Nathanaël Berthon sets the pace in first Bahrain track action

Comtoyou Racing’s Nathanaël Berthon was the fastest driver in the opening free practice session for the FIA World Touring Car Cup in Bahrain, edging out team-mate Mehdi Bennani.

Berthon hit the top of the times early on in the 45-minute session, and later improved his time to 2 minutes 11.616 seconds, making him exactly three tenths of a second faster than Moroccan team-mate Bennani.

Berthon is one of only a few drivers on the grid to have prior experience of the Bahrain International Circuit.

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“We didn’t focus honestly on the timing, but it’s always better to be on the top,” said Berthon. “We are learning right now about the track, about our set-up. We are buiding our weekend, so it’s a good start for sure.

“It was seven years ago [that Berthon raced here]. We had a good preparation with the data boys before and I was straight away there. I am more concerned about tyre degradation for the race to see what the drop will be.”

Championship leader Mikel Azcona was the top Hyundai racer in third, a further 0.038 seconds adrift, ahead of team-mate Norbert Michelisz in fourth, with both of the BRC Racing drivers having improved late-on in the session.

That meant Comtoyou Racing, fielding six Audis this weekend and thus making up almost half of the grid, was denied a 1-2-3 in the times, with title contender Gilles Magnus in fifth, still less than half a second off the pace.

Néstor Girolami was the top Honda driver in sixth, ahead of Comtoyou’s Tom Coronel, who was seventh.

Series returnee Nicky Catsburg in the third BRC Hyundai was next up behind his compatriot in eighth.

The top ten was completed by Honda’s Esteban Guerrieri, in the Münnich Motorsport Civic, and Tiago Monteiro, in the Team Engstler car.

Attila Tassi was 1.4 seconds off the pace in 11th, ahead of the wildcard entries of Franco Girolami in 12th and Viktor Davidovski in 13th, the latter being over five seconds off the pace and three and a half seconds slower than his team-mate having only completed three laps in total.

Following Rob Huff’s withdrawal in the run up to the event, neither of the two Zengő Motorsport CUPRA’s took part in practice.

As recently as yesterday, the team had said it planned to still take part in the event with two cars for Hungarians Dániel Nagy and Bence Boldizs.

Second practice is scheduled to get underway at 15:30 local time (12:30 GMT).

Session results

POS NO NAT DRIVER ENTRANT CAR LAPS TIME GAP
1 17 Nathanaël BERTHON Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 14 2:11.616
2 25 Mehdi BENNANI Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 15 2:11.916 0.300
3 96 Mikel AZCONA BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 12 2:11.954 0.338
4 5 Norbert MICHELISZ BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse Hyundai Elantra N TCR 15 2:12.005 0.389
5 16 Gilles MAGNUS Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 12 2:12.042 0.426
6 29 Néstor GIROLAMI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 2:12.354 0.738
7 33 Tom CORONEL Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 12 2:12.493 0.877
8 88 Nicky CATSBURG BRC Hyundai N Racing Team Hyundai Elantra N TCR 13 2:12.517 0.901
9 86 Esteban GUERRIERI ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 15 2:12.843 1.227
10 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 14 2:12.997 1.381
11 9 Attila TASSI Liqui Moly Team Engstler Honda Civic Type-R FK7 TCR 8 2:13.068 1.452
12 72 Franco GIROLAMI Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 12 2:13.109 1.493
13 110 Viktor DAVIDOVSKI Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR II 3 2:16.760 5.144
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