Gilles Magnus quickest in first Sochi practice as Audi begin WTCR title push

Gilles Magnus went fastest of all for Audi in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup practice session, while identical mechanical failures for Jordi Gene and Bence Boldizs in the braking zone of turn one will be a cause for concern in the CUPRA garage.

Before the session got underway though, the WTCR paddock took a moment to mark the incredible career of Gabriele Tarquini. At 59 years of age, the veteran Italian – a double world touring car champion – was treated to an emotional guard of honour as he drove down the length of the pit lane. 

But, with a championship at stake, there wasn’t much time for sentiment after that. Points leader Yann Ehrlacher was the first to really get going, but eventually it was Gilles Magnus who emerged as quickest of all from the first round of laps with a benchmark of 02:19.293. Meanwhile, a big scuff down the side of Jean-Karl Vernay’s Hyundai suggested that he had certainly found the limits of the track, as had Santiago Urrutia whose Lynk & Co now had a big orange smear down the entire length of it.

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Norbert Michelisz and Nestor Girolami showed that both Hyundai and Honda were quick out of the blocks too, placing second and third on the timesheets at this early stage of the session. Audi had definitely started the strongest though, as Nathanael Berthon then moved up ahead of Michelisz into second behind stablemate Magnus. 

Ehrlacher entered the mix again soon after that, going third-fastest, while fellow Lynk & Co driver Thed Bjork managed to shave a tenth of a second off Magnus’ time to go to the top of the order. That was then followed up by a great effort by Tom Coronel to go second-quickest, making it three Audis in the top five. 

Bjork’s reign didn’t last too long however, as Magnus reclaimed his top spot with a lap time of 02:18.544. 

Then, with ten minutes left to go, the session was halted as Jordi Gene slid heavily into the barriers at turn one. Having suffered either a suspension or brake failure of some sort, the rear of his CUPRA overtook the front, sending it spiralling out of control in the braking zone. Thankfully it happened at a part of the circuit with plenty of barrier cushioning, which took most of the energy out of the side-on impact. 

Proceedings did eventually get underway again, and worryingly for CUPRA, Bence Boldizs immediately endured a very similar fate to his team-mate Gene. Like the Spaniard’s car, the front axle locked up, pitching Boldizs’ CUPRA into a spin. Luckily, this instance was at a lower speed, meaning that contact with the track perimeter was avoided.

Elsewhere, there was little to report in the final minutes of Free Practice One, and so Magnus completed the session as the fastest driver of all. Bjork remained second while Berthon placed third ahead of team-mate Coronel. 

Yvan Muller wound up in fifth ahead of the first Hyundai, Luca Engstler. Vernay and Michelisz finished up in seventh and eighth, while the top ten was completed by championship leader Ehrlacher and his Lynk & Co stablemate Urrutia. 

Attila Tassi was the best of the Honda contingent in eleventh, while the Japanese marque’s title challenger Esteban Guerrieri could do no better than fifteenth. Ehrlacher’s closest points rival Frederic Vervisch was only one position further up the order. However, judging by the pace of the other Audi drivers, there should be a lot more to come from the Belgian. 

Rob Huff was the best-placed CUPRA driver in sixteenth, two seconds away from Magnus’ session-topping pace, while the wildcard entries from Lada – Mikhail Mityaev and Kirill Ladygin – went 18th and 21st respectively. 

Tiago Monteiro failed to take part in this key first practice session, citing illness; a problem which appears to be rife in the paddock this weekend, with Magnus also reportedly feeling heavily under the weather – not that you could ever tell from his pace. 

The second practice session gets underway in a couple of hours’ time at 12:30 local (09:30 GMT).

Session results

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 16 2:18.544
2 11 Thed BJÖRK Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 15 2:19.117 0.573
3 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 16 2:19.149 0.605
4 32 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 18 2:19.167 0.623
5 100 Yvan MULLER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 16 2:19.538 0.994
6 8 Luca ENGSTLER Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 17 2:19.557 1.013
7 69 Jean-Karl VERNAY Engstler Hyundai N Liqui Moly Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 14 2:19.600 1.056
8 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 13 2:19.626 1.082
9 68 Yann EHRLACHER Cyan Racing Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 15 2:19.699 1.155
10 12 Santiago URRUTIA Cyan Performance Lynk & Co Lynk & Co 03 TCR 15 2:19.746 1.202
11 9 Attila TASSI ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 14 2:19.845 1.301
12 3 Gabriele TARQUINI BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 16 2:19.928 1.384
13 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 16 2:19.972 1.428
14 22 Frédéric VERVISCH Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR 16 2:20.060 1.516
15 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 16 2:20.540 1.996
16 79 Rob HUFF Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 14 2:20.552 2.008
17 28 Jordi GENÉ Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 10 2:20.594 2.050
18 30 Mikhail MITYAEV ROSNEFT LADA SPORT LADA Vesta Sport TCR 13 2:21.000 2.456
19 96 Mikel AZCONA Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 9 2:21.090 2.546
20 55 Bence BOLDIZS Zengő Motorsport Drivers’ Academy CUPRA Leon Competición TCR 13 2:21.145 2.601
21 20 Kirill LADYGIN ROSNEFT LADA SPORT LADA Vesta Sport TCR 16 2:21.317 2.773
22 18 Tiago MONTEIRO ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR 0 No time N/A
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