WTCR season build-up Q&A: Luca Engstler
Luca Engstler might be the youngest member of the Hyundai-powered line-up in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup this year, but what he lacks in age he more than makes up for in experience, dedication and determination.
“I want to fight for victories, do a strong season without mistakes and just be a better version of myself from now”
Despite having recently turned 21, Engstler is already a multiple TCR title-winner and forms part of the Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team alongside new-for-2021 team-mate Jean-Karl Vernay.
Germany’s big hope will drive a Goodyear-equipped Hyundai Elantra N TCR and makes the six-hour journey north from his native Bavaria to contest the WTCR season opener on the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife from June 3-5.
The start of the new WTCR season is getting ever closer. How are you feeling?
“I’m really looking forward to jump in again, it’s obviously a big pleasure to be racing again with Hyundai and I think it will be a good year.”
You’ll start the season with a new car. What’s the Hyundai Elantra N TCR like to drive?
“I was involved in the development from the first day, I did the first rollout with the car and it was a big pleasure for me to follow the whole process, also learning from the other drivers how development work is going. There’s definitely a big difference between one fast lap in qualifying and developing a brand-new car and it was good to follow that. Testing has been running good, but you never know where you are and you don’t know how much progress the others did until you get to the first race so I’m really curious to see in the first qualifying.”
If you had to pick out one thing about the new car you like most, what would it be?
“There are many! What I really love is the fast corners because you can attack a lot more in the high-speed sequences, that’s my favourite thing. With the aerodynamics and the longer wheelbase, you can attack more in the fast corners. Of course, you can’t develop a car that is strong in all parts, but I think we’re on a good side with this car.”
The Nürburgring Nordschleife is up first on the WTCR calendar. Is that good or bad?
“Honestly speaking I don’t know yet! It’s a home race for me but I’m probably the driver with the least experience of this track. Of course, I am looking forward to racing in Germany but it’s the Nordschleife and anything can happen. It’s not that once you have the speed like on a normal track, where you can be one or two tenths faster because you know every centimetre of the track, you can also smash it in the wall on your first flying lap quite easily. It will be an intense week.”
Tom Coronel says it’s impossible to do a perfect lap of the Nordschleife. Do you agree?
“I fully agree with that but for me it’s similar for all tracks because there’s never a perfect lap and you can always improve and get better. If you overlay the data of all 20 drivers, you will have the perfect lap so you can always improve. But it’s also due to the track length. The longer you make the track the more difficult it is to bring all sectors, all corners, all braking, minimum speed, throttle application together. Then of course it’s quite a risky track as well and at one point you just need to close your eyes and go for it. It’s not too easy!”
How do you compare with your team-mate Jean-Karl Vernay are you on a similar level?
“Same level I wouldn’t say. Of course, I have a lot of experience with these kinds of cars, a lot of experience with Hyundai, but racing in the WTCR is another story. I have to say in the beginning I was not 100 per cent sure about that. I thought they are still racing drivers racing in circles but the level of the drivers you have in WTCR it’s crazy. And to get the experience my team-mates have I still need to have a few years in the pocket.?
What does Jean-Karl bring to your team?
“We worked already in the test days together, but I have to say my first factory drive I got was in the 24 hours of Dubai with Volkswagen. JK was there as well and we won the race so that’s a good base to start. He’s helping me as good as he can, as I do, and we share everything in a very fair and good way and that’s what we need to have this year to fight for the title.”
How much advice does your father Franz give you, he’s a very successful racer after all?
“For me I try to get all information that I can so I am speaking to Gabriele, Norbi, JK, my dad, to everybody who has a lot of experience to gain as much as I can but I want to do it in my way. I don’t want to be the second Franz Engstler, I want to create my own name and of course all the tips I can get from my dad and the other experienced drivers is very important for me.”
Is there a story behind the number 8 you carry on your Hyundai Elantra N TCR?
“There are many reasons actually. My birthday is on March 8. When I started to play soccer when I was a kid, the number my best friend and me chose was always number 8 in every sport. I have also won six TCR titles with that number so it’s a good number to run in the WTCR this year.”
Eight tracks are included on this season’s WTCR calendar, how many do you know?
“I know some but not all. I was in Macau in 2019 and it was a good weekend and good experience for me, scoring points. I have already raced at Ningbo, but nobody has been to Inje.”
Gabriele Tarquini has, he completed a few laps in a road car back in 2018…
“Then I will have to question him more than I planned! But Gabriele was racing on many of the tracks when I was not even born!”
Finally, what would make you satisfied at the end of the year?
“I didn’t say if I am finishing in the top five then I’m happy, that’s not what I’m thinking about. For me I want to improve myself even more. Last year was definitely difficult, but I had some strong results as well comparing to my team-mates, so I just want to keep working hard and keep improving. I think the package we have will be good. But I wouldn’t say a number at the end of the year makes me happy. I just want to make the gap closer to the world champions. It’s not me saying I want to finish in the top 10. I want to fight for victories and do a strong season without mistakes, trying to finish all races and just be a better version of myself from now.”
MORE ON ENGSTLER: REVISIT WTCR FAST TALK, AFTER ALMOST QUITTING HE STARTED WINNING
“I never told the story but after those two seasons in Formula 4 I actually wanted to stop because the two years were really frustrating for me. I was in school, working hard and preparing as hard as I could [for racing] but we didn’t have the right capacity or the right budget and [we] were always in the back of the grid. After the last race we went back home, my engineer, my Dad and me in the motorhome. I told them that like this it makes no sense [to carry on]. I asked what is the plan, what can we do? My Dad said, ‘there are some tests on Wednesday in the TCR car. Let’s go and try and if we feel like it’s the right way to do it, then we throw everything in and we try it’. That test was really good, I was very fast. I said, ‘let’s forget those two years and we focus and start from zero again’. I was quite lucky at this time to have this test. Since then the focus is only on touring cars.”