Interview with Michela Cerruti: “ETCR unique and innovative championship Romeo Ferraris ready for a constructor”

Michele Montesano

The Italian stage of the ETCR was lived intensely for the Romeo Ferraris team. First of all because Vallelunga was the home run for the builder of Opera, the team also came from Zolder’s victory signed by Maxime Martin. The Belgian himself, with a winning streak that started from pole and reached victories in the quarter and semi-finals, could aspire to recapture the title of ‘King of the Weekend’.

Unfortunately, the violent accident involving Bruno Spengler in the Super Final Fast cut Romeo Ferrari’s men’s dreams of glory to an abrupt end. Who have decided to withdraw the cars from the competition early for safety reasons. The Canadian driver, on the other hand, was first taken to the circuit’s medical center before being transferred to the nearby Sant’Andrea Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a slight fracture of the T6 thoracic vertebra.

Vallelunga was also an opportunity to talk about how ETCR has grown during its first year of life and how the Romeo Ferraris team is working in the championship reserved for electric Touring. Michela Cerruti, team manager of the Italian team, told us about it on Saturday.

Coming off a positive and victorious weekend like Zolders. What was the preparation for the home deal?

“There was very little time to prepare. Especially with these machines, it is not easy to get organized to go for testing. Because due to a number of factors related to electric motorization, we have to find the right place that can accommodate us ‘energetic’. We tried to take the good from Zolder, where we saw the car doing very well, and transfer the same positivity to another circuit. Obviously the set-up has been tweaked a bit, but Vallelunga is a of the very few places where we have already tried in the collective tests. So we already had some initial data that we integrated with the improvements of Zolder and then, as we ran through the different sessions, we made some small changes”.

In this regard: despite being a traditional petrol car, where can you intervene in the setup of an ETCR?

“From this point of view, the set-up changes are exactly the same as for a traditional car. Then we tackle what generally changes on racing cars: parameters such as shock absorber springs, heights, anti-roll bars, camber, brake distribution and aerodynamics. Although with such heavy machines (about 1800 kg), the aerodynamics have less efficiency and effectiveness than other types of cars”.

Given that the same car is shared between two drivers, does the choice come down to the same driving style or are there other parameters?

“When you want to be perfect, nothing can be by chance, and it is clear that an integral part of the performance is the driver himself. That is why we have tried to put drivers who have the same needs and the same taste in terms of car behavior on the same car. However, there may be small changes that need to be made from one session to the next. Also because in reality there are not many moments when you can work on the machine. Load times are long and you have a few minutes to prepare for the session, so we try not to make major changes unless strictly necessary.”

This being the second season of the ETCR, in light of this, how has your approach to the race weekend or to the championship itself changed?

“When we look at the trend that the championship already took last year, we understood that the choice of drivers is fundamental. Hence the decision to fall back on 4 professionals who could give us the right guarantees of performance. Because when we needed to understand how accurate we were in terms of competitiveness, we didn’t want there to be an uncontrolled variable. In terms of the car, we tried to maximize the sessions on the track. A lot of work is done on the data, therefore a virtual work in relation to studying the telemetry and analyzing the collected data during the various sessions. Free practice is very short and it is certainly unlikely that a driver will be able to tell you exactly how the car behaves in every corner. So the data gives you very important information about the level of grip, about the trend in the set-up and generally about the behavior of the car”.

So the work upstream is greater than on the track?

“Almost. Also on the track, there is a lot of analysis through the data of how the car actually behaves on the track. We also watch a lot of videos and observe what the opponents are doing, because there are weekends when someone goes a lot faster than the others. Then maybe we line up at the end of the weekend, but there are occasions where someone starts with some kind of advantage. Session management is also different from last year. Last season we did a lot of 300 kW, and sometimes we didn’t even test at 500 kW, so the drivers in qualifying could get into difficulties. This year, however, we do the exact opposite. We prefer to go to 500 kW in testing, at the cost of fewer laps, because then it’s easier to go down to 300 kW and you’ll be more ready to qualify, which is always crucial”.

How was the decision made to use the Alfa Romeo Giulia to tackle the ETCR?

“The real reason was to follow the flow of what the TCR project was with the Giulietta. I don’t deny that, just as we hoped to involve the manufacturer for the TCR car, we believed that the electric could generate the right interest from Stellantis side to participate in the project. As Italians, we counted a lot on the love that is for this brand, but it didn’t work, because Alfa Romeo never wanted to get involved, nevertheless the doors are always open. However, many houses are interested for emission-free mobility and electric racing. For our part, we have a structure, a technical office and an engineering department capable of building an electric car for any manufacturer, even without its own racing department”.

How difficult was it to design and develop an electric car from a practically blank sheet of paper?

“It was difficult, long, expensive and costly from all points of view, both in terms of human and financial resources. In terms of design capacity, it was certainly a huge challenge. On the other hand, you have a technical regulation where the drivetrain part, therefore motor, battery and inverter are already defined for all competitors. Basically, the big challenge was to build the car around this Race Kit and find the most efficient cooling system possible. Not a simple task, especially when you are dealing with a machine that in the production version does not include an electric motor. There is very little out of the way now, the Giulia is actually a racing car. At chassis level, with the wheelbase a bit longer than the competition, here in Vallelunga we have some problems in the third sector, while we recover in the fast sections like in Curvone and at Cimini. It’s always a game of balance, as in all multi-brand championships there are tracks that adapt to one car over another. Just look at Vallelunga’s qualifying: it’s a matter of a few tenths between first and last. There is great balance when you have a weight-to-power ratio that is the same for everyone, the challenge lies precisely in dynamics and in fine-tuning the set-up”.

As a driver, did you also have the opportunity to personally test the Giulia ETCR?

“Yes unfortunately only once at the beginning of last year (pictured below). It happened right on Vallelunga’s short configuration during the first tests, where we still only had one rider. I know today is a completely different car and much more drivable too. When you have four drivers and little track time, there is no staying in the car, as was the case with the Giulietta TCR. But I want to drive it now, maybe now that the season is over. Not in the race because I have now changed my role definitively. It is not possible to do both, it is my company and my team, there is a lot of work that needs to be done outside the cockpit”.

Since you also raced in Formula E, what are the points of contact between the two electric categories?

“Apart from the silence and the electric motorization that releases instant torque, it’s two completely opposite worlds. The Formula E when I drove it had a lot less power than these Touring cars at around 680bhp. Even with a weight of 1800 kg, the power is insane and you have the instant feeling of torque that is there immediately. In Formula E, you had a kind of engine brake, ‘regen’ (Regenerative Braking), a mechanism that regenerates the battery during braking. There is not one here, so it will be much more difficult to stop the car”.

ETCR presents a completely different format also in terms of the races, in your opinion is that right or would you prefer a slightly more traditional approach, maybe in the style of WTCR?

“The format was created and conceived on a different and innovative racing concept. Which is because you have an innovative and unique product, so why not try a somewhat specific format? From the viewer’s side, I realize that it can be a bit difficult to enjoy: Because either you follow all the sessions, from the quarterfinals to the finals, or it gets complicated. From the outside, it’s not very easy to understand, so it doesn’t help. The ideal would be to find a compromise that fits well with technology and battery life and at the same time also meets the tradition a little so that the public can better follow it and become passionate. We who work there have come to appreciate and love it. You have a very high level of pilots, the fights are beautiful and the fights are intense and tighten”.

In conclusion, in your opinion, what are the strengths of ETCR and what would you change?

“Going back to the speech above, I personally would like a format closer to traditional racing. To make it more attractive, we need people to be passionate about it. I certainly wouldn’t change the cars because they are beautiful, and they are powerful. We also like to hear the roar of the engine, here there are whistles and for an enthusiast it can sometimes be an obstacle. The concept of a short race and a head to head is something that works because the riders give their soul in the 4-5 laps. But there needs to be something a little closer to traditional races, maybe reduce the number of sessions to make it more telegenic. Only this way the public can easily understand how it works and also want to see the following race. It is true that in the calendar there are city circuits that have to be placed side by side with the permanents because they have their own charm and there is the thrill of the wall. Although, given the wide track of touring cars, one must be very careful when choosing gives”.

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