hyundai’s Vernay lined up in third behind Ekström.

The Swede didn’t get as good a start when the lights went out and went side-by-side with Eng into the fast chicane – the two made contact and Ekström’s CUPRA was sent spinning across the grass before rejoining the circuit backwards into the pack – thankfully no one making contact with the CUPRA.

That left Ekström in last and ailed with a puncture, whilst Vernay lead ahead of Tom Chilton and the wounded Eng, also smoking with a puncture, briefly in third.

Eng was quickly passed and out of contention, whilst Ekström limped back to the pits at the end of the lap for a left-rear tyre change, knowing that all he had to do was complete six of the seven laps for the title.

Ekström rejoined the race having dropped just one lap, and the Swede then circulated off the pace for the next five laps to complete the required 75% to be classified in fifth and claim the title by a mere four points from Vernay, who picked up the ‘King of the Weekend’ accolade for the first time in 2021.

Mattias Ekström, Zengő Motorsport X, CUPRA Leon Competición ETCR
2021 champion Ekström. Photo: PURE ETCR

“From what I saw on the replay, Philipp gave up and lifted, wanted probably to go in behind, but ran out of talent and instead of going behind he ran into my left rear and cut the tyre,” said champion Ekström after the race. “Once the tyre had no air, the car just spun.

“I knew before the race I had to finish in P5 to be champion so that was the minimum I had to achieve. But I don’t see any reason to go into a race and back off and finish P5, so I was going to race as good as I can. I didn’t expect Philipp to do this but he probably has a reason.

“I got good information from the team – they told me what pace I had to carry and so on, so I was quite excited because the car was not in good condition. I didn’t know, but the front right tyre was almost off the rim! Just trying to nurse the car home was the goal.”

Ekström ended the season with 320 points to Vernay’s 316, Azcona’s 300 and Gené’s 260.

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