He’s won in the FIA World Touring Car Championship and in Formula 3000, tested Formula One cars, raced prototypes at Le Mans and lots more besides.
Despite admitting to being in the “last years of his sporting career” aged 50, Jordi Gené is set for an action-packed 2021 season with CUPRA power, devoting his considerable energy and expertise between PURE ETCR and the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup in a Goodyear-equipped CUPRA Leon Competición run by Zengő Motorsport as team-mate to Mikel Azcona. This is what he’s had to say.
You’ve been away from top-level touring car racing for a few years now so why come back?
“Mainly because I really love racing touring cars. Also, because I worked for SEAT, and later for CUPRA, since 2003 so I haven’t stopped the relationship with the brand since then. This year we have a much higher implementation between the PURE ETCR car and the WTCR car. With the CUPRA Leon Competición, I’ve always been involved with the development, not with racing unfortunately. When Mikel did a really good season last year and it was clear we had a good, competitive car, the question was on the table: why not go back to racing, try to help the brand, try to help Mikel and try to help myself to see if I can still be competitive with a front-wheel-drive touring car.”
By combining PURE ETCR and WTCR you face the prospect of switching between different types of car, sometimes on the same weekend. How difficult will that be?
“I don’t say the cars are opposites because, at the end, we have a steering wheel and pedals to make the best out of them. But they are very different cars with very different feelings as a driver. If you only race one car in one weekend you focus on it and you get your reference points and you get on top of it. But the real challenge will come when we race both cars on the same weekend. It’s not all the time but the weekends when this will happen is going to be interesting how we can adapt to both cars with such a short time between each session.”
As well as the physical challenge, there’s also the mental challenge. Will you cope?
“Physically I always try to be fit but mentally it’s going to be a bigger stress of course. It’s going to be a lot of races one after the other one and you have to change your reference for your braking points, the way you feel the car is very different with the combustion engine, because you have the gearbox and very different feelings as a driver. With the electric car, the speed you get into a corner is much higher, so everything is really very different from one car to the other.”
Your CV demonstrates how versatile you are so won’t this make the switching process easier?
“That’s not my main worry. My main worry is I haven’t raced at such a high level for the last five years. I have tested, I have been driving the cars but not racing. The race weekend really extracts different things from the driver, it’s not only about driving, it’s the way you prepare yourself for the start, for the fighting, doing the lap time in only one lap during qualifying. This is really what I have missed for sure. I’m not trying to make excuses because if I am here doing this then I have to do well from the very beginning. But for sure the first three or four races are going to be a bit difficult for me. At least the last time I competed in TCR, in 2015, it was a little bit like this. I had been out of racing for two or three years and the first half of the season was difficult, but the second half of the season I was fighting for race wins with Oriola, Comini or Huff at the end. It takes some time to get this rhythm. There are two or three tenths that come by themselves but it’s only when you are really used to it that things come without thinking.”
How much have you missed competing?
“A lot, really a lot, I enjoy it and I have done racing all my life and I really miss it. And when I see my friends like Gabriele [Tarquini] or Tiago [Monteiro] on TV or from looking at their results in the press it was a difficult time because I was wishing to be there. I keep following them a lot and I was thinking I should be there, this is what I love to do. It’s my passion. I know I’m not 25 years old, I am 50 now and it’s the last years of my sporting career. But I really love so much driving and this feeling of the race weekends. I pushed for it and it’s a season I am really looking forward to start.”
What’s your personal target for this year?
“I want to be competitive, that’s my main target at the moment. I know in the first few tests that I’ve done with Mikel in the CUPRA Leon Competición I still miss a bit of speed, honestly I still have a few tenths to shave from the lap time. In the CUPRA e-Racer I think I’m more competitive and our lap times are very similar at the moment. I try to be faster and quicker for the WTCR, not in the rhythm of the race pace but when I qualify or put new tyres, because I lack experience with the Goodyear tyre, it’s a tyre I’ve never used so I need to learn all these things and I have to do this if I want to do well. And I don’t want to be on the back of the grid in every race. I understand sometimes I am going to be more in front, sometimes I am going to be more backwards, but I want to be competitive especially with my team-mates. That is a big goal because I think that Mikel is probably one of the top five drivers at the moment.”
In your view, what is so good about Mikel?
“He has a lot of speed, but he is getting a lot of experience now because he has been racing many races and, this season, he has already done 15 or 20 test days so far. He is every day in a race car and is doing three championships at a time. He’s really, really quick and he’s very good on the races because he makes no mistakes and is very smart. Okay, I have a bit more experience than him in setting up the car and developing it and that’s going to be good for the brand because you have someone who is quick everywhere and takes 100 per cent of the car in every single lap and I have the experience to make a very good set-up. If I manage to improve a bit my speed and make a good set-up then I think we will have a very good team together.”
You join Zengő Motorsport for your WTCR debut. What do you know of the team and its record?
“When I first met Zengő Motorsport, it was at the very beginning of the creation of the team when I was racing with SEAT as works driver in the WTCC and they were starting as a privateer. But the improvement and the growth Zengő have experienced in the last few years is remarkable. Zengő have been doing very well and better and better. I haven’t done any testing with Zengő yet, but they are one of the top teams, they are very professional and I hope this will be an advantage because it will take us less time to understand each other to extract the best of the car in less time than the other teams.”
The Nordschleife is up first on the WTCR schedule. Are you happy with that prospect?
“I like the track because I have good results so far but at the same time it’s not the best track to start the season with little running experience because the possibility to have a mistake and end up in the barriers is the highest together with Macau. I would have preferred if this was the third or fourth race if I could choose because it’s very demanding. But, at the same time, when everything works well the reward of a good lap on the Nordschleife is unique, it’s fantastic.”
Vila Real’s epic street track is unchartered territory for you. Do you learn circuits quickly?
“This year there are some tracks where I have never raced, Vila Real is one of them. Adria is going to be new for everyone, in Hungaroring I haven’t raced, in South Korea and China either. I know half of the circuits where we’re going to race so I try to compensate with a bit of simracing. I have a simulator at home and I give always some hours to have less learning time when we get to the circuit. Nowadays with the new tracks, you can compare them at home a little bit and it takes less time. Before it used to take half a day to really drive well at a new track.”
You’ll get to race at home, at MotorLand Aragón, this season. How good is that prospect?
“I have only tested at MotorLand. But when you race at home you always have that extra push. It’s interesting and it’s going to be the first race when we have PURE ETCR and WTCR at the same time.”
Looking back on your time in the WTCC, who is the rival you fear the most or want to get revenge over when you line up in the WTCR this season?
“Definitely there’s no revenge! WTCR has so many good, talented drivers. The challenge is going to be beating all of them. All of them are really very professional and it’s going to really interesting mix of young drivers that come from single-seaters with a lot of speed and some very experienced drivers. I will meet drivers who are my friends outside but inside the track they are all going to be very tough like Yvan [Muller] in the Lynk & Co, Gabriele in the Hyundai, or Honda with Tiago. I’m going to have many good rivals but the first rival I have is Mikel in my team because he’s going to be my closest reference and I know he’s going to be extremely quick.”