WTCR Qualifying flash: Berthon blasts to two DHL Pole Positions
Nathanaël Berthon claimed a pair of DHL Pole Positions at WTCR Race of Slovakia by topping both Q1 and the Q3 shootout in qualifying at the Slovakia Ring.
The Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport driver was fastest in the 20-minute Q1 session to secure the DHL Pole Position for Race 1 and the first points of the weekend. He then also topped the Q3 shootout to claim the DHL Pole Position for Race 3 in his Goodyear-equipped Audi RS 3 LMS.
“I gave it everything,” said Berthon, who also started from the front at WTCR Race of Belgium last month. “I was maybe too conservative in Q2. I knew I had the pace, but I just got into Q3. And then that lap – I don’t know! I made a small mistake at the last corner, but I’m very happy. Now I have two chances from pole position.”
Behind Berthon in Q1, the other points scorers were Nicky Catsburg, who banked a brilliant late lap to jump up to second fastest in his Liqui Moly-backed Hyundai, Team Mulsanne’s Jean-Karl Vernay (Alfa Romeo) in third, Gilles Magnus (Audi) in fourth and Gabriele Tarquini in fifth for BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse.
There were some high-profile names who failed to make the top 12 and missed out on progressing to Q2. They included Tiago Monteiro (Honda) in P13, Yvan Muller (Cyan Racing Lynk & Co) in P14 and Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Yann Ehrlacher, who was disappointed to be down in P15.
“We will start all three races in P15,” he said. “It is not the best place. We just have to grab some good points. That’s how it is and we have to deal with that. We definitely need to find some pace from somewhere.”
Bence Boldizs’s Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición was P16, one place ahead of team-mate Mikel Azcona, who had topped the first free practice session. Azcona had an off at the Turn 3 hairpin when he out-braked himself. Others to miss out included wildcard entry Petr Fulin (VEXTA DOMY CUPRA) in P18 and Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver Thed Björk – currently second in the WTCR points – in P21.
The 10-minute Q2 session was interrupted by a red-flag stoppage after Attila Tassi crashed his ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda and bounced into a barrier. His team-mate Monteiro said: “Attila’s OK, he gave the thumbs up. He’s just frustrated, of course. We go out on cold tyres and this can happen. The track is colder than in practice and a bit more slippery.”
The session restarted with six minutes left on the TAG Heuer timing screens. Catsburg again found pace when it counted to qualify for the Q3 shootout as fastest, with a time of 2m09.586s. The others to graduate were Magnus, Norbert Michelisz, Berthon and WTCR Trophy points leader Tom Coronel.
Those to miss out included Esteban Guerrieri’s Honda in sixth and Vernay’s Alfa Romeo in seventh. Santiago Urrutia was eighth in his Lynk & Co, Luca Filippi’s Alfa Romeo in ninth and Néstor Girolami in P10 – which means he will start the reverse grid Race 2 from the DHL Pole Position for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport.
“I knew Attila was out and Tarquini was slow [with a loose front splitter], so I have to thank the team for this,” said Girolami, who is joint second in the points with Björk, 31 behind Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Ehrlacher. “The car feels good and we have to fight. Tomorrow is a really challenging race day and it is a good opportunity with Yann down in P15.”
In the Q3 shoot-out, Magnus was the first to run. The Comtoyou Racing Audi set a benchmark of 2m10.274s. Michelisz was up next and despite proving slower in the first sector, made up for it over the rest of his lap to end up 0.481s faster than Magnus’s effort. “The lap was nice and clean, but not enough risk,” said the WTCR Rookie Driver. “I’m not happy with my lap, to be honest.”
Now Berthon stepped up. Having been fastest in Q1 and in the second free practice session earlier in the day, the Frenchman was fired up to for the DHL Pole Position – and sure enough he found the pace to lap 0.283s faster than Michelisz to jump to the top.
Now only Coronel and Catsburg could knock him from the top spot. Coronel pushed hard, but could only manage the third best time behind Michelisz and ahead of Magnus. But Catsburg had previously pulled big laps out to put himself into contention. Could he do it again? Not this time. The Dutchman went third, behind Michelisz and ahead of Coronel and Magnus.
Race 1 at WTCR Race of Slovakia takes place on Sunday morning at 09h15 local time.