Heading into the weekend, if anybody was going to stand between Yann Ehrlacher and a second FIA World Touring Car title, then Frederic Vervisch looked like the man to do it.
That said, it was never going to be easy for the Belgian Audi driver, who had more than a 30-point deficit to make up to catch the Frenchman.
Realistically, if he was to have any chance of pulling off the unthinkable, Vervisch had to win the first race of the day. From second place on the grid, he was well-set to do so, but unfortunately for him his Audi RS3 was badly suited to the wet weather conditions at Sochi this weekend.
Even with the help of pole-sitting team-mate Gilles Magnus, Vervisch was unable to finish higher than third, and even got caught up in significant incidents with Esteban Guerrieri and Rob Huff along the way.
Meanwhile, sixth place for Ehrlacher ensured that the 35 year old’s slim hopes of title glory were flattened with a race to spare. As Vervisch explains, he and his car just simply didn’t have the required pace in these wintery conditions.
“I had a very poor start,” he said. “Gilles [Magnus] did all he could to defend from Jean-Karl [Vernay] but he was really strong in the beginning and he found the gap. Gilles and myself swapped places but I didn’t feel I had a strong enough pace to attack.
“In the end we finished the race on the podium. I hoped for better points, but I think we were not quick enough. Congratulations to Yann [Ehrlacher] for winning [the title] and a big, big thank you for Gilles. He deserved this podium but I needed it for P2 in the championship.”
As he alludes to there, while Vervisch would have loved to win the title today, there was always a slight resignation that the runner-up spot would be the best that he and the Comtoyou Racing team could realistically achieve.
After all of the track action had panned out, the Belgian was full of praise for Ehrlacher, and was keen to point out the bigger-picture importance of his own second-place finish.
“Yann deserved this championship, he was the quickest driver all year and they did a great job,” he said.
“But, having Nathanael [Berthon] on the podium with me shows the good job that we have done as a team with the new car. It’s developed extremely well. I never expected to be here [in title contention].
“François Verbist our team manager always pushed us further, we had big fights with each other for different things but at the end we all pulled in the same direction and we are here in P2.
“We are best of the rest and I think that’s amazing for this car, with many things that we are still improving on it.
“I have to thank everybody in the team. I’ve never been a part of a group that is so good at working together with all of the drivers. This was a great experience and I’m happy that we could finish P2 in the championship, they deserve it.”
As for next year though, Vervisch reckons that second place won’t be good enough once the Audi RS3 reaches its development peak.
“I’m a driver. We want to go for the championship [next year],” he said. “The car is not done, we can still improve it and for sure I would love to be part of that and keep on working from where we are now.”