Néstor Girolami scores pole position at the Nordschleife

Néstor Girolami will start the second race of the new season from pole position, while the opening reversed-grid race will be led by Yvan Muller. The weekend’s races look set to be close affairs though, as Honda, Hyundai and Lynk & Co all look well-matched heading into the new campaign.

In a race against the weather, everyone took to the circuit immediately in qualifying to set a lap time while the surface was still dry.

Of the first round of lap times, the four Cyan Racing Lynk & Co drivers were the first to cross the line, but with Thed Björk appearing to be more of a roadblock than an aerodynamic tow, their lead at the top of the timesheets didn’t last for long – especially as Muller was complaining of gearbox issues.

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Instead, Münnich Motorsport were the best of the bunch after the first tour, with Attila Tassi setting the pace with a lap time of 08:59.285 minutes. Esteban Guerrieri was the next fastest driver, though surprisingly went a full second slower than Tassi.

Luca Engstler, meanwhile, was once again the pick of the Hyundai drivers as he went third quickest with a lap time of 09:00.482 minutes.

There were problems, meanwhile, for Mikel Azcona and Zengő Motorsport. Front bodywork damage had caused the CUPRA’s front splitter to come loose, which therefore meant he’d lose valuable time in the pit lane for repairs.

Onto the second lap, Tassi continued to push his Honda to its limits. A wild moment through the Hatzenbach sequence very nearly resulted in a trip to the barriers, but luckily the young Hungarian managed to regain control just in time.

However, the rear of his Civic got away from him again later around the lap, which led to a beautifully-executed drift around Aremberg. But, although it looked spectacular, Tassi’s second lap was ruined.

With that, the youngster began to drop down the order as Engstler became the first driver to break into the 8 minutes 55 seconds threshold. In fact the new Hyundai Elantra really began to show its pace, as Jean-Karl Vernay then went even quicker still.

Gabriele Tarquini slotted into third place, while Norbert Michelisz went fourth in the South Korean marque’s two other factory-supported cars. Honda were quick to retaliate though, and although Tassi was out of the picture on this second lap, Girolami managed to eek out a lap time of 08:54.791 minutes to go fastest of all. Guerrieri also went quick enough to split Vernay and Engstler for third.

As the clock ticked down, there was time for one more tour of the Nordschleife. However, rain clouds loomed in the distance, so there were question marks as to whether the track would stay dry for long enough.

Indeed, drops of rain started to be reported towards the end of the lap, plus with only one lap to get heat into their fresh set of slick tyres, it would be a tall order for anyone to improve.

However, nobody told Urrutia that, and he elevated himself up into fifth place to go fastest of all the Cyan Racing drivers. Monteiro also managed to make progress up into seventh, demoting Tassi down to outside of the top ten – a disappointing result for a driver who looked quick but couldn’t quite string a clean lap together when it mattered.

Nobody could match Girolami though, despite his best lap of the session being three seconds slower than the TCR record he set here last year. Nevertheless, it was still good enough for pole, and the ten championship points that come with it.

The Argentine will be joined on the front row of the grid for race two by Vernay in second place, with team-mate Guerrieri just behind in third.

Engstler continued the Honda/Hyundai pattern in fourth, while Urrutia remained best of the Lynk & Cos in fifth, and was the final driver to score points from this session.

Veterans Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro will line up from sixth and seventh, just ahead of 2019 World Champion Michelisz in eighth.

Reigning champion Yann Ehrlacher and 2020 runner-up Muller locked-out the fifth row of the grid in ninth and tenth, and as such will start on the front row in the reversed grid opening race of the weekend.

Outside of the top ten, Audi and CUPRA both struggled. Tom Coronel was the best-placed driver for the German marque in eleventh position, while Rob Huff will start both races from eighteenth as the best of the CUPRA bunch.

The first race of the season starts early tomorrow, on Saturday the 5th June at 09:00 CEST (08:00 BST).

Qualifying result

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 3 8:54.791
2 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 8:55.571 0.780
3 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 3 8:55.734 0.943
4 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 8:56.364 1.573
5 12 Santiago URRUTIA Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 8:57.302 2.511
6 3 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 8:57.458 2.667
7 18 Tiago MONTEIRO ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 3 8:57.780 2.989
8 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 8:57.981 3.190
9 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 8:58.032 3.241
10 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 8:58.398 3.607
11 32 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 8:58.400 3.609
12 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 8:58.502 3.711
13 9 Attila TASSI ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 3 8:59.285 4.494
14 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 8:58.837 5.046
15 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 9:00.170 5.379
16 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 9:03.405 8.614
17 19 Andreas BÄCKMAN Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR 4 9:04.204 9.413
18 79 Rob HUFF Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 2 9:04.317 9.526
19 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 2 9:06.381 11.590
20 26 Jessica BÄCKMAN Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 9:10.391 15.600
21 55 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 3 9:10.494 15.703
22 28 Jordi GENÉ Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 2 9:14.226 19.435
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