Gabriele Tarquini has claimed pole position for the opening World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race at the Slovakiaring. Throughout the session, both he and his BRC Racing team-mate Norbert Michelisz looked practically untouchable in terms of pace.
John Filippi’s session was over before it had even really begun. After getting his car stuck in the gravel trap, the Corsican driver was then not permitted to take any further part in qualifying, as he’d received outside assistance from the marshals. Without a lap time to his name, Filippi will therefore start race one from the back of the grid alongside Thed Bjork and Zsolt Szabo who will have to serve penalties for changing their engines.
Once the session got properly underway, it was Norbert Michelisz who was the initial pace-setter, becoming the first driver to break the 2:10:000 time barrier. It wasn’t long before Tarquini did likewise, and so the two BRC Racing team-mates remained unmatched for the remainder of the session. Despite Hyundai locking-out the top four in the early stages, neither YMR car of Yvan Muller or Thed Bjork could get even close to Michelisz and Tarquini.
Aurelien Comte and Pepe Oriola proved themselves to be the dark horses for victory this weekend, with both the Peugeot and Cupra respectively splitting the Hyundai quartet on various occasions throughout qualifying. Despite some apparent mechanical issues, Denis Dupont put in a good display too, securing thirteenth place at a track where the Audi teams seemed to struggle.
The final few moments descended into a free-for-all as the majority of the field improved upon their lap times. Mat’o Homola was one of the greater beneficiaries as he jumped up from lower mid-table obscurity to top ten contention. At the front, Michelisz looked to have pole position covered as he improved his own lap time even further. Team-mate Gabriele Tarquini hadn’t read that particular script though, and went fastest of all in the dying seconds of qualifying to take pole position for race one.
So, with Thed Bjork’s engine penalty coming into play, the top ten looked like this: Tarquini, Michelisz and Yvan Muller made it a Hyundai 1-2-3, while the top five was rounded out by the impressive Aurelien Comte and Pepe Oriola. Esteban Guerrieri was the top Honda in sixth, just ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay in the Audi. Tom Coronel had an exceptional result in qualifying to secure eighth place on the starting grid, just ahead of championship contender Yann Ehrlacher and local Slovakian hero, Mat’o Homola.
Further down, Gordon Shedden – who spent most of his time sideways or upset on the team radio – ended up in 20th place; the former British Touring Car champion clearly unhappy with his Audi’s set-up. Just behind him was Kevin Ceccon, the man making his debut in the WTCR as Gianni Morbidelli‘s replacement. Ceccon’s Team Mulsanne team-mate, Fabrizio Giovanardi, had a fairly positive session and ended up sticking the Alfa Romeo into fifteenth place.
The most unfortunate, however, were Sebastien Loeb Racing. Evidently struggling to get to grips with their pair of new Volkswagen TCR cars (not helped by the extra compensation weight that they’re carrying this weekend), Rob Huff and Mehdi Bennani failed to even break into the top twenty.
Race One will be live-streamed on the WTCR Facebook page on Saturday morning, so keep an eye out for that.