Rob Huff has taken pole position for the first World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race of the Zandvoort Jumbo Racedagen event. The result comes after Hyundai – who have been dominant so far this season – struggled to deal with the new Balance of Performance measures placed upon them.
Right from the start, Huff initially went quickest, however the Audi teams were also right in the mix. Jean-Karl Vernay in particular looked threatening in the early stages and dethroned Huff at the top of the time sheets. The session was temporarily halted in order to retrieve Zsolt Szabo‘s Cupra from the gravel trap, but by this point Huff had dropped out of the top five as a mix of different cars were showing good form. Vernay still led the way, but he was now joined at the top by Yann Ehrlacher‘s Honda, Audi team-mate Gordon Shedden, Mehdi Bennani in the Volkswagen and the Cupra of Pepe Oriola.
Once the session was restarted, the tide turned back in the favour of Honda. First, Esteban Guerrieri went fastest of all, but he was quickly out-paced by team-mate Yann Ehrlacher. However, Rob Huff had found a sweet spot in the set-up of his Volkswagen, and it wasn’t long before the Brit returned to the top of the pile.
Ehrlacher wasn’t ready to concede defeat quite so easily though, and reclaimed first place in the standings. But with five minutes left of the session, the Huff-Ehrlacher yo-yo came to an end with the British driver being able to put in an even faster lap time. Just behind, the Team WRT Audi duo came back into contention for the top spots, with Gordon Shedden going third fastest narrowly ahead of Vernay who had climbed back up into fourth place.
Elsewhere, Tom Coronel has had an incredibly difficult time at his home track up to now. With the team unable to diagnose a persistent issue with his Honda, Coronel had been languishing towards the tail end of the field in Saturday’s practice sessions. For most of this qualifying session, it looked as though that would once again be the case. However, with just a few minutes left on the clock, the Dutchman initially made his way up to sixth place in the standings, before eventually being pushed down to eighth by improvements from Benjamin Lessennes and Aurelien Comte. Nonetheless, this was a highly respectable performance by Coronel in a car which clearly isn’t performing as it should.
The real story of qualifying, however, was the pace – or rather the lack of it – from the Hyundai teams. Heading into Zandvoort, the four Hyundai drivers locked-out the top four positions in the drivers’ championship standings. The South Korean marque’s cars have been almost untouchable this season, sparking a quite a dramatic decision by the FIA to significantly adjust the Balance of Performance measures.
Norbert Michelisz was the fastest Hyundai driver, qualifying in fourteenth place, while championship leader Yvan Muller could only manage a lap time quick enough for 21st. It is still relatively early days under these new BoP measures, however the initial signs are somewhat concerning. We will have to wait and see whether the Hyundai quartet are any quicker during the races this weekend, but performances so far indicate that the FIA may have been a little too harsh.
Coverage of race one, which Rob Huff will start from pole position, can be found live on the WTCR Facebook page or OSCARO.com. We’ll also have a report of all the action right here on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk.