The inaugural PURE ETCR season will feature at least one world-title winner in its number following the announcement from CUPRA that Swedish legend Mattias Ekström would form part of its line-up.
The 2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion will be behind the wheel of the CUPRA e-Racer this year as team-mate to Jordi Gené.
Following his announcement, the multiple DTM title-winner and 24 Hours of Spa victor spoke of how how he secured his drive and looked ahead to the inaugural calendar.
Q: How did the association with CUPRA begin?
Mattias Ekström: “I ran a junior touring car team in Sweden from 2008-10 and I was a customer of SEAT Sport. It was around that time when I got to know Xavi Serra [CUPRA Racing Head of Technical Development], whom I’ve had a great relationship with ever since. He worked on some DTM projects for Audi that SEAT Sport were involved in, and then after that, he came to be Chief Engineer in my team in World Rallycross, so it’s been a long relationship with him. I’ve known Wayne Griffiths [CUPRA Chairman and CEO] even longer; right back to when I won the Swedish Touring Car Championship for Audi in 1999 and he was responsible for their Scandinavian business. So it’s been a long and very good relationship and it’s great that I can now say I’m a race driver for CUPRA.”
Q: What did you think when they asked you to race in PURE ETCR?
ME: “I was excited. When I started working for CUPRA, the e-Racer development was already underway, but they had the idea to go racing and I thought ‘I’ve done everything else; rallying, rallycross, DTM, NASCAR, GT racing… But I’ve never raced an electric car’. They told me the capabilities of the CUPRA e-Racer and I thought, ‘this sounds like a lot of fun,’ so we decided to do it. There are so many clever and talented people involved in this programme; I know we have the opportunity to be very successful. I became an ambassador for the brand last August and I really love the way the car looks and the level of detail that’s going into the programme. It’s very cool.”
Q: When did you first drive the CUPRA e-Racer?
ME: “January 2019, so about 14 months ago. We’ve done a lot of work in that time. This is CUPRA’s first electric racing car, so there’s a lot to learn about how these kinds of vehicles work on the track. A lot of the development’s been done and progress has been extremely good. That development continues as we get hold of the latest ETCR control parts and incorporate them into what we already have. There’s a lot of work still to do before the start of the PURE ETCR season, but we’re right on-target for where we should be.”
Q: Have you had to change your driving style to suit the challenges of the ETCR powertrain?
ME: “Not really. It’s rear-wheel-drive so there’s familiarity for me. I think anybody coming from a purely front-wheel-drive background will take a little longer to learn how to go fast. We’ve managed to create a car that’s very stable at the rear and I think you’ll probably need a car with this characteristic if you’re going to be fast.”
Q: What was the reaction in Sweden to the news of your return to racing in PURE ETCR?
ME: “Good. And I’m excited too. Since I did my last race in the DTM at the end of 2018, I’ve done two rallycross events, four rallies and one go-karting race, so it will be nice to get back to circuit racing.”
Q: As a World Rallycross Champion, does your experience of short, sharp, heat races give you an advantage while others learn the PURE ETCR Battle format?
ME: “Maybe. Reaction time is crucial off the line in rallycross because the races are short, but they’re still important in any type of circuit racing. All the top drivers are generally good starters, so I don’t think it benefits me much. The ability to run flat-out across a short race is great for us drivers and I think the battles can be great for the fans if the drivers they’re watching all go quite varied on their strategies.”
Q: Starting behind PURE ETCR’s gate will be new for everybody. How are you preparing for this challenge?
ME: “There’s not a lot you can do, really, until you’re sat there waiting for the start of your first battle. You won’t be able to see what the other drivers are doing either, so it will all be about instinct. I think going three-wide down to the first corner can be pretty spectacular for the fans in the grandstand.”
Q: How well do you know the four tracks that will play host to 2020’s showcase events?
ME: “Not at all. They’re all totally new to me. I’m sure I’ll spend some time in a simulator to learn my way around, but honestly, I learn tracks pretty quickly. When you’re used to rallying, and you get one recce to make your pacenotes, you become a fast learner.”
Q: And what about Goodwood?
ME: “I’ve never been, because it’s usually clashed with a race I was doing somewhere else, but I’ve wanted to go for a long time, so I’m excited about the experience.”