The KCMG team were the stars of qualifying at Vila Real, as 19 year-old Attila Tassi took pole position from team-mate Tiago Monteiro.
Sunday’s qualifying session would, as ever, be comprised of three knock-out sessions. In Q1, Augusto Farfus made it easier for everyone else by knocking himself out of contention. The Hyundai driver hit the barriers at the same place as Benjamin Leuchter yesterday, resulting in front-right suspension damage. This meant that the Brazilian couldn’t improve his lap time any further, and so would have to make do with twentieth on the grid.
Farfus wasn’t the only shock departure after the first stage of qualifying. Audi’s leading driver in the points standings, Frederic Vervisch, narrowly missed out on the all-important top twelve, while Johan Kristoffersson was also knocked out in fourteenth. Thed Bjork – the man lying in third place in the championship standings could reach no higher than fifteenth, while yesterday’s race winner – and fellow title contender – Norbert Michelisz was mired down in sixteenth.
In Q2, the notorious high speed left-hander claimed another victim. This time, Kevin Ceccon slammed into the barriers hard enough to warrant the session being halted while his car and debris was recovered. Nestor Girolami settled for eleventh, meaning that he won’t benefit from the reversed grid in Race Two.
Ma Qing Hua, on the other hand, went tenth fastest and thus secures pole position on the reversed grid for Race Two. He’ll be joined on the front row by championship leader, Esteban Guerrieri. Jean-Karl Vernay was the best-performing Audi driver by a large margin. The Frenchman claimed sixth place in qualifying in a car that had struggled for any sort of pace all weekend.
Attila Tassi, Yvan Muller, Tiago Monteiro, Rob Huff and Yann Ehrlacher were the top five drivers in Q2, and as such, they would be the five contenders to try and claim pole position in the Q3 shoot-out.
With each driver getting just one flying lap, Rob Huff went first. His benchmark time didn’t appear to be good enough for pole, and that was confirmed when Yann Ehrlacher then took to the circuit. The Frenchman went three hundredths of a second faster.
Tiago Monteiro then went faster still, almost two hundredths of a second quicker than Ehrlacher. Yvan Muller went next but could only go third fastest, slotting behind his nephew Ehrlacher in the standings.
19 year-old Attila Tassi was the final driver to set his lap time in the shoot-out, and as it turned out, this was a case of saving the best until last. The young Hungarian dethroned his team-mate from the top of the time sheets, and in doing so claimed his first ever pole position in the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR). For his team, KCMG, there was more cause for celebration as it was their first ever pole position too. During a season in which they’ve been overshadowed by the efforts of fellow Honda outfit, Munnich Motorsport, what better way to announce your arrival at the sharp end of the grid than with a front-row lock-out in qualifying.
Although Monteiro might be disappointed at losing out on pole in front of his home crowd, he’ll certainly be elated with the pace that he’s shown. By a long distance, this is the quickest that the Portuguese ace has looked since his recovery from that huge accident in 2017.