Norbert Michelisz has claimed back-to-back pole positions after dominating qualifying in the World Touring Car Championship’s Portuguese round at the Vila Real street circuit.
The Honda driver shared practice honours in the day’s earlier practice sessions, but proved untouchable around the 4.6-kilometre street circuit when it counted by breaking the lap record to claim pole. Fastest in all three sectors on his shootout lap, the Hungarian rocketed to pole by almost seven-tenths of a second.
He should have been joined on the front row by teammate and crowd favourite Tiago Monteiro, but the Portuguese driver suffered a wild slide at the Turn 26 roundabout to ruin his lap and slump to fourth on the grid for Sunday’s Main Race.
That left Huff to secure second place on the grid in his Münnich Motorsport Citroën, with Volvo’s Thed Björk claiming third place.
Björk’s teammate and championship leader Nicky Catsburg also made it into the Q3 session, but the Dutchman failed to post a time after suddenly slowing just before starting his flying lap.
With the Volvo cars set to compete against the factory Hondas in the MAC3 session which immediately followed, the team could not afford a terminal problem on any of their cars in their battle for Manufacturers’ Championship honours. As it was, Catsburg’s car was back on track for the session – although still clearly far from perfect – and Volvo managed to win the time trial thanks to Monteiro’s Honda suffering a suspected broken damper.
Sixth-fastest and well short of making the Q3 cut was Tom Chilton in the Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën, who was some six-tenths of a second shy of Catsburg’s fifth-placed time in the session.
The Englishman narrowly pipped teammate Mehdi Bennani, with the pair starting ahead of Campos Racing’s Esteban Guerrieri. The third Volvo S60 of Néstor Girolami qualified ninth-fastest, surviving a torrid Q1 session to scrape into Q2.
The Argentine will start from the front row of Sunday’s Opening Race alongside Ryo Michigami, who claims the first reversed grid pole of his rookie WTCC campaign.
The Japanese driver survived having his fastest Q2 time deleted for exceeding the track limits, but his second-quickest lap was still good enough to edge out the third SLR Citroën John Filippi and RC Motorsports’ Yann Ehrlacher.
Despite the addition of local driver Manuel Fernandes into the field in a third LADA Vesta entered by RC Motorsports – he qualified fourteenth-fastest – the grid will remain at sixteen cars after Tom Coronel was withdrawn from the event after a heavy crash in the opening practice session.
The Dutch driver – a winner in last year’s Opening Race – suffered a front wheel failure on approach to Turn 22 and slid down the escape road before slamming into the side of a fire truck, seemingly parked out of harm’s way. Both Coronel and the truck’s stunned passenger were fortunately unhurt, but the ROAL Motorsport team assessed his Chevrolet’s damage to be too great to repair.
|2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Portugal – Final Qualifying Results|
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||1:55.846|
|2.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||1:56.530||IND|
|3.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:56.919|
|4.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||1:58.940|
|5.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||no time|
|6.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:57.765||IND|
|7.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:57.915||IND|
|8.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:58.364||IND|
|9.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:58.447|
|10.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:58.599|
|11.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:58.967||IND|
|12.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||1:59.287||IND|
|13.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||2:00.410||IND|
|14.||Manuel Fernandes||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||2:00.567||IND|
|15.||Aurélien Panis||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||2:00.937||IND|
|16.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:03.490||IND|
|WD.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||withdrawn||IND|
* Post-Qualifying Penalties:
Image via FIA WTCC Media