“I’ve simply had my hair finished, so now I look excellent for the weekend!”
Busy man that he’s, touring automobile famous person Mattias Ekstrom has managed to make time for himself within the few days between the Hungaroring and Jarama rounds of what’s now generally known as the FIA ETCR – eTouring Automobile World Cup. Up to now this yr he’s competed on the Dakar Rally in Audi’s new electrical contender, he’s opened his ETCR title defence in profitable trend, he’s popped in to contest a rallycross occasion in his native Sweden, and his EKS operation is getting ready to run Audis within the World Rallycross Championship – and it’s now working the works Cupra ETCR squad.
So he’s a freshly coiffured large of versatility in motorsport driving, in addition to a crew boss, plus one thing of a spokesman for the intriguing new world of ETCR, which bought off the bottom in 2021 as Pure ETCR, and for 2022 earned FIA World Cup standing alongside its sister sequence, the established FIA World Touring Automobile Cup. That inaugural five-round marketing campaign ended with Ekstrom defeating Hyundai’s Jean-Karl Vernay in a dramatic finale at Pau-Arnos.
“Whenever you do a championship for the primary yr, every part new, it’s important to try to learn the conditions fairly quick, which I believe we did,” he displays. “So it was time. One factor… I wouldn’t say it’s disturbing, however you want there could be extra vehicles on the grid after all, however I believe each championship as of late must battle fairly exhausting for that. When the vehicles are electrical-driven it’s honest to say that there might be some resistance from followers to simply accept it for some time. However backside line it was good racing, and also you at all times get pleasure from it extra once you win than if you end up final!”
Getting vehicles onto the grid – or, within the case of ETCR and its quirky sporting format, it’s in all probability fairer to say into the paddock – won’t be the work of a second. It could be electrical, it could have shiny new toys such because the Vitality Station and Scorching Zone, however at its coronary heart it’s good old school touring automobile racing. Formulation E, and its Excessive E offshoot by which Ekstrom competed in 2021, depends on spec chassis. ETCR, like its typical TCR cousin that has modified the face of world buyer touring automobile racing since its kick-off in 2015, is predicated upon manufacturing shells transformed into racing equipment.
It’s the brainchild of tin-top visionary Marcello Lotti, whose WSC Group created the production-based TCR class that since 2018 has been the inspiration of Eurosport Occasions’ flagship FIA World Touring Automobile Cup. Then got here Lotti’s ETCR idea, for which Eurosport Occasions gladly took on the promotion of a sequence alongside its WTCR competitors.
Once we investigated ETCR this time final yr, simply earlier than its inaugural occasion, Eurosport Occasions’ Xavier Gavory, who acts as sequence director for WTCR and ETCR, described Lotti as “the pope of touring vehicles”. Pontiff he could also be, however you want religion. “Did every part go as we wished it to?” asks Gavory rhetorically of 2021.
Mattias Ekström defends his ETCR title in 2022, right here forward of Hyundai’s Kevin Ceccon
Photograph by: ETCR
“Undoubtedly not, as a result of the disruption we needed to face with COVID was fairly huge. Lack of uncooked supplies, delay on the kits, time wanted for the producers and WSC to place the vehicles collectively. Issues weren’t simple as a result of we’re nonetheless in a disrupted world with logistics, with the disaster of the automotive trade, the dearth of uncooked supplies and provide disruption. We live in a really sophisticated world, and once you launch a brand new sequence, which has a distinct expertise to the opposite motorsport sequence, that is determined by provide and battery package supply… and you already know the disaster of superconductors and so forth.”
So ETCR kicked off with two examples every of the Hyundai Veloster ETCR and Cupra e-Racer, every entered by manufacturing facility squads, in addition to the privateer Romeo Ferraris operation operating Giulia ETCR equipment however with out Alfa Romeo nomenclature. That’s six vehicles, however the sequence’ sporting format prescribes every to have two drivers, permitting a complete of 12 contestants break up into two separate swimming pools of half a dozen all through a race weekend. Clearly, as Ekstrom factors out, we may do with extra. And, with producers resembling Honda, Audi and Lynk & Co energetic in WTCR, there are extra potential contenders already inside the WSC/Eurosport household.
“I’m assured and we’re working with WSC on that matter,” says Gavory. “Now all of the producers have turned electrical since 2020, they’ve some electrical merchandise that match the touring automobile class, which was not the case previously. We run manufacturing vehicles – they’re the identical you’ll be able to see down the road. We hope and belief the present disaster for the automotive trade will depart some house for some initiative to be taken for producers to provide some visibility to their vehicles. I believe producers as nicely wanted to see this FIA format and Cup earlier than they dedicated.
“The expertise in there, and what they’ve finished to provide these vehicles may be very spectacular. They produce good racing. First impressions are at all times one of the best, they usually have been higher than what I anticipated” Alan Gow
“We now have these uncooked supplies and provide, which may be very sophisticated to handle. That doesn’t assist as a result of once you register you may have months of delays earlier than you place your vehicles collectively as a result of it’s important to get your package, batteries and so forth. The context is extraordinarily sophisticated however the curiosity is unquestionably there. On our aspect as a promoter we’re assured as a result of now we have an excellent product, we simply have to be affected person as a result of the world may be very sophisticated in the intervening time, and issues will come as a result of electrical is the long run, it’s even the current as a result of now the vehicles match our class. Now there’s a actual curiosity across the sequence.”
Once we sought an viewers with ‘the pope’, Lotti was joyful to develop: “What I can let you know is I’ve some agreements signed. We’re working with different producers which can be ETCR. I’m optimistic to see at the very least yet one more subsequent season. I’ve agreements signed on NDAs, some are already beginning to work with our technical division earlier than any closing choice.”
The availability disaster within the automotive trade has additionally delayed any probability of ETCR being adopted for nationwide and regional sequence.
Romeo Ferraris has introduced the Alfa Romeo Giulia to the sequence on a privateer foundation
Photograph by: ETCR
“We misplaced round a yr and a half from COVID and every part,” expands Lotti. “We don’t suppose that as we speak we’re ready to start out manufacturing for extra vehicles, due to the delays within the supply of any elements you want. Elements for the package and for the chassis. We don’t imagine to speed up and begin something in 2023. Clearly now we have a white sheet of paper in motorsport and all of us have to jot down on this as a result of it’s utterly new expertise to develop. Daily there might be a number of new tasks utilizing EVs for motorsport. We created TCR in all probability near the tip interval of the aspirated engine, and it turned a frontrunner in motorsport – and there was a number of competitors round. And you’ll write lots about new electrical sequence within the subsequent couple of years, as a result of everyone is on the lookout for that.”
If Lotti is the pope of tin-tops, then British Touring Automobile Championship chief Alan Gow, in his position as president of the FIA Touring Automobile Fee, may maybe be described as this type of the game’s final deity.
“The Fee was concerned within the ETCR proper from the phrase go, from the very idea by means of to its execution,” he explains. “We needed to approve the rules and all the opposite pointers for it. It completely ticked all of the packing containers and that’s why it turned a World Cup-status occasion.
“All the things finished within the final couple of years has been in tough circumstances. Their expectation stage was set very realistically for the primary yr they usually delivered it in opposition to that. That they had a restricted variety of vehicles and drivers and that’s completely proper for the primary yr in any brand-new idea, and it’ll solely develop from there.”
Gow’s first reside expertise of ETCR got here at this season’s opening spherical on the streets of Pau – the venue in France is precisely the type of place a sequence resembling this could go to.
“They appear nice, they’re clearly very fast, they really sound fairly good though you don’t usually affiliate electrical vehicles with sound,” says Gow. “The expertise in there, and what they’ve finished to provide these vehicles may be very spectacular. They produce good racing. First impressions are at all times one of the best, they usually have been higher than what I anticipated.”
Maybe one contributing issue is the consumption of star drivers for 2022. With Ekstrom’s EKS operation taking up the Cupra squad from Zengo Motorsport, the Swede drafted in Adrien Tambay and Tom Blomqvist, each of whom he knew from the DTM, by which he’s a two-time champion. Romeo Ferraris appointed Ekstrom’s fellow DTM title winner Bruno Spengler and Maxime Martin. Hyundai put its WTCR star Norbert Michelisz on double responsibility.
2019 WTCR champion Norbert Michelisz races for Hyundai each there and in ETCR
Photograph by: ETCR
“Final yr the sphere was OK,” says Ekstrom. “However this yr it’s gone up one other two ranges I might say – the brand new guys are all actually quick. The grid is getting nearer and nearer on a regular basis, and you’ll see that the rivalry is starting to construct up. You possibly can dominate final yr, however now it doesn’t really feel like this in any respect. In a quali lap you might need a bit of edge [from experience in 2021], however I do know the others will even enhance and within the races it’s very equal. I’m extra humble than ever that this might be a really aggressive season.”
Over the opening two rounds in 2022, Ekstrom took total victory in Pau, earlier than Tambay triumphed in Hungary. Of the Frenchman and Blomqvist, the Swede says: “In testing they’ve been quicker than me a number of occasions. That’s the nice factor once you’re a crew proprietor – you look on issues in another way. In case you run the crew, you need the crew to do nicely, so that you rent one of the best drivers you’ll be able to, you give all of them the help they want, and you actually hope that you simply as a crew might be profitable. The underside line is it could be nice for me if I win one other title, little doubt about that, however I wouldn’t be happier to rent some guys you don’t imagine in so you’re the primary. That’s too boring and it’s not me.”
Whereas Ekstrom was successful in Pau, hopefully a big cross-section of the gang was getting enthused about electrified vehicles.
“Touring vehicles are multi-brand manufacturing vehicles. I’m anticipating to see from ETCR an increasing number of fashions homologated sooner or later coming straight from EVs” Marcello Lotti
“We had lots of people across the Vitality Station [which charges the cars from 10-90% in 75 minutes] to indicate you’ll be able to recharge your vehicles in an easy method,” says Gavory. “It’s very advanced on a technological standpoint, nevertheless it appears very simple and that’s the purpose we wish to showcase: to recharge your electrical automobile you don’t want ages. We may have recharged the vehicles within the pits, hidden from the general public, however considered one of our missions is to indicate that electromobility is profitable, simple, enjoyable, and the Vitality Station is a part of the story.
“Pau is an iconic place they usually did issues in a fairly intelligent method, as a result of after just a few years’ inactivity they wished to have fun the brand new expertise and extra sustainable motorsport, so it was very green-oriented. A lot of the help sequence have been operating HVO or biofuel, we had a hydrogen automobile on monitor, for the primary time the ERA championship for entry-level single-seaters, we had ETCR. Over the weekend we had 100,000 folks on web site with stunning climate. To launch the sequence, that was nearly as good as we may have anticipated.”
Naturally, a class resembling ETCR can get tripped up on logistics, and the spherical at Turkey’s Istanbul Park venue, scheduled instantly after Pau, was postponed till November.
“The purpose with Turkey is to go to the streets of Istanbul [in 2023], as a result of we wish to have a mixture of everlasting and avenue circuits,” states Gavory. “With some surprising issues and occasions taking place in Turkey, the circumstances weren’t united to get there on time, and it was a really last-minute postponement. That was very exhausting for us.”
ETCR kicked off 2022 on the famed streets of Pau
Photograph by: ETCR
A spherical on the streets of Istanbul is precisely what Ekstrom believes the sequence must be doing. He’s not 100% satisfied concerning the calendar, which after Jarama heads to Zolder in Belgium, Vallelunga simply north of Rome, and Inje in South Korea.
“The championship remains to be younger,” he says. “It’s important to have combination the place you go so you’ll be able to current your self to a brand new viewers, and the place there already is viewers, as a result of to go and try to create a brand new platform is tough. I might like to go along with these vehicles to Norisring, as a result of that is likely one of the locations that was at all times absolutely packed, and those that come there have a very completely different view of motorsport from for those who go to a classical monitor in the course of nowhere. Formulation E going to cities is nice, nevertheless it’s additionally simple to see that they’re struggling to get spectators. It’s important to be very selective and sensible to place your self on the proper occasion. It’s important to do a little bit of cherry-picking to make one thing well-liked.”
And doubtlessly, on the success of sequence resembling this lie the prospects for motorsport basically. Touring automobile racing, in any case, has at all times been concerning the public figuring out with the vehicles as one thing they’ll purchase for the highway.
“This for me is a bonus for touring vehicles, not solely as a result of it’s electrical,” asserts Lotti. “Touring vehicles is multi-brand manufacturing vehicles. I’m anticipating to see from ETCR an increasing number of fashions might be homologated sooner or later coming straight from EVs.”
“It’s the relevance to the highway that’s a very powerful side,” provides Gow. “As we inexorably head in direction of a higher electrified future with highway vehicles, then clearly racing has to mirror that. And ETCR has finished precisely that. It’s totally related to what’s taking place in full-electric highway vehicles.”
Jordi Gené, Cupra EKS, Cupra e-Racer
Photograph by: ETCR