Esteban Guerrieri tops majorly disrupted first qualifying session

by James Bowers

Esteban Guerrieri secured pole position for the opening World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race this weekend, ending Qualifying One as the fastest driver around the Nordschleife in slippery conditions.

The session was highly disrupted by the weather and by the stricken Cupra of Mikel Azcona. With 20 minutes left of the session, Azcona’s Cupra ground to a halt in sector four, ensuring that that zone of the circuit became limited to 60 km/h under yellow flag conditions.

This was a big problem for Azcona who was yet to set a flying lap, but also for everyone else who would be unable to improve their own times. With just four minutes left to go of the session, Azcona’s car remained stuck on the circuit, but the yellow flags were withdrawn anyway.

This sparked a final dash to secure a lap time, but that coincided with a sudden downpour of rain. The conditions therefore became impossible for the drivers who had swapped over to slick tyres on the front axle. Inevitably, cars began to drop off the circuit in large numbers, with Frederic Vervisch‘s Audi taking a big side hit into the barriers on an early part of the Nordschleife.

This session was nothing short of a nightmare for Comtoyou Racing. After showing strong pace in practice, Niels Langeveld failed to set a lap time in this qualifying session due to damage sustained earlier in the day. He will consequently start race one from 27th on the grid, while Vervisch’s now-hobbled Audi only adds to the Comtoyou mechanics’ to-do-list. Whether or not either car will be ready for Qualifying Two (to decide the grid order for races two and three) remains to be seen.

Naturally, the results of this session heavily favoured those who were up to speed early on in qualifying. Championship leader, Esteban Guerrieri, was the man who came out on top as a result, a full six seconds ahead of Norbert Michelisz who will join him on the front row of the grid for Hyundai.

Nestor Girolami ensured that three of the top four drivers in the championship standings would take the first three grid slots for Race One, with the Argentine slotting in just ahead of the top Audi performer, Frederic Vervisch.

The unusual conditions threw Lynk & Co a lifeline after their problematic practice sessions earlier in the day. Thed Bjork will keep his championship challenge alive from fifth on the grid, two tenths of a second ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller who’ll line up from sixth.

Jean-Karl Vernay maintains his steady presence in the top ten with seventh in this qualifying session, while Yann Ehrlacher made it three Lynk & Co cars in the top eight; something which had seemed almost impossible just a few hours earlier (albeit nearly ten seconds off the pace of Guerrieri).

Volkswagen rounded out the top ten. The German marque will be ruing the misfortune that struck them in this session, as the fastest cars in practice ended up no higher than ninth through no real fault of their own. Rob Huff was the best of the bunch, narrowly pipping Nordschleife expert Benjamin Leuchter.

Johan Kristoffersson was another victim of the conditions. The fastest driver in combined practice was left mired down in twelfth position on the grid for race one. Ma Qing Hua is also in rather more severe strife. His qualifying session was hampered to the extent that he could not get within the 105% threshold of the pole-sitter’s lap time. Technically, this means that he has been unable to qualify for race one, however Team Mulsanne will most likely appeal this due to the circumstances involved.

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