An over-taker supreme, Mikel Azcona was among an exciting group of young guns when he stepped up to the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup for 2019.
“I feel I am in a very good moment, at a good level, but in the same time I have a big window to improve and to learn”
He underlined his potential with a race win on the streets of Vila Real during his first season and came back from a tough start to his 2020 campaign to claim victory on home soil at MotorLand Aragón, a WTCR win-first for Zengő Motorsport and the Goodyear-shod CUPRA Leon Competitión.

With winter testing under his belt and the addition of two vastly experienced team-mates to the Zengő ranks in Jordi Gené and Rob Huff, the former TCR Europe champion might still be a young gun at 24, but he’s very much a big gun when it comes to this season’s WTCR title contenders.

You’re about to start your third season in the WTCR and your third with CUPRA power. How good does that feel?
“I am very, very happy to continue in this high-level series and I am also very happy to continue with CUPRA. It’s the brand I grew up with, they gave me the opportunity to drive in WTCR in 2019 and every year we have been improving together. We have much more experience now and I am sure we can battle for good things again this year.”

The CUPRA-powered ranks are not only bolstered by Bence Boldizs and Rob Huff, but also by Jordi Gené. What impact can he have given his extensive experience and achievements?
“It’s a good thing for my team and for myself. Jordi is very experienced, I was watching his races when he was driving in the WTCC with SEAT. I am very proud to have him as my team-mate. We can have more information and do better results together. This makes me even more motivated. With the pre-season testing kilometres we are better prepared than last year. And I am in very good form both physically and mentally, so I think this year is going to be great.”

You endured a tough start to last season, but you seem much more confident now, right?
“Last year was very tough at the beginning. We went to Zolder with zero kilometres with the car on the Goodyear tyres, zero kilometres with the team, no set-up, we didn’t even know the track. It was really hard and we were battling for the last positions. This year is totally different. We are testing and preparing in a different way. We all know we can be in the battle for the top three positions because I am much more confident with the car, it’s very good and I know it pretty well now. I know much more about the set-ups, how the tyres work, everything. We will start on the Nordschleife with all the job done and this is very important for us.”

As well as being more confident you sound much more relaxed and stress-free. Is that true?
“That’s totally true. When I was in Zolder last September all the other cars were at the track, but my car was still on the highway coming from Barcelona. I was very stressed at that moment. This year it’s totally the opposite situation and I am more relaxed. I feel strong, I feel as a team with Jordi I am learning a lot from him because he’s a very experienced driver. He knows very well how to put the set-up of the car and make the changes to the car. For me he’s an expert and all the team can use this opportunity from him to improve a step more.”

You’ve delivered a number of very strong performances since you joined the WTCR in 2019. Do you feel you are the best you can be now or is there still room for improvement?
“I don’t think I am the best I can be. I feel I am in a very good moment, at a good level, but in the same time I have a big window to improve and to learn. On the racing side I see [Yvan] Muller, [Gabriele] Tarquini, [Rob] Huff, they have been driving in World Touring Cars for 20 years and I cannot imagine how experienced they are. Of course, every year I am improving. Last year with the big problems we had before the season started, it was very challenging for me. After the year when I was in my house, I felt I improved really, really a lot how to improve the car, how to prepare a new car, how to set up the car in a different way.”

Previously you have spoken about your fears that you felt you were not the same driver after Zolder. You’ve clearly demonstrated your maturity and mental strength to come back from a tough situation. Do you agree?
“Yeah, yeah of course. Like I said in Zolder mentally and psychologically it was very hard for me after that race weekend. I was not expecting a good result with no testing, but I was not expecting the last position. I was pushing 200 per cent and I was in the last position and that was a difficult moment for me. I thought maybe I am not on the high level like I finished 2019 and I thought what is happening? I am pushing maximum and the results are not coming. The first two races were really, really hard for me, honestly. I was preparing more and more than normal at home on the simulator, working like crazy watching onboard videos, just to try to avoid the bad results and to be on the first position as fast as possible. For the next weekend on the Nordschleife we started to grow up a little bit and we had some good overtakes. From this point I started to feel a little bit better.”

As a driver what’s your best quality and what areas do you need to improve?
“Always the best part of me as a driver is the good capacity to go fast with a new car on a new track. In the very first laps on a new track I go very fast and learn the track very easily and I can go to the limit very fast and very easy and this is a good thing for me. I am also a very good qualifier. What I need to improve in the races is the tyre management. I am not the top driver on this and it’s a challenge for me to improve a little bit in this area.”

It’s fair to say your ability to pull off clinical overtakes is special. What’s your secret?
“I feel I am a good over-taker. But it’s very difficult in WTCR because all the drivers are on a very high level. The cars, the drivers, the teams, everything is on a similar level and to overtake in the races is very complicated. Even if you don’t want to, you can have contact with other cars because the driver in front does not want to give the position and everything is very close. This means there are some contacts, but this is normal in racing. But to overtake well you have to study the car in front and see the space where to put the car. I am good at doing this I think.”

It was a busy year for you last year in terms of the number of races you did. How busy is 2021 going to be?
It’s going to be a super-busy year for me, three series and most of the weekends I will be busy. It’s going to be challenging at the same time because it’s different cars and different categories all the time and there is also testing so almost all weeks I am away from my home. It’s not easy when you are driving different cars in different series but, at the same time, I am growing very fast as a driver. In PURE ETCR I cannot believe it because I am the team-mate of Mattias Ekström and Jordi Gené and Mattias Ekström for me is like an idol. I cannot wait to start driving with him and to be more competitive because of him. Also, with my WTCR team-mates, they are also very strong, and I am really motivated to have this situation. I cannot wait to start and do my best.”

What kind of challenge does combining PURE ETCR and WTCR on the same weekend present?
“I was thinking a lot about that and for sure it will not be easy because the two series and the two cars are totally different. You can have a very good feeling with the WTCR car, going into the limit, braking on the limit. But then, after 30 minutes, you go to another car at the same track and the braking reference is different and the speed through the corners is different. It means you need to adapt very quickly and don’t lose any time changing the cars, changing the braking points. It’s going to be easy to do mistakes but it’s important not to do any mistakes.”
The WTCR Trio with Nathanael Berthon
The post WTCR season build-up Q&A: Mikel Azcona appeared first on FIA WTCR | World Touring Car Cup.
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23/09/2022 AT 10:07