WTCR Second Qualifying flash: First DHL Pole for Vervisch
Frédéric Vervisch bagged his maiden DHL Pole Position in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO after a thrilling Q3 shootout in Sunday qualifying at WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco.
The Comtoyou Team Audi Sport driver suffered a puncture in Q1, but topped Q2 in his Audi RS 3 LMS, then beat Cyan Racing Lynk & Co duo Yvan Muller and Thed Björk to the top spot for Race 3 later today. But Muller and Björk were delighted to be second and third on the debut weekend for the new Lynk & Co 03 TCRs.
“I’m so happy,” said Vervisch, who was a race winner in 2018 but had yet to take a DHL Pole Position in the WTCR / OSCARO. “I was about last yesterday after a puncture and hitting Yvan Muller’s dropped oil. I can’t believe it. I have to thank Audi and my team.”
The three sessions of action highlighted just how close it will be in WTCR / OSCARO this season. Thed Björk headed the 30-minute Q1 session after a late effort pushed impressive newcomer Mikel Azcona in his PWR Racing CUPRA TCR from the top, as the top 24 were separated by just 0.8s.
Such tiny margins inevitably meant some surprise names failed to make the top 12 and progress to Q2. The closest to lose out was Team Mulsanne’s Ma Qinghua in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR in P13. Others to miss out included Augusto Farfus in P14, Norbert Michelisz in P15 and Andy Priaulx (P17), who had a difficult session which included causing a full course yellow for smacking a mirror against a wall.
Those to just squeeze through included reigning WTCR / OSCARO champion Gabriele Tarquini, who was right on the bubble in P12, just behind Vervisch, who picked up a second puncture of the weekend early on, and Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Gordon Shedden in P10 – an upturn in fortunes following his troubled Saturday performances.
Just five of the 12 progress from the 15-minute Q2 session, and Vervisch did the perfect job of securing a Q3 slot by going fastest with a time of 1m24.590s, just 0.2s quicker than Azcona who continued to impress for PWR. The others to progress were Tiago Monteiro, and Lynk & Co team-mates Thed Björk and Yvan Muller, with Yann Ehrlacher, Race 1 winner Esteban Guerrieri and Jean-Karl Vernay missing the cut.
The big consolation winner from the session was BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Nicky Catsburg who was P10 in his Hyundai i30 N TCR. That means the Dutchman claims the reverse-grid DHL Pole Position for Race 2. He will be joined on the front row by Tarquini, who was ninth fastest in the session.
Race 1 podium finisher Néstor Girolami was down in P11, ahead of Shedden in P12.
The big change for Q3 this year is the fastest qualifier for the shoot-out has priority over when to run, rather than simply going last. With Vervisch choosing to run second out of the five, that allowed newcomer Azcona to choose to set his lap first. He set a solid benchmark of 1m25.639s.
Q2 pace-setter Vervisch was next to go, the Belgian putting in a great effort to beat Azcona’s lap by a significant 0.918s.
Now Muller was next, the French legend splitting Vervisch and Azcona with a lap that was 0.370s down on the Audi ace. Could Race 1 second-placed finisher Björk topple Vervisch from the provisional DHL Pole? No. The Swede was half a second off and 0.1s slower than Muller.
The last to run was Monteiro, the Portuguese hero giving his all to take what would have been a famous DHL Pole Position. But he couldn’t quite pull it off, the Honda setting a time that was fourth best of the five, but a stunning performance nevertheless given the severity of the head and neck injuries he suffered in a testing crash 19 months ago.
That left the final order as Vervisch, Muller, Björk, Monteiro and Azcona for the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID.
Vervisch said that his priority was to score good points from Race 3 later today. “I think our mistake last year was we didn’t score points early in the season,” he said. “It is important to finish the race and score points, although of course I will try to win.”
Race 2 of WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco is due to start at 16h45 local time, with Race 3 following at 18h15.