Yvan Muller has taken pole position for the FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of France, his home event at Circuit Pau-Arnos.
At this high-intensity track, qualifying was always set to be an impressive spectacle and it didn’t disappoint.
In the first knockout round of qualifying, Yann Ehrlacher was the quickest driver amongst the first batch of lap times, but with 14 minutes of the session remaining Gilles Magnus went off into the gravel trap in sector two. With his Audi stranded, the red flags were waved and qualifying was temporarily halted.
As such, for the second time in as many events, the fast young Belgian will have to start both races from the back of the grid.
Ehrlacher’s lead didn’t last for long once the session got back underway however, as Esteban Guerrieri went quicker, as did Jean-Karl Vernay, with the Frenchman going fastest thanks to a lap time of 01:19.027. Frederic Vervisch also improved ahead of Ehrlacher to move into the top three.
Tiago Monteiro then sprung up out of nowhere to displace Vervisch for third. That was, until Nestor Girolami did the same thing to him.
Next up came the Hyundais. Norbert Michelisz went fastest of all, while Gabriele Tarquini slotted into third between Vernay and Guerrieri.
With just three minutes left on the clock, Cyan Racing – who had looked comfortable during practice – all of a sudden needed to improve their pace to progress safely through into Q2.
Muller did just that and moved up to sixth, leaving Thed Bjork in the drop zone in fourteenth and Santiago Urrutia on the bubble in twelfth.
The following lap however, Bjork moved up to seventh, and in doing so pushed Urrutia into the drop zone. Ehrlacher, meanwhile, didn’t have to worry about any of this as he went fastest of all. Thankfully for Cyan Racing, Urrutia also managed to progress out of Q1, leaving it late to go sixth-fastest.
There was strife elsewhere for CUPRA though. Rob Huff was the best of their qualifiers in fourteenth, while Autodrom Most polesitter – and third-placed driver in the standings – Mikel Azcona qualified nineteenth.
Onto Q2, it was the home heroes who were once again performing well early on. Vernay went quickest in his Hyundai Elantra after the first round of flying laps, with compatriots Ehrlacher and Muller just behind in second and third place respectively.
In the second round of laps, Michelisz rose to the top of the timesheets, but only briefly as Vernay almost immediately stole the top position away again, posting a lap time of 01:18.777.
That is how it would stay until the end of Q2, with Ehrlacher third and Muller fourth. Guerrieri had been running in fifth for Honda, but was pipped by Urrutia right at the death to seal the final spot in the five-car Q3 shoot-out for pole.
Girolami in the other Honda finished the session in seventh ahead of Tarquini in eighth. Bjork wound up ninth but will start from the front row of the reversed grid in race one. Vervisch, meanwhile, qualified tenth, and with that the Belgian driver secured reverse-grid pole for Audi.
Monteiro will start both races from eleventh place, just ahead of Nathanael Berthon in twelfth who suffered from damper issues.
At this stage, there was just one phase of qualifying left to go. Ehrlacher was the first driver to set his time in the shoot-out, and it showed. A ragged lap was made worse by running far too deep into the downhill chicane, and in the end the championship points leader would have to make do with a benchmark lap time of 01:20.333.
Ehrlacher’s team-mate Muller was next up, and the veteran was able to put together a much tidier lap, going 1.3 seconds faster than his nephew. Urrutia wasn’t able to better it either, slotting in between the pair of them in the overall order.
So, it all came down to Hyundai. Vernay was the first of their two drivers to set their lap, and although he managed to set a purple time in sector one, the Frenchman lost pace to Muller in sectors two and three. Second place would have to suffice.
And it would indeed remain second place. Michelisz, the final driver left to run, didn’t quite have the pace to match Muller or Vernay, and so the Hungarian tucked into third ahead of Urrutia and Ehrlacher. Pole position for Sunday’s main race would therefore go to Muller – his first since 2019.
Race one gets underway tomorrow morning at 10:00 CEST (09:00 BST), with a couple of hours to repair any damage before the main race at midday local time (11:00 BST).
|1||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||1:18.973||–|
|2||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||1:19.206||0.233|
|3||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||3||1:19.235||0.262|
|4||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||1:20.093||1.120|
|5||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||3||1:20.333||1.360|
|1||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||6||1:18.777||–|
|2||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||6||1:18.810||0.033|
|3||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||6||1:18.827||0.050|
|4||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||6||1:18.923||0.146|
|5||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||5||1:18.935||0.158|
|6||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||6||1:19.053||0.276|
|7||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||6||1:19.104||0.327|
|8||3||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||6||1:19.108||0.331|
|9||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||5||1:19.127||0.350|
|10||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||6||1:19.185||0.408|
|11||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||6||1:19.215||0.438|
|12||17||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||1:19.370||0.593|
|1||68||Yann EHRLACHER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||11||1:18.820||–|
|2||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||10||1:18.889||0.069|
|3||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||9||1:19.027||0.207|
|4||3||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||11||1:19.067||0.247|
|5||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||9||1:19.086||0.266|
|6||12||Santiago URRUTIA||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||12||1:19.136||0.316|
|7||29||Néstor GIROLAMI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||11||1:19.141||0.321|
|8||100||Yvan MULLER||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||12||1:19.207||0.387|
|9||11||Thed BJÖRK||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||Lynk & Co 03 TCR||13||1:19.230||0.410|
|10||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||10||1:19.237||0.417|
|11||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||12||1:19.252||0.432|
|12||17||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||12||1:19.275||0.455|
|13||8||Luca ENGSTLER||Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team||Hyundai Elantra N TCR||11||1:19.373||0.553|
|14||79||Rob HUFF||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||11||1:19.466||0.646|
|15||32||Tom CORONEL||Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||11||1:19.637||0.817|
|16||28||Jordi GENÉ||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||12||1:19.765||0.945|
|17||55||Bence BOLDIZS||Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||12||1:19.854||1.034|
|18||9||Attila TASSI||ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR||12||1:19.867||1.047|
|19||96||Mikel AZCONA||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA Leon Competición TCR||11||1:19.889||1.069|
|20||16||Gilles MAGNUS||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||Audi RS3 LMS TCR||3||No time||N/A|