Nathanaël Berthon snatched his first pole position in his comeback to the FIA World Touring Car Cup with a fabulous lap in the top-five shoot out, as just 0.041 seconds separated the top three in qualifying at WTCR Race of Belgium.

The Frenchman was the last to run in his Goodyear-equipped Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS and put in a lap of 1m35.486s to knock Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Yann Ehrlacher from the top. Behind Ehrlacher, FIA Rookie Award contender Gilles Magnus impressed as he has all weekend at his home circuit of Zolder to end up third for the RACB National Team.

“We had a very good pre-season and the guys did a really good job on the Audi,” said a delighted Berthon. “This lap was pretty quick, especially the last sector. I knew I had to give it everything.”

Ehrlacher, while disappointed to miss out on the DHL pole, was satisfied with his effort. “After this long time with no racing I’m quite happy to be on the front row and score some qualifying points. I did a lap on the edge, there was nothing left. It would have been difficult to find more and we will fight again tomorrow.”

In the 20-minute Q1 session, Thed Björk and Magnus both had spells at the head of the times, but Ehrlacher’s late effort pushed him back to the top with a lap of 1m35.827s. The top 12 progressed to Q2 and experienced WTCR aces Jean-Karl Vernay, King of WTCR Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse) and Néstor Girolami only just made the cut in P10, P11 and P12 respectively. Those who missed out included Australian newcomer Dylan O’Keefe, just outside the bubble in P13 in his Vuković Motorsport Renault Mégane, Nicky Catsburg (Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing. Team), 2018 title winner Gabriele Tarquini, FIA Rookie Award contender Jack Young and Honda-powered Tiago Monteiro.

Catsburg said he was not surprised to miss out, with Michelisz the only Hyundai to progress to Q2. “We weren’t expecting to get through and from testing we knew it would be a tough weekend. It just means we need to work a bit harder.”

A flurry of last-lap improvements shook up the order in the 10-minute Q2 session. As he had in the second free practice session, Magnus used his Zolder knowledge to lead the way, an impressive lap of 1m35.480s knocking Santiago Urrutia from the top. The other three to progress to the one-at-a-time Q3 shoot-out were Ehrlacher, Yvan Muller and Berthon as the fifth fastest qualifier, with Tom Coronel just missing out in sixth.

The others to drop out at this stage were Attila Tassi, Björk, Vernay and Argentine ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda team-mates Girolami and Guerrieri. Michelisz propped up the times in P12. Geurrieri said: “It’s not the best start to the weekend, but still we are going to fight.”

As the fastest qualifier, Magnus had the pick of the running order in Q3 – and chose to go first. The 21-year-old, buoyed by confidence, set an impressive benchmark time of 1m35.527s.

Uruguayan Urrutia, making his WTCR debut, was next up in his Lynk & Co and put in a spectacular effort, only to lose out in the final sector to end up 0.353s slower than Magnus. Then Ehrlacher was the third to run in his Lynk & Co. What could the Frenchman do? To the delight of his Cyan Racing team, his time put him on top by just 0.010s.

“Sector 2 and sector 3 were close to perfect,” said Magnus, shaking his head, “so to see Ehrlacher go fastest by such a margin is a little frustrating. But as it’s my first super pole session, I’m happy.”

Muller was next and could only end up 0.552s down on his nephew who sat on the provisional DHL pole. But Berthon was the last to run – and had a special lap up his sleeve. The Frenchman managed a 1m35.486s to top the list by just 0.031s.

Race 1 at WTCR Race of Belgium takes place on Sunday morning at 10:30 local time.

2020 FIA WTCR Race of Belgium – Qualifying Results
Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time
1. Nathanaël Berthon Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport 1:35.486
2. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:35.517
3. Gilles Magnus Comtoyou Racing 1:35.527
4. Santiago Urrutia Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:35.880
5. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:36.069
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time
6. Tom Coronel Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport 1:35.907
7. Attila Tassi ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport 1:35.941
8. Thed Björk Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:35.993
9. Jean-Karl Vernay Team Mulsanne 1:36.065
10. Néstor Girolami ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 1:36.119
11. Esteban Guerrieri ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 1:36.301
12. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse 1:36.606
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time
13. Dylan O’Keeffe Vuković Motorsport Renault Logo 2020 1:36.877
14. Luca Engstler Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team 1:37.020
15. Nicky Catsburg Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team 1:37.025
16. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse 1:37.054
17. Jack Young Vuković Motorsport Renault Logo 2020 1:37.062
18. Tiago Monteiro ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport 1:37.192
19. Bence Boldizs Zengő Motorsport Services KFT 1:37.353
20. Mikel Azcona Zengő Motorsport Services KFT 1:37.410
Did Not Qualify Team / Entry Time
EX. Luca Filippi Team Mulsanne no time
EX. Gábor Kismarty-Lechner Zengő Motorsport Services KFT no time

Championship Points:

  • The fastest five qualifiers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Luca Filippi and Gábor Kismarty-Lechner’s respective qualifying times were cancelled for failing to stop at the weighbridge as instructed during Qualifying 1.
  • Nicky Catsburg was issued a five-place grid penalty for Race 1 for failing to slow sufficiently whilst yellow flags were deployed during Free Practice 2.
  • Luca Filippi was issued a five-place grid penalty for Race 1 for failing to slow sufficiently whilst yellow flags were deployed during Free Practice 2.

Images and text via FIA WTCR Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.