Nicky Catsburg remains the driver to beat over one lap at the Automotodróm Slovakia Ring after clinching back-to-back pole positions, meaning he will start two of this weekend’s three WTCR races from the front row of the grid.
Friday afternoon’s second qualifying to determine the grid order for the second and third races at the Slovakia Ring saw an identical result for the top-four – Catsburg once again claimed pole position ahead of Hyundai stablemate Norbert Michelisz, with Ma Qing Hua (Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo) and Daniel Häglof qualifying third- and fourth-fastest respectively.
With this qualifying session run in a Formula 1-style knockout format, there was anxiety among the 27-car field as a heavy rain shower hit the track before the start of Q1. Most drivers initially opted for a combination of slicks and wets, but as the first 20-minute session wore on the track dried and the need to switch to slick tyres was quickly becoming apparent.
In the end, making it into the top-twelve was a case of being out on a flying lap as late as possible. Catsburg was the benchmark driver – albeit with a time some two seconds slower than his pole-winning lap in the qualifying session for Race 1 – but his Hyundai stablemates Gabriele Tarquini (16th) and Augusto Farfus (17th) joined a long list of fancied runners to fall at the first hurdle.
Jean-Karl Vernay (WRT Audi) was another driver to face an early bath and could only manage 19th-fastest. The session was tough for series returnee Tiago Monteiro, who again struggled for one-lap pace in his KCMG Honda and could only clock the 24th-fastest time.
It was even worse for Comtoyou Racing’s Tom Coronel – who qualified comfortably inside the top ten in the earlier session – as the Dutch veteran’s Cupra suffered a puncture that meant he failed to post a time inside 107% of Catsburg’s. He will receive dispensation from the race stewards to take the start of Races 2 and 3, albeit from dead last.
The second Q2 session was once again determined by track position, although Catsburg again led the way as lap times improved on the ever-drying track. Joining him in the one-lap Q3 shootout for pole position were Esteban Guerrieri (Münnich Motorsport Honda), along with Ma, Häglof and Michelisz.
With the Q3 runners getting to choose their running order based on how they qualified in Q2, it was no surprise that Catsburg elected to run last when track conditions would be at their best. Michelisz was the first man out and clocked an impressive 2:09.746 which Häglof, Ma and Guerrieri proved unable to beat.
Catsburg’s flying lap saw him post purple sector splits over the first two-thirds of a lap, and despite being slower than Michelisz in the final sector he had enough in hand to clinch back-to-back pole positions.
Ma’s teammate Kevin Ceccon just missed out getting his Alfa Romeo into the shootout, posting the sixth-fastest time ahead of the session’s sole Audi runner in former TCR Germany racer Niels Langeveld’s (Comtoyou Racing).
Aurélien Panis (Comtoyou Cupra), Néstor Girolami (Münnich Motorsport Honda) and Rob Huff (SLR Volkswagen) completed the top-ten and will therefore start from third, second and first respectively for Sunday’s reversed-grid Race 2.
After struggling in the first qualifying session, Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk was the sole Lynk & Co runner in Q2 but could only manage eleventh-fastest.
With the WTCR round sharing double-billing with the FIM Endurance motorcycle championship which has its main race on Saturday, all three races will take place in a single day on Sunday.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Slovakia – Race 2 & 3 Qualifying Results|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||2:09.639|
|2.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||2:09.746||+ 0.107|
|3.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||2:10.114||+ 0.475|
|4.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||2:10.335||+ 0.696|
|5.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||2:10.518||+ 0.879|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|6.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||2:10.870||+ 0.429|
|7.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||2:10.943||+ 0.502|
|8.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||2:10.976||+ 0.535|
|9.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||2:11.352||+ 0.911|
|10.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||2:11.572||+ 1.131|
|11.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||2:12.024||+ 1.583|
|12.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||2:12.215||+ 1.774|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|13.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||2:13.173||+ 1.296|
|14.||Luca Engstler (WC)||Team Engstler Hyundai||2:13.250||+ 1.373|
|15.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||2:13.354||+ 1.477|
|16.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||2:13.430||+ 1.553|
|17.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||2:13.545||+ 1.668|
|18.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||2:13.552||+ 1.675|
|19.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||2:13.553||+ 1.676|
|20.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||2:13.649||+ 1.772|
|21.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||2:13.683||+ 1.806|
|22.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||2:13.855||+ 1.978|
|23.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||2:13.911||+ 2.034|
|24.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||2:14.093||+ 2.216|
|25.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||2:14.177||+ 2.300|
|26.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||2:15.305||+ 3.428|
|NQ.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||2:20.206||+ 8.329|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 2:10.441 posted by Nicky Catsburg.
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 2:11.877 posted by Nicky Catsburg.
- The fastest five qualifiers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- To be advised
Images via FIA WTCR Media