Honda-powered Néstor Girolami scorched to pole position in Race 1 at today’s WTCR Clean Fuels for All Race of France by beating his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport teammate Esteban Guerrieri in an eventful qualifying session on the streets of Pau.
Argentinian Girolami set the fastest time in the Q3 shootout after the Q2 session was interrupted by a major accident for Thed Björk in his Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 03 TCR, where the Swede escaped unharmed.
Four-time FIA World Touring Car champion Yvan Muller was third fastest for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co with Nathanaël Berthon of Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport fourth and China’s Ma Qing Hua fifth on his return to the WTCR after a two-season absence.
Under new rules for the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup 2022, the fastest five drivers in qualifying, whether they completed their fastest lap in qualifying Q1, Q2 or Q3, will score points on a scale of 10-8-6- 4-2 . It means that Girolami, Guerrieri, Berthon, Mikel Azcona of BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse and Gilles Magnus, the Belgian youngster of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, have all registered their first scores of the season.
Azcona claims glory early with best lap Q1
In the 30-minute Q1 session, Azcona set the fastest time in his Hyundai Elantra N TCR, ahead of Girolami, Magnus, Guerrieri and Ma Qing Hua (Lynk & Co). As the top 12 progressed into Q2, six drivers missed the cut.
Led by Rob Huff’s Zengő Motorsport Cupra Leon Competición, the British driver finished just 0.063 seconds slower than Santiago Urrutia, who just came through in P12. The Uruguayan had been fastest in both free practice sessions, so he may have expected to qualify more comfortably than he did.
King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher was also relieved to make it through after scraping his Lynk & Co against a barrier and sustaining damage. “I’m sorry for the guys, but we’re on the brink and it could happen,” he said. “There is no margin for error here.”
Beyond Huff, the others who missed the cut were Mehdi Bennani (Audi) on P14, Tiago Monteiro (Honda), Tom Coronel whose session was interrupted by a tire from the rim on his Audi, Dániel Nagy (Cupra) and Wild Card- entry Eric Cayrolle (Audi).
Clap to Björk as Guerrieri surpass Q2 order
The Q2 session was interrupted after three of the 15 minute session when Björk flipped through a wall at Turn 12/13, causing the Lynk & Co to hit the guardrail on the other side of the track heavily. The front left punched a big hole in the guardrail when Björk’s car bounced out and stranded in the middle of the track when exiting a blind corner. Two other Lynk & Cos narrowly missed him, driving through a small gap between the car and the guardrail as the red flags flew to stop the session. Björk walked away from the accident unaided.
Ma was the first to arrive and was relieved that he narrowly avoided his own accident. “It was a really critical situation,” he said. “I saw the yellow flag, I slowed down a bit, but Thed’s car stopped just at the exit of a blind spot and I couldn’t see anything at all. I was really lucky to go through [the hole] but I still have some damage to the car. †
Björk said: “It was a big impact. We are fighting to get around this track without thinking about hitting the wall because everyone is pushing so hard for the limit. I didn’t expect it for me. Once you make a little mistake here, the track bites me back so hard. But I feel okay. I’m really upset because I wanted to have the points and have a good race tomorrow. I’m sorry for the guys on the team, but I’m glad I’m feeling good. Now I have to fight back. I like street circuits, but this is what happens sometimes.”
When the session started, Guerrieri made his mark on the session with the fastest time of 1m19.85s – the first driver to dive under 1m20s. The other four drivers who advanced to the Q3 shootout were Berthon, who put in a great lap to jump into second, ahead of Girolami, Muller and Ma.
A frustrated Ehrlacher just missed sixth place, as did free practice pacemaker Urrutia in seventh. Azcona was disappointed to qualify only eighth, ahead of Attila Tassi and Norbert Michelisz whose P10 gave him the partially reversed pole position for Race 2. him to return to the track to start at the front for Sunday’s second race.
Guerrieri goes first, Girolami goes fastest
Guerrieri chose to ride first in the top-five Q3 shootout. He set a fast benchmark of 1m19,937s, only slightly slower than his Q2 effort. His ALL-INKL.COM Munnich Motorsport team-mate Girolami was next in line, was in the first sector, slightly slower in the second – and crossed the line 0.154 seconds faster than Guerrieri.
Ma became the third of five to take his chance, during his first weekend at the Lynk & Co. The Chinese driver was 0.964 seconds from Girolami’s lap and posed no threat to the Honda duo.
Now it was Muller’s turn. The local hero proved faster than Ma, but was 0.578 seconds away from Girolami’s goal for third – with only Berthon remaining. The Audi driver tried his best, but finished behind Muller, leaving the top four only 0.846 seconds apart.
That left the top five as Girolami in Race 1 pole position behind Guerrieri, Muller, Berthon and Ma. “I want to congratulate everyone on the team, they have done a fantastic job. Maybe we were too fast! Let’s see how we do the next race with the 40kg!” said a delighted Girolami. “I’m also so happy for Esteban as he put in a great lap in Q2. We list everything. The car was great in free practice and I knew in Q3 the track temperature was getting colder and the lap time was going to decrease, so I went a bit more aggressive. The front fought more but that gave me two tenths more and I’m happy to have the first pole position of the season and now we have to finish the job tomorrow. We have to be smart. You can’t do much on a street circuit. But I feel so happy and so confident with the car.”
Race 1: 13h10 (30 minutes +1 lap)
Race 1 podium: 13h50 approx.
Race 2: 17h10 (25 minutes + 1 lap)
Race 2 podium: 17h45 approx.
All timings CET, provisional and subject to change. Provisional results attached