Qualifying for the weekend’s World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) races took place on Friday afternoon at the Slovakiaring. The unusual timetable comes as a result of the Eastern European track also being shared with the FIM Endurance World Championship, which is running an 8-hour motorcycle race on Saturday.
As always, WTCR qualifying was split into two events. The first session would decide the grid for Race One, while the second session would define the starting order for races two & three.
Qualifying for Race One:
The aerodynamic Audi was expected to be the car to beat around the high-speed Slovakiaring layout, however it was Hyundai that came out on top. In particular, Nicky Catsburg and Norbert Michelisz were the class of the field, with the former narrowly edging ahead of the latter on the time-sheets to secure pole position for Race One. Their Hyundai team-mates didn’t have quite such a rosy time though. Reigning champion, Gabriele Tarquini could do no better than 13th, while Augusto Farfus was still struggling to adapt to front-wheel drive in 19th.
Behind the Hyundai duo at the front, Alfa Romeo and Cupra were proving to be surprisingly quick. Ma Qing Hua went third fastest for Team Mulsanne, with team-mate Kevin Ceccon lining up in sixth. In between the two Giulietta TCRs were Daniel Haglof and Tom Coronel in an impressive fourth and fifth place respectively.
As ever, Jean-Karl Vernay was the quickest Audi, but could only manage seventh place in qualifying. Championship leader, Nestor Girolami, was feeling the effects of the new BoP measures placed upon his Honda. The Argentine couldn’t quite break into the top ten in 11th. His team-mate, and title rival, Esteban Guerrieri, did slightly better, putting his car into eighth place.
One of the major stories from qualifying though, was the pace – or lack thereof – of the Cyan Racing Lynk & Co cars. The 03 TCR had actually lost weight in the updated Balance of Performance (BoP) regulations, but the Chinese marque were struggling considerably more than they had been previously. Yvan Muller was their top qualifier down in 18th, while Thed Bjork, Yann Ehrlacher and Andy Priaulx were 25th, 26th and 27th respectively.
Qualifying for Races Two & Three:
The second qualifying event would take on a more complex format. Split into three parts, only the top twelve drivers would progress into the second session.
There were multiple high-profile casualties in what evolved into a chaotic event due to quickly drying track conditions. Gabriele Tarquini and Augusto Farfus were once again way behind their Hyundai counterparts, finding themselves in 16th and 17th respectively.
Lynk & Co continued to struggle, with Yvan Muller, Andy Priaulx and Yann Ehrlacher all being knocked out in 20th, 23rd and 25th. Honda stalwart, Tiago Monteiro, was also way down in 24th.
But while the favourites fell by the wayside, the door opened up for some terrific underdog results. Niels Langeveld – the only full-time driver not to have scored a point thus far – progressed into Q2, and would secure a fantastic seventh place on the grid for Race Three.
Elsewhere, Thed Bjork hauled his Lynk & Co up to 11th place on the grid – a mega effort given their struggles in Slovakia. There was good news for Volkswagen too. Benjamin Leuchter made it into Q2 for the first time, while Rob Huff‘s 10th place result in the second session would be enough to secure pole position for the reversed-grid race two. Crucially, Huff will be joined on the front row of the grid by championship-leader, Nestor Girolami, who’ll be keen to maximise his points tally from a tricky weekend thus far for Honda.
At the top of the time-sheets though, it was a case of deja vu. Kevin Ceccon was once again sixth fastest, therefore just missing out on progression into Q3; the top-five shoot-out for pole position.
The top five took on a very familiar form to the previous qualifying event, with the exception being Esteban Guerrieri taking the place of Tom Coronel. Guerrieri would end up fifth fastest, while the top four would exactly replicate the result from earlier. Nicky Catsburg was fastest of all to secure pole position for Race Three, just ahead of Norbert Michelisz. Ma Qing Hua will once again line up from third, ahead of the ever-impressive driver/team-boss, Daniel Haglof, in fourth.