Friday’s FIA World Touring Car Cup qualifying session offered a bit of a fairy tale story for Czech fans. Wildcard Petr Fulin had modest expectations coming into his home event, but by the end of the day, those aspirations had become a little loftier.
Now focused full-time on managing his Fulin Race Academy team, the 44 year-old has only raced once in the past two years – as a WTCR wildcard at the Slovakiaring in 2020.
So, with a significant amount of rust to be shaken off, and an extra 10kg of ‘wildcard ballast’ to contend with, Fulin and his privately-run CUPRA raised eyebrows when they went second-quickest in the opening practice session of the weekend.
Admittedly, the Czech driver was aided by having brand new sets of Goodyear tyres at his disposal, but he continued to make good use of them and extract impressive pace from the car as the day went on.
Even still, expectations were subdued heading into qualifying. But remarkably, the former European touring car champion broke into the top ten, and with that secured pole position for the reversed-grid opening race at his home event.
“Yeah, we are satisfied for sure,” Fulin said. “I don’t know what I should tell you because yesterday my goal was to not be last and today was really good for us.
“Try to imagine walking to our country and looking at the other factory teams and drivers. I missed one year of racing and in qualifying I lost 0.15 seconds despite the fact we have some ballast because we’re a wildcard.
“We have no experience with the Goodyear tyre, every session I had a problem to get temperature in the first chicane meaning the second lap was faster and probably our way how to do it was not so right. But anyway, the others had two years.
“I have to thank the guys because racing is not their job, and also my family and the sponsors. It means [a lot].”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s races, although he will be ineligible to score points, Fulin will inevitably be looking to get the best possible result on the road. Converting pole position to victory may be a tall order, but local experience could well play into his hands.
By simply getting that reversed-grid pole, this event has already been a success for the team. But a podium, or even a win, would certainly be one sizable bonus.