Yann Ehrlacher became King of WTCR for a second time at WTCR VTB Race of Russia last weekend following the successful defence of the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup title he first won in 2020**.
After completing the 2021 season as the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader at Sochi Autodrom, this is what the 25-year-old Cyan Racing Lynk & Co driver has said.
You said you were never thinking about winning the title. Is that really true?
“It’s half-way true. Behind us, there are plenty of guys and girls to make us perform. When you see the amount of energy they spend to provide us with the best package they can when we arrive at the race weekend just gives us wings, we are thinking about racing every single day. This team is so good. We are all in and they live for this. That as a driver is the most amazing feeling you can have when you feel pushed by your team. A big thanks to the workshop in Sweden as well and in China as well that give us a big support. But it’s half-way the truth that I didn’t think about the title because for sure when you start to go further into the season you have the yellow banner on the car [as the Goodyear #FollowTheLeader] and you say, ‘ah, I want to keep that until the end’. It’s nice to have it from rounds five and six but you want to have it at the end. I don’t have a lot of experience compared to the others in the field. You realise it is better to take it race by race and optimise your chances so you don’t get the pressure from that.”
How much did your experience of being in the title fight in 2020 help you this year?
“As I had been in this position last year I knew a little bit more how to manage the pressure. I was in a place I knew and I felt more comfortable. It doesn’t mean it was more easy but it means I know where to go. I was not worried about going to a new track for the last race, I was more worried if the track will suit well the Lynk & Co. In two races 36 points can quickly disappear. I just felt lucky to be in a position to win the title again so I went flat out and made the best out of it.”
You arrived in Sochi on the back of arguably one of your best weekends so far in the WTCR at Adria. What did that performance do to your confidence?
“I knew Adria could be a turning point. It’s not a place where you could be sure you could win the season but it’s a place where we could be pretty sure where we could lose it. It was a pretty big turning point and I was really pleased with this event and how with my team we managed to take the best out of it. If there was one weekend where we had to answer all the questions it was definitely Adria and we did it despite the pressure that was there. For sure we put it one pole in both qualifying and it was important to take those 10 points. In Race 1 I had just to be careful because there are some other cars that I knew can be a bit aggressive, so my target was Race 2. We did some adjustments because we didn’t have the pace in Race 1 but the car was just mega in Race 2 and we just went to the end of the race. The big moment for us was the start. We were doing quite poor starts for three or four races already so we knew if we wanted to keep the lead we had to do a perfect start and we did the best one of the season so it was a perfect weekend.”
It’s fair to say you didn’t have the best start to the season and you were often quick to talk about your frustrations. Where did the transformation in your fortunes come from?
“The start of the season was really difficult, especially on the Nordschleife. We had a really good pace to be on the podium or even winning one of the races and at the end we did P8 and P10, which cost us a lot of points and for sure after this the season was not starting really good. When you know how tight the series is, every little point you don’t want to give [my rivals] so for us it was a bit of a struggle. We came from a really high at the end of last year and we started the season with a really low, so it was not easy to deal with. But the weekend after in Portugal we managed to win one race, even if it was the reverse grid, but that put us back into the fight for the title. For two weekends we were just grabbing points and avoiding mistakes. In Hungary, the middle of the season, we were leading and we kept that position since then. It’s the position with the team we like quite well. Last year we take it at the first race and we didn’t lose it. Consistency is really important and the fact the team gave me a good car helped me to be consistent and to keep out of trouble. From the beginning of 2020 we didn’t DNF in any races and we were always in the top 10. Even if you can’t win races if the car is not suiting perfectly the track then consistency is the key.”
What role did your team-mates play in your title success in Sochi?
“I knew I would get their total support [in Sochi] because I became the priority. For sure the main target for the team is to win the Teams’ title but we were not clear on this [before Sochi] so the first big push was to secure this title. On the driver side, if my team-mates could do good places in the standings and I could help them then that it is what I would do. The hope was to achieve the title as soon as possible in the weekend, not struggling and having to play all our cards.”
Do you feel you have a wiser head on your shoulders, even from last year? Can you see the development in yourself over the last few years?
“Yes, because to be honest when I joined the series I was younger and had less experience. And getting experience helps to be a bit more straight mentally. But maybe this year was even another step compared to last year because, okay, last year was the first time [I won the title]. When you go after being champion to restart from zero again at the beginning it was a bit difficult for me, to be honest. And then we catch that back to be here. But in the end where I made the biggest improvement was mentally because driving at a certain level we can all drive quick, but it’s just the way the manage the pressure through the season. I felt it was more challenging than last year, so it was a tough one and I’m sure I will get out from this a bit stronger.”
You’ve now won two FIA world titles are you are only 25. How does that make you feel?
“For sure it’s great because it was never done before in WTCR and the last time in WTCC was a few years ago [in 2016]. But it’s why I’m doing this, it’s my job and, of course, I’m super-happy.”
“I’m starting my second season next weekend, the [Trophée Andros] ice racing so no rest. My mind will turn to that. We have released a lot of pressure but now I will be focused on the next goal.”
YANN EHRLACHER’S WTCR YEAR IN NUMBERS AVAILABLE IN THE ATTACHED DOCUMENT
**Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA