The 33-year-old Frenchman, who had been an Audi factory driver prior to its withdrawal from WTCR at the end of 2019, joins Hyundai to race in both WTCR and the new-for-2021 PURE ETCR series after a strong run to third in the WTCR standings with privateer Alfa Romeo outfit Romeo Ferraris in 2020.
The champion of the 2017 TCR International Series – its final iteration prior to a merger with the World Touring Car Championship to form WTCR in 2018 – has spent much of the off-season assisting with the development of Hyundai’s new Elantra ahead of this weekend’s WTCR season opener at the Nurburgring, and also driven the electric Veloster N ETCR which will debut at Vallelunga on June 18-20.
Vernay will be teamed with Gabriele Tarquini, Norbert Michelisz and Luca Engstler in WTCR, while Augusto Farfus, Tom Chilton and John Filippi will be his teammates in PURE ETCR, which compete on the same weekend at the Aragon (July 10-11) and Hungary (August 21-22) weekends.
Vernay is also contesting this weekend’s Nurburgring 24 Hours for Hyundai in the outgoing i30 N TCR model, which he has raced in the NLS warmup races and six-hour N24 qualifying race.
Explaining that the task of adapting between the different cars during testing had been “much more than expected”, Vernay told Motorsport.com: “First of all it’s a huge amount of confidence from Hyundai, from Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport boss] and all his team, I’m the only driver to do the 24 Hours, ETCR and WTCR, that’s going to be a very challenging season.
“We were testing earlier this month and I was doing one day the electric and one day the WTCR and that will be a very interesting and difficult challenge for me to adapt.
“We’re going to have two or three events in common and to switch from one car to another, that will be a huge challenge, much more than expected.
“The test session we made was very useful to see all the points I will need to be focused on to be sure that I’m at 100% in two seconds and I will be able to switch from one car to the other, because both cars are very different, the weight on the ETCR is much heavier, the tyres work a little bit differently, the brakes also, so there are many differences about driving style and that will be the biggest challenge for me this year I think.
“Obviously I want to be competitive in both series, the first time I’m in a four-car team in WTCR with a brand-new car and the expectation to do better than last year, and ETCR, even if it’s only the inaugural season, everybody wants to win it, to be the first electric touring car winner.”
Vernay explained that the longer-wheelbase Elantra is more stable through fast corners than its predecessor, and represents a positive “step forward”.
“I think it’s going to be a good help about stability on fast corners,” he said.
“It’s a step forward that’s for sure, and about also quality of driving is maybe easier to go to a certain level, to be in the last two tenths because of the stability, because of all the improvements they made on engine, gearbox, all the little details. For sure that’s going to help.”
Hyundai Elantra N TCR
Photo by: Hyundai Motorsport