WTCR Free Practice 1 flash: Ehrlacher and Bjork top times to signal start of 2021 season
King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher began his title defence in the best possible manner by topping the opening free practice session at WTCR Race of Germany, as the 2021 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup kicked into life on the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
In fine and dry conditions, Cyan Racing ace Ehrlacher, driving a Goodyear-equipped Lynk & Co 03 TCR, set the benchmark on his third and final lap as Cyan Performance Lynk & Co pilot Thed Björk made it a one-two for the Chinese make. All five customer racing brands in action in the WTCR this season were represented in the top 10 with cars from Audi, CUPRPA, Honda and Hyundai well placed.
Néstor Girolami, who took pole position on the Nürburgring Nordschleife’s WTCR round last year, set the pace after the first practice laps of the famous 25.378-kilometre circuit, managing a time of 9m00.423s in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR. Ehrlacher then briefly hit the top with his second effort, only to be demoted by FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title contender Luca Engstler. The German, driving for Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, was the first to dip below the nine-minute barrier with a lap of 8m59.103s in his new Hyundai Elantra N TCR.
But on his third attempt Ehrlacher returned to the top with a time of 8m57.720s, just 1.255s ahead of Björk.
“It is only the first practice, the sun is shining and the weather will definitely change for the second practice session and for qualifying,” said Ehrlacher, who said in the pre-event press conference that “the only pressure is in my Goodyear tyres”. “It is not easy to begin the season at The Green Hell. The car feels really good and is close to what we finished last year with. Now we go again.”
Behind Björk, Engstler ended up third ahead of another young driver, ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport’s Attila Tassi who just out-paced team-mate Girolami in fifth.
Mikel Azcona was the fastest of the CUPRA Leon Competición racers, setting the sixth best time for Zengő Motorsport ahead of Santiago Urrutia (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co). Tiago Monteiro was next up in his Honda and Nathanaël Berthon was the quickest second-generation Audi RS 3 LMS, in ninth for Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport.
Yvan Muller completed the top 10 in his Lynk & Co, but the 40-minute session ended badly for the Frenchman who nosed into a barrier at Hatzenbach, at the start of the Nordschleife.
Norbert Michelisz was P11 in his BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse entry, ahead of Esteban Guerrieri (Honda) and Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Audi) on the Belgian’s return to the WTCR. Tom Coronel was P14, with Gilles Magnus completing a trio of Audis to round up the top 15.
Jessica Bäckman finished her first WTCR practice session in Target Competition’s Hyundai Elantra N TCR in a respectable P18, just ahead of vastly experienced Spaniard Jordi Gené (Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA).
Jean-Karl Vernay was the only driver not to record a lap time, on his debut for Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team, due to a suspected technical issue.
The second free practice session at WTCR Race of Germany will start at 19h00 local time.