WTCR Qualifying flash: Guerrieri beats home hero Monteiro to Portugal pole
Esteban Guerrieri was fastest in a tight qualifying session at WTCR Race of Portugal to head a Honda-powered 1-2-3 at a baking hot Circuito do Estoril, denying home hero Tiago Monteiro the top spot in the process.
The Argentine beat ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport team-mates Monteiro and Néstor Girolami to claim pole position for Race 2 in his Honda Civic Type R TCR.
“I’m really happy for the whole team,” said Guerrieri. “The Honda cars are really strong here and we managed a good qualifying. In the hot conditions it was not easy, you can overcook the tyres easily. We were very close and Jean-Karl [Vernay] was right there too. Now we have to finish the job tomorrow.”
Guerrieri started as he meant to go on by topping the first points haul of the weekend with the fastest time in the 20-minute Q1 session. His time of 1m44.440s was 0.176s faster than Attila Tassi’s Honda, with Girolami and home hero Monteiro next up in their Civics. Hyundai pair Norbert Michelisz and Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Vernay were fifth and sixth fastest.
Among those to miss the cut for the top 12 Q2 session was Mikel Azcona, who was P13 in his Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición. “It’s really frustrating,” he said. “It’s a bad position for the races tomorrow, but we can do nothing more. A gap of 1.2s to the fastest car is too much. We have nothing more to give.”
Others to miss out were the Comtoyou-run Audis of Nathanaël Berthon, Gilles Magnus and Frédéric Vervisch in P14 to P16, while Rob Huff was P17 in his Zengő Motorsport CUPRA.
In a super-tight 10-minute Q2 session, Monteiro was fastest to qualify for the Q3 top-five shootout, with team-mates Girolami, Tassi and Guerrieri making it a Honda 1-2-3-4 at this stage. Vernay was the fifth and last driver to make it through to the shootout for the Race 2 pole position.
Gabriele Tarquini left it late to bank his fastest lap – and it was good enough to push the 2018 King of the WTCR into P10, to hand him the reverse-grid pole position for Race 1. His lap pushed fellow Hyundai driver Luca Engstler down to P11 ahead of Thed Björk’s Lynk & Co.
Michelisz just missed out on the Q3 shootout by managing the sixth fastest time of the session, ahead of a trio of Lynk & Cos – Santiago Urrutia, Yvan Muller and 2020 King of WTCR Yann Erhlacher, meaning the Frenchman will join Tarquini on the front row of the grid for Race 1.
“To be honest I tried my best and the car was far away,” said Tarquini on his bid to make Q3. “We made a change on the set-up for the last run because it had probably not been my best choice and we found a bit in the end. It was a good lap. It’s a shame for Luca because we wanted four Hyundais in the top 10, but this is racing. Sometimes you are smiling, sometimes you are not smiling.”
In Q3, Vernay was the first of the top five to run and set a benchmark of 1m44.833s, the team telling him on the radio that it had been “an amazing lap” until the final sector. Guerrieri was the next to run, the Argentine driver firing in a time that was an impressive 0.311s faster than Vernay’s effort.
Tassi was the third driver to go, but the Hungarian didn’t have enough to match Guerrieri and ended up just 0.061s slower than Vernay too.
Now Girolami had his shot at a second consecutive WTCR pole position and gave it everything to snatch the top spot from his countryman Guerrieri. But he just missed out, going second by just 0.249s.
That left Monteiro as the last to run, in a bid to claim a popular home-hero pole. But he just came up short, by 0.117s – meaning the final order was Guerrieri, Monteiro, Girolami, Vernay and Tassi.
Monteiro was not too disappointed to miss out on pole position. “You have to try and we went for it,” he said. “It was a good lap, just not good enough, but it’s good for the title. At my home race I always like to be up at the front and I’m happy to be on the front row for Race 2. Even though there are no fans here I can feel the support on social media.”
Vernay was also satisfied with his effort. “My qualifying was really good, it was a good lap,” he said. “I was 100 per cent on the limit and took some risks, and the tyre management is difficult for the final sector when you do that. I overdrove a bit. But we’re in the game.”
Girolami was also far from unhappy to be third. “We had problems to solve between FP1 and FP2 so I’m happy with this result,” he said. “The big picture is the whole team is doing a good job.”
“My Q3 lap was good,” said Tassi, “except I had understeer in the last corner. But this is racing. I’m happy for the team and this is a good circuit for us.”
Race 1 at WTCR Race of Portugal is due to start at 12h15 local time tomorrow (Sunday).