Right from the start, Volkswagen and Hyundai looked to carry on their strong form from the World Touring Car Cup‘s morning practice sessions. In the early stages of qualifying, Rob Huff set the pace in his Sebastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen, while Thed Bjork and Norbert Michelisz led the charge for Hyundai. Just behind Mehdi Bennani on the time sheets, Esteban Guerrieri ensured that his Honda was the only non-Volkswagen or Hyundai in the top five. Elsewhere, the Cupra-equipped drivers were pushing hard straight away to secure their presence in the top ten too.
However, as Yvan Muller clattered his way through the chicane, the first of four stoppages would commence. Due to the Frenchman’s rough route through that section of the circuit, the session had to be halted in order for some of the track furniture to be repaired.
Back underway, the top spot in the standings was up for grabs. Initially, Rob Huff bettered his own fastest lap time to remain out in front, but was then overhauled by Norbert Michelisz a lap later. The Hungarian’s time as the fastest driver on circuit would be short-lived though, as Huff immediately went even quicker in response. Gianni Morbidelli then planted his Alfa Romeo into the barriers at the chicane, bringing out the second red flag of the session.
Once Morbidelli’s car was removed and the session was restarted, Mehdi Bennani then proved that Rob Huff wasn’t the only Volkswagen driver with front-running pace. Just a few thousandths of a second slower than Huff, Bennani posted a lap time which boosted him up to second place in the standings. John Filippi was another driver who was performing exceptionally well. Moving up to seventh place, the young Corsican made himself the fastest of the Cupra drivers in qualifying.
Following another stoppage to repair track furniture, and another personal best lap time for Rob Huff, qualifying was eventually halted for good when Jean-Karl Vernay slammed his Audi into the barriers at Turn 14. So, it would end up being a 1-2 result for Volkswagen, much to the delight of the entire Sebastien Loeb Racing crew as they secured their best WTCR qualifying result so far this season.
Norbert Michelisz was the quickest Hyundai as he managed to grab third place on the starting grid for this afternoon’s race, while Thed Bjork secured fifth. The Hyundai duo were split by championship leader Yann Ehrlacher, who found some more pace in his Honda since the earlier practice sessions. John Filippi held onto seventh place as the fastest of the Cupra drivers, while Jean-Karl Vernay was the quickest of the Audi drivers in tenth place as the German marque struggled throughout qualifying. Similarly to Gianni Morbidelli, however, there are question marks over whether or not Vernay will be able to start the first race of the weekend due to the damage his car has sustained.
As for the local Portuguese wildcard entries, Edgar Florindo was a second off the front-running pace, and eventually would have to accept 26th position on the Race One starting grid. Just behind him, starting from dead last will be the other wildcard entry, Jose Rodrigues. Unfortunately, Rodrigues was unable to participate in qualifying due to a damaged oil sump that he sustained during practice, so will have to start from the back of the grid.
Race One is scheduled to get underway at 15:00 GMT.