Qualifying report: WTCC pole bingo at Ningbo for Girolami
Nestor Girolami finally got the break his obvious talent has craved when he claimed his first DHL Pole Position Award in the FIA World Touring Car Championship at the all-new Ningbo International Speedpark in China today.
Mastering challenging track conditions following persistent rainfall on the 4.015-kilometre layout, the Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo driver edged out the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team Civic of Norbert Michelisz in the top five shoot-out to snatch the lead spot for the Main Race on Sunday.
In doing so, ‘Bebu’ Girolami – who has endured a luckless season in touring car racing’s highest echelon – becomes driver number 26 to land pole position in the WTCC, the sixth different pole-sitter of 2017 and the first Argentine since José María López to qualify at the head of the pack, a feat his compatriot achieved in China last September.
And in a day of celebration for Volvo Polestar, which is owned by Chinese company Geely Automobile, Girolami joined forces with team-mates Thed Björk and Nicky Catsburg to win the WTCC MAC3 team time trial for the sixth time this season.
“Wow, finally,” said a delighted Girolami. “The team did a fantastic job. Two days ago we were testing to sort my problem, the famous vibration that has finally gone. I’m so happy, it’s nice for my confidence. I am here to fight, to help my team-mates and fight for Volvo for the championship.”
Elsewhere, title chasers Norbert Michelisz and Thed Björk were second and third quickest in Qualifying Q3, Michelisz’s effort marking his fourth consecutive front-row start, Rob Huff was the fastest of the WTCC Trophy contingent in fourth while Yann Ehrlacher, the nephew of four-time world champion Yvan Muller, will start the Opening Race on the reverse-grid pole position after the young Frenchman was the all-important P10 in Qualifying Q2. Despite his achievement, Ehrlacher reckoned he could have gone faster.
“We had the pace to be better,” said Ehrlacher, who scored his breakthrough WTCC victory in Argentina prior to the summer break. “I would prefer to be P6 or P7 and fighting for a better position, but it will be a good opportunity to get a result in the Opening Race.”
Ehrlacher will be joined on the front row by OSCARO-backed John Filippi, who was ninth fastest in the session in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. Tom Chilton was sixth quickest followed by Esteban Guerrieri and Nicky Catsburg. Ryo Michigami was P11 with American driver Kevin Gleason making it through to Qualifying Q2 for the first time in P12. Michigami’s ultimate pace was thwarted by a mechanical problem that caused a throttle response issue.
Mehdi Bennani, a former WTCC Race of China winner, failed to progress beyond Qualifying Q1 following a tough session. Tom Coronel, Dániel Nagy and WTCC returnee Filipe de Souza were next up with Zsolt Dávid Szabó, on his second WTCC weekend, unable to set a time due to mechanical gremlins.
From totally lost to P5, WTCC super-sub Tarquini shines
Gabriele Tarquini, the 2009 World Touring Car champion and a winner of 22 races, impressed on his WTCC return as stand-in for the recovering world title leader Tiago Monteiro. Absent from the championship for almost a year, Tarquini reacclimatised well to make it through to Qualifying Q3 – after setting the pace in Q2 – where he went fifth quickest following a time-zapping slide in his factory Honda Civic. “After the first 10 laps this morning when I was totally lost I tried to remember how to drive a TC1 car,” the Italian explained. “Going fastest in Q2 was fantastic, but it turned out to be a bad thing because it meant I was last to go in Q3 and it started to rain heavily just as I started my lap. I made a mistake at Turn 1 and pushed too hard trying to recover, so ended up in fifth. This is still a very good result and I’m in a strong position to be able to help the team and Norbi [Michelisz] tomorrow and do the best job I can for Tiago.”
WTCC drivers back #GoTiago18 campaign
Prior to track action getting underway the WTCC drivers racing in China joined together in a show of support for championship leader Tiago Monteiro, who was prevented from racing in Ningbo on medical grounds following his testing crash in Spain last month. Meanwhile, a number of cars are carrying #GoTiago18 stickers.
WTCC Race of China features two races on Sunday, the shorter Opening Race and the longer Main Race, which awards more championship points. The 13-lap Opening Race is scheduled to start at 14h30 local time with the Main Race, which takes place over 16 laps, from 16h30. In addition to the extensive pan-global TV coverage, WTCC Race of China will enjoy significant live streaming in the country on Tencent, LeTV and PPTV in cooperation with XiaoMi and DouyuTV.