CUPRA battles heat to bag points at Vallelunga in FIA ETCR
The heatwave that hit Europe this weekend was the undisputed protagonist of the fifth round of the FIA ETCR at Vallelunga, as the CUPRA EKS team opted to apply a conservative strategy.
The FIA ETCR took place with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius every day at the Italian circuit. The asphalt recorded temperatures of 54 degrees Celsius in measurements carried out by Autosport.
With the high heat detrimental to the tires, the lack of grip and the high tire wear had two effects: the car easily went off the line and caused constant punctures.
On Friday, teams suffered several punctures as the asphalt and kerbs did not help to take care of the tires, with drivers' needing to watch where they were going on track and what stress they were putting on the tires.
The engineers of the CUPRA EKS team realized this very early on.
“We were the first to get a puncture, and we didn't want to be the last," said Xavi Serra, Director of CUPRA Racing. "It was clear that we were going to suffer a lot with the high heat of the track due to the wear of the tires and the loss of grip, but we have to work with this kind of handicaps like when we have rain or extremely cold conditions."
Photo by: CUPRA
In a championship like this, with heat races deciding possible points, it’s very important to finish every heat. A car that doesn't score points is decisive in the final sum on Sunday. It is important to remember that the driver who wins the final is not who finished first in the final heat but the one who has scored the most points throughout the weekend in his respective groups.
"The pace at the start was not what we would have liked, we had two punctures in two of our cars that put us in last place in two races and also some off track,” Serra said. “Thanks to the work of the entire engineering team, we discovered certain points on the track where the tires were at a higher risk of punctures.”
This information was passed on to the drivers so that they could avoid going through those spots as they normally did and take extra precautions on the rest of the circuit.
As a result, the CUPRA EKS team took a conservative and less risky strategy than in other races this season, a decision that may have appeared wrong at the time, but it proved to be the right move in the end.
Photo by: CUPRA
A clear example was the unfortunate accident in one of the final races of Bruno Spengler, who blew out one of his tires and crashed his Romeo Ferraris into the barriers in an area that reaches 200km/h.
The result of the crash left the Canadian without points, and his teammate was unable to race because they share the car, which was beyond repair in time for the final round. Later on, the Italian team withdrew its second car from the second final in protest against the lack of safety for their drivers with those tires.
It was up to each team to make their own decisions when dealing with the problem, and in the second final race, without Zolder winner Maxime Martin, and Romeo Ferraris team-mate Giovanni Venturini on the grid, the two Hyundai and two CUPRA EKS cars took different strategies.
While the Spanish team stuck to the idea of not taking too many risks, Nicky Catsburg and Jean-Karl Vernay opted to push their cars to the limit.
"As we agreed in the pre-race meeting with the drivers, we decided to go for the finish. Third and fourth place in the final was also good for us; we didn't want to have an accident like Bruno's and drop points," explained Serra about CUPRA’s strategy.
Photo by: CUPRA
Tom Blomqvist and Mattias Ekstrom both made a good start to split the two Hyundais, and both reached certain points of the circuit without braking hard or pushing in the most critical parts of the track, where there are high tire loads at high speed.
Precisely this problem happened to Vernay, who had to hit the brakes lightly to avoid colliding with the CUPRAs, as Catsburg stormed clear at the front, pushing on harder.
On the last lap, with a slight advantage over the other three cars on the track and with only a few corners to go, Catsburg suffered a puncture which forced him out, allowing Ekstrom to take the lead and win the Super Final Pool Furious race from Blomqvist and Vernay.
After the race, most were lamenting their luck regarding the punctures, but CUPRA boss Xavi Serra played down the significance of chance.
“We followed a strict strategy to keep the cars on track,” Serra said. “We were the first to have a puncture, and we didn't want to be the last ones.”
Photo by: CUPRA
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