WTCR Race of France 2021 - 15-17/10/2021

In 100 words: The WTCR becomes the first FIA series to visit Circuit Pau-Arnos in southwest France, 20 kilometres west of Pau. Short in terms of track length (the 3.030-kilometre layout has seven turns) but big in terms of entertainment, the design is the work of the late Jean-Pierre Beltoise, a one-time grand prix winner. The WTCR has yet to race in France, but it has celebrated Yann Ehrlacher’s title triumph in 2020 plus race wins for Nathanaël Berthon, Yvan Muller and Jean-Karl Vernay. Race FR for PURE ETCR, the all-electric touring car series from Discovery Sports Events, will be another weekend highlight.

WTCR RACE OF FRANCE 2021: THE WEEKEND’S BIG WINNERS

RACE WINNERS
Race 1: Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
Race 2: 1 Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR

FIA WTCR JUNIOR TITLE WINNERS
Race 1:
 Luca Engstler (DEU) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Race 2: Luca Engstler (DEU) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR

WTCR TROPHY WINNERS
Race 1:
 Tom Coronel (NLD) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
Race 2: Tom Coronel (NLD) Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS

POLE POSITION
Race 1 (reverse grid): Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS
Race 2: Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, 1m18.973s (138.1kph)

FASTEST LAP
Race 1: Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS, 1m19.837s (136.6kph)
Race 2: Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, 1m20.584s (153.3kph)

TAG HEUER BEST LAP TROPHY
Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS, 1m19.837s (136.6kph)

TAG HEUER MOST VALUABLE DRIVER
Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, 42 points

GOODYEAR #FOLLOWTHELEADER
Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, 160 points

RACE REPORT: VICTOIRE FOR VERNAY AS FRENCH FLYER WINS AT HOME IN WTCR

*Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team driver beats Muller to Race 2 glory

*Victory narrows gap to Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Ehrlacher in WTCR title chase

*Urrutia joins Cyan team-mate Muller on Race 2 podium on Lynk & Co’s fifth anniversary

*Vervisch unstoppable in Race 1 for Comtoyou Team Audi Sport to become first double winner

*Björk and Tarquini complete Race 1 podium with four customer racing brands in top four

*Engstler is twice the top FIA WTCR Junior Driver, Coronel claims a WTCR Trophy double

*TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy goes to Vervisch following Race 2 charge

WTCR Race of France Race 1 top 3

1 Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS, 30m49.555s (136.6kph)

2 Thed Björk (SWE) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, +1.069s

3 Gabriele Tarquini (ITA) BRC Hyundai LUKOIL Squadra Corse, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, +5.045s

Fastest lap: Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS, 1m19.837s (136.6kph)

WTCR Race of France Race 2 top 3

1 Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, 31m09.653s (135.3kph)

2 Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, +1.531s

3 Santiago Urrutia (URY) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, +2.457s

Fastest lap: Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, 1m20.584s (153.3kph)

Top 5 provisional standings after Round 12

1 Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, 160 points

2 Jean-Karl Vernay (FRA) Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, 144

3 Esteban Guerrieri (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR, 138

4 Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS, 131

5 Yvan Muller (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, 126

Jean-Karl Vernay’s home victory at WTCR Race of France not only made him a two-time winner in this season’s WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup, but it also reignited his title challenge with two events and four races remaining in 2021.

With the WTCR visiting France − and the challenging 3.030-kilometre Circuit Pau-Arnos − for the first time − Vernay beat fellow Frenchman Yvan Muller away from the line in Race 2 to score his first win since WTCR Race of Germany in June aboard his Goodyear-equipped Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Elantra.

Muller settled for second with Cyan team-mate Santiago Urrutia completing the podium to help mark Chinese manufacturer Lynk & Co’s fifth anniversary.

Vernay followed Frédéric Vervisch by becoming a two-time winner in WTCR 2021 after Vervisch scored an impressive victory in Race 1 aboard his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport RS 3 LMS. The Belgian made the most of his pole position on the partially-reversed grid to head Thed Björk (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co) with Gabriele Tarquini third for BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse.

By finishing fourth in Race 1 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri boosted his title chances in his Honda Civic Type R TCR, only for contact with Vervisch in Race 2 to cost the Argentine vital points as he finished in seventh. He’s six points adrift of new second-placed driver Vernay and 22 behind Ehrlacher, the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader.

Luca Engstler is now three points behind Gilles Magnus in the FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title order following a victory double. Tom Coronel took a winning brace in the WTCR Trophy for independent racers. Vervisch clinched the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy, while Vernay was the TAG Heuer Most Valuable Driver after he scored 42 points across the Circuit Pau-Arnos weekend.

RACE 1 REPORT: VERVISCH BEATS BJÖRK TO BECOME FIRST 2021 DOUBLE WINNER
Frédéric Vervisch became the first two-time winner in the 2021 FIA WTCR − World Touring Car Cup after winning Race 1 at WTCR Race of France.

The Goodyear-equipped Belgian started from the partially reversed grid pole position in his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport RS 3 LMS and led all the way to beat Thed Börk’s Cyan Performance Lynk & Co to victory as four customer racing brands filled the top four places at Circuit Pau-Arnos.

At the start Björk made a good getaway but Vervisch hung on to lead into the fast Turn 1 and 2 chicane, but there was trouble further back in the pack. Tiago Monteiro was tagged by a slow starting Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Yann Ehrlacher, the ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR crashing out into the barriers at Turn 3.

That led to an intervention from the Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Safety Car, while Race 2 pole position starter Yvan Muller pitted with damage. “We did a bad start and then there was the mess with Tiago,” said Muller. “Somebody hit me on the right and I have damage to the right axle. If anyone can fix it before Race 2 it is my team.” Muller returned to the circuit before the end of the race to test the repaired car in preparation for Race 2.

The racing action resumed on lap seven and Vervisch immediately built a gap to Björk to secure a convincing victory. “It was a bit tight at the start,” said Vervisch. “Björk got a better start than us and contact was very light, but the key was to stay in front at the start. I had a mega restart after the safety car and I’m very happy. Thanks to the team, they deserve this because we’ve had a hard time this season.”

Not everything was straightforward about his win. “This is a very hard track,” he said. “Everyone is suffering from mechanical challenges, it’s hard on the car. I’m happy to finish without any big problems.”

Behind Björk Gabriele Tarquini started and finished third in his BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Elantra N TCR, with WTCR title contender Esteban Guerrieri fourth from fifth on the grid in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR. His team-mate Néstor Girolami was fifth.

Norbert Michlisz gave up sixth place to fellow Hyundai driver Jean-Karl Vernay to help the Frenchman’s WTCR title bid. Ehrlacher could only finish eighth from sixth on the grid after his troubles on the first lap. “It was a difficult start for us,” he said. “We had a small issue at the start which made us bog down and I lost two positions.”

The result means Guerrieri has closed the gap at the top of the standings from 25 back to 20 points, with Vernay in third, 30 behind Ehrlacher.

Leading FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title contender Luca Engstler finished ninth in his Hyundai, with Tom Coronel rounding out the top 10 in his Audi and winning the WTCR Trophy. The other points finishers were Nathanaël Berthon (Audi) in P11, Attila Tassi (Honda), Mikel Azcona (Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición), Gilles Magnus (Audi) and Santiago Urrutia, who had been docked five places on the grid for impeding Coronel in qualifying.

The CUPRAs of Jordi Gene and Rob Huff both pitted with trouble during the race, the Briton while running in ninth position.

RACE 2 REPORT: VERNAY BEATS MULLER TO HOME WIN
Jean-Karl Vernay reignited his FIA WTCR – World Touring Car Cup title hopes by beating WTCR Race of France pole position starter Yvan Muller to win Race 2.

The Frenchman got the better of his countryman at the start and brushed off the threat of a late safety car intervention to win on home soil in his Goodyear-equipped Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Elantra N TCR.

Vernay got the drop on Muller from the lights and with the inside line into Turn 1 swept into a lead he wouldn’t lose. “That was the key, we said it yesterday,” said the delighted winner, who claimed his second victory of the season. “I did a much better job than Yvan. I really wanted this one. Yesterday I was annoyed after Q3 not to have pole position. But after the start it was just a case of managing the tyres in case of a safety car which arrived with a surprise for the last lap.”

Behind the top two, there was plenty of action at Circuit Pau-Arnos as WTCR Race of France burst into excitement in the second half of the race. Norbert Michelisz was running third, but started to struggle to pace. “I have a vibration,” he reported on his radio.

Santiago Urrutia began to pile on pressure, tagging Michelisz on successive laps and receiving a stewards’ warning. Meanwhile, the following pack concertinaed, Race 1 winner Frédéric Vervisch taking a chance to demote Esteban Guerrieri on lap 17. The pair made contact and Guerrieri lost two places on the lap – most crucially slipping behind WTCR title rival and Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Yann Ehrlacher.

Michelisz finally lost his battle to cling on to a podium finish on the following lap, both Urrutia and Vervisch passing the Hungarian. Now he came under pressure from Ehrlacher. The Frenchman was frustrated to be held up by the Hyundai and it allowed Guerrieri to attempt to make up for what he’d lost on lap 19.

The battle came to a head at the back chicane, Guerrieri making a move up the inside and nudging a tyre stack out of position. The pair collided and the Lynk & Co was forced to cut the second tyre stack, with Vervisch also getting in on the action. After all the drama the order was now Vervisch in fourth from Michelisz, Ehrlacher and Guerrieri – but the displaced tyre stack led to the Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition Safety Car heading out for what should have been the last lap. Two more were added to the race total to ensure the race could finish under green flag conditions.

Racing resumed on lap 22 for what was a single-lap shootout, a disgruntled Vernay keeping his cool to head Muller to the line. Urrutia followed in third to complete the podium with Vervisch adding a fourth place to his Race 1 win. But a struggling Michelisz couldn’t hold back Ehrlacher who grabbed fifth place on the run to the finish, with Guerrieri back in seventh.

The result means King of WTCR Ehrlacher heads Vernay who has jumped up to second in the table, 16 points behind the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader. Guerrieri has dropped to third, 22 points down on Ehrlacher with Vervisch up to fourth – meaning four customer racing brands fill the top four places with two meetings and four races to go.

Gabriele Tarquini finished eighth in his Hyundai, with Thed Björk (Lynk & Co) and Nathanaël Berthon (Audi) completing the top 10. The other points scorers were Luca Engstler in P11, Tiago Monteiro – whose Honda returned to the fray after his crash in Race 1 – Tom Coronel (Audi), Mikel Azcona (CUPRA) and Rob Huff (CUPRA).

Néstor Girolami was out of luck. He was running sixth in the early stages until he reported a tyre problem and slipped down the order, eventually choosing to pit.

RACE WINNER QUOTES

RACE 1: Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, Audi RS 3 LMS)
“Before the weekend I didn’t expect the victory but with the reverse grid you hope or have to win. From the outside it always looks easy but the start was not mega. Thed had a bit better start than me but I could stay in front. That was the key for the race. But then we had the safety car and I think I surprised everybody by going very early. But I knew when I was behind the safety car I knew he was fast so I could go early and then I established a gap and I could keep the gap although Thed came back a bit. But it looked like the gap was big enough and I’m very happy I finished the race without technical problems because it’s very hard for the car. This was my biggest worry after a good start let’s say so thanks to my team and Audi. But the start is key here and we had the pace to be in front.”

RACE 2: Jean-Karl Vernay (Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, Hyundai Elantra N TCR)
“It was a good day overall. A lot of points. Since Nürburgring we didn’t score as many points as this weekend, so it’s pretty good. Really consistent, good performance and yeah, we saw the Lynk & Cos were struggling in Race 1 at the start so we said OK. That was the only occasion, let’s say, to have a shot at Yvan and it happened. Definitely really happy and I really tried to push the first few laps to make a gap. The car was reacting really well and then it was just a question of taking care of the car and front tyres, making no mistakes because as soon as you have a lack of concentration you can go a little bit wide and make mistakes or have punctures. It was a long race, especially with the safety car on the last lap. You never know what can happen when the safety car comes in. Overall it was a good race. In Hungary definitely we made a mistake. And Most, overall the weekend was pretty good, we just had an issue on the car. We broke the anti-rollbar and the guys tried to do everything they could on the grid, but we were put in the car just too late and we were penalised for that. So we lost eight points. It’s a lot. But it’s like this, and now we are looking forward to the last two events and we’ll see. But at least we are back in the fight. It’s maybe more my home race than here! It’s closer to my house. We’ll see. It’s difficult to have an idea really. We were testing during the winter. A very slow track. We’ll see if there is an opportunity to overtake. Qualifying for sure will be really important and now there is two events. Everybody will be pushing hard.”

ESSENTIALS
Location:
1 Camin deu Circuit, 64370 Arnos, France
Track length:
3.030 kilometres
Race 1 distance:
18 laps (54.540 kilometres)
Race 2 distance:
21 laps (63.630 kilometres)
BEST LAPS
WTCR qualifying lap record:
Jean-Karl Vernay (Hyundai Elantra N TCR)
1m18.777s (138.4kph), 16/10/21
WTCR race lap record:
Frédéric Vervisch (Audi RS 3 LMS)
1m19.837s (136.6kph), 17/10/21