Norbert Michelisz claims pole position with record-breaking lap time

by James Bowers

Norbert Michelisz set a new lap record for World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) cars around the Vila Real circuit, and in doing so, secured pole position in qualifying for Race One.

The session got underway with a bang, quite literally, as Benjamin Leuchter slammed into the barriers very early on. Broken right-rear suspension was the cost for his mistake, but he wouldn’t be the only driver to get a bit too friendly with the track perimeters.

With eighteen minutes to go, Gabriele Tarquini slammed into the tyre stacks at the chicane. As they had been moved out of position, a full course yellow was declared to reconfigure the track furniture. Unfortunately for Tarquini, this meant that his fastest lap was deleted for being the cause of the disruption.

Nicky Catsburg then went on to repeat Tarquini’s error, bringing out yellow flags again around the circuit. This was a huge blow as the Dutchman therefore had to give up his best lap time too; which at that moment was good enough for a place on the front row of the grid.

But, while his Hyundai stablemates were in strife, Norbert Michelisz pulled out a stunning lap time of 2:00.005 to ensure his place at the front of the grid for race one.

Behind him, Augusto Farfus made it a Hyundai 1-2. The Brazilian finally seems happy with the front-wheel drive characteristics of his i30 N TCR, having spent most of his career in rear-wheel drive machinery.

Yann Ehrlacher was the best of the rest for Lynk & Co, just ahead of street circuit master, Rob Huff, in the Volkswagen. Ma Qing Hua shocked everyone by going fifth fastest in the Alfa Romeo, a car which had been gradually improving as the weekend went on.

Nicky Catsburg recovered from his time deletion to go sixth fastest, while Aurelien Panis converted his impressive practice times into an impressive qualifying time that was good enough for seventh on the grid.

Next up, the two Swedes; Johan Kristoffersson and Thed Bjork, will start the race from eighth and ninth respectively, while Kevin Ceccon underlined the progress that Team Mulsanne had made with the Alfa this weekend, placing his car inside the top ten too.

However, that result sadly wouldn’t stick for Ceccon. Having picked up a third reprimand in practice, the Italian will serve a ten-place grid penalty in Race One, dropping him to twentieth on the grid. This means that Gabriele Tarquini moves up into the top ten in his place.

Despite initially setting the pace in the first practice session, 2019’s team-to-beat – Munnich Motorsport – didn’t fare quite so well in qualifying. Nestor Girolami could only manage thirteenth in his Honda, while championship points leader Esteban Guerrieri was left mired down in seventeenth.

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