Frédéric Vervisch snatches pole position in last-gasp shootout

Frédéric Vervisch has claimed pole position for the FIA World Touring Car Cup feature race at Motorland Aragon, having beaten Thed Bjork in the very final sector of qualifying.

With three marques split by just two tenths of a second at the end of Free Practice Two, qualifying looked set to be more unpredictable than usual, with question marks surrounding everyone’s true pace.

As ever, the session would be split into three phases, with the top five ranked drivers in Q1 and Q3 being awarded 5 points down to 1 in descending order. Q1 would also decide the final ten grid slots for both races, as only the top twelve drivers in the first phase would progress into Q2.

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After the first set of Q1 lap times came in, Gilles Magnus emerged as the early pace setter with a lap time of 2:06.917, but before anyone could retaliate, the session was temporarily halted.

Honda have had no luck at all with either pace or reliability this weekend, and to compound their woes, Attila Tassi’s Civic ground to a halt on the circuit. With the second-place man in the standings unable to rejoin the session once it got back underway, the young Hungarian will have to limit the points damage tomorrow as much as possible from the back of the grid.

Once proceedings restarted, Hyundai were quick to improve, as Gabriele Tarquini shot up to second place. However, that only proved temporary as a whole host of improved times began to get posted.

By the end of the second lap flurry, Magnus had fallen down to seventh place on the time sheets, while fellow Audi drivers Nathanael Berthon and Vervisch climbed up into first and second.

Yann Ehrlacher was only two tenths of a second further back in third, ahead of compatriot Jean-Karl Vernay who already looked much more sprightly than he had done in practice. Mikel Azcona and Santiago Urrutia were the other two drivers to beat Magnus’ initial benchmark time.

With that, there was time for just one more flying run in Q1, and Tom Coronel took full advantage to go fastest of all with a lap time of 2:06.469.

Cyan Racing Lynk & Co were known to be targeting ‘safe’ lap times to progress into Q2, without going fast enough to attract attention from the officials ahead of the next BoP adjustment. Yvan Muller and Bjork suitably did the job in sixth and seventh despite setting purple sectors early on around the lap. However, Ehrlacher didn’t quite get the message, as he went two hundredths of a second quicker than Coronel to go fastest of all in Q1.

In the end, Berthon, Vervisch and Norbert Michelisz would claim the remaining points available in third, fourth and fifth.

Further back, Urrutia was the first driver to be knocked out in thirteenth – a slight surprise after taking his first WTCR race win here last season.

Rob Huff may also be disappointed with fifteenth, but perhaps not as disappointed as the Honda contingent, with Esteban Guerrieri ending up as best of the bunch in sixteenth.

Onto Q2, and there would be no points up for grab here. However, the drivers could stake their claim at pole position for the reversed-grid opening race tomorrow, and of course there would be a big tussle to get into the top five Q3 shootout for outright pole.

With much less time to play with, the drivers would get two flying laps at most. At the end of the first batch, Michelisz emerged as a somewhat shock leader, with a lap time of 2:06.044 – three tenths of a second quicker than Vervisch in second.

As it transpired, Michelisz would remain top for the remainder of Q2, with Vernay also heading into the shootout in third.

Bjork then rose up to fourth place after joining the party late, however that soon turned into fifth as Magnus improved ahead of Vervisch to go second-fastest.

Berthon – the pacesetter in practice two – was the first driver to miss out on the top five shootout in sixth, just ahead of fellow Audi driver Coronel in seventh.

Reigning champion Ehrlacher will start the feature race from eighth, just ahead of home hero Azcona. Tarquini would end the session as the tenth-fastest driver, and with that scored pole position for the reversed grid. He will be joined on the front row of race one, therefore, by Azcona.

Muller and Engstler couldn’t quite extract the performance that they needed, and so will start both races on the sixth row of the grid in eleventh an twelfth.

Without much delay, Michelisz then became the first driver to take to the track in the one-lap Q3 shootout for feature race pole.

The Hungarian would go on to set a respectable benchmark time of 2:06.380, though in the eyes of Magnus, that wouldn’t necessarily be insurmountable.

A purple first sector for the young Belgian suggested that he certainly had the pace within him to beat Michelisz, and in the end he did – but only just. A lap time of 2:06.354 would elevate him just two hundredths of a second clear.

Next up was championship points leader Vernay, who up until now had been having a relatively quiet weekend. Clearly the pace he showed in practice wasn’t representative of his true form here at Motorland Aragon, but on this occasion pole position proved to be slightly out of reach as his lap time would stand at 2:06.719.

Bjork, Lynk & Co’s only challenger in this shootout, would be the penultimate driver to stake his claim at pole and he took the opportunity with both hands. A lap time of 2:06.190 meant that he would go nearly two tenths of a second quicker than Magnus – as close to a comfortable margin as you can get in the Q3 shootout.

But, not comfortable enough. After the second sector, Vervisch was a substantial three tenths of a second down on Bjork, but after a monster final sector the Belgian managed to pull pole out of the bag.

So, Vervisch will start the feature race on Sunday from the premier grid slot with Bjork alongside in second place. Magnus will be directly behind his team-mate Vervisch in third, with the Hyundai duo of Michelisz and Vernay up next in fourth and fifth respectively.

Race one will see Tarquini and Azcona start at the front row of the reversed-grid however, with that race set to get underway tomorrow morning at 11:15 local time (10:15 BST).

Q3 results

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 2:06.169
2 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 2:06.190 0.021
3 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 2:06.354 0.185
4 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 2:06.380 0.211
5 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 2:06.719 0.550

Q2 results

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 4 2:06.044
2 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 4 2:06.154 0.110
3 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 2:06.327 0.283
4 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 2:06.350 0.306
5 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 4 2:06.374 0.330
6 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 2:06.466 0.422
7 32 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 3 2:06.566 0.522
8 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 2:06.611 0.567
9 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 3 2:06.620 0.576
10 3 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 4 2:06.709 0.665
11 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 3 2:06.790 0.746
12 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 3 2:07.071 1.027

Q1 results

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 7 2:06.441
2 32 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 6 2:06.469 0.028
3 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 7 2:06.572 0.131
4 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 7 2:06.650 0.209
5 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 8 2:06.652 0.211
6 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 8 2:06.675 0.234
7 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 8 2:06.783 0.342
8 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 9 2:06.795 0.354
9 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 8 2:06.803 0.362
10 3 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 8 2:06.813 0.372
11 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 9 2:06.862 0.421
12 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 9 2:06.893 0.452
13 12 Santiago URRUTIA Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 8 2:06.899 0.458
14 28 Jordi GENÉ Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 8 2:07.130 0.689
15 79 Rob HUFF Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 8 2:07.430 0.989
16 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 2:07.481 1.040
17 19 Andreas BÄCKMAN Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR 9 2:07.724 1.283
18 55 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 8 2:07.755 1.314
19 26 Jessica BÄCKMAN Target Competition Hyundai Elantra N TCR 9 2:07.948 1.507
20 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 8 2:07.951 1.510
21 18 Tiago MONTEIRO ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 9 2:08.028 1.587
22 9 Attila TASSI ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 1 No time N/A
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