Nathanaël Berthon snatched his first DHL pole position in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup with a fabulous lap in the top-five shoot out, as just 0.041s separated the top three in qualifying at WTCR Race of Belgium.
The Frenchman was the last to run in his Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport Audi RS 3 LMS and put in a lap of 1m35.486s to knock Cyan Racing’s Yann Ehrlacher from the top. Behind Ehrlacher, FIA Rookie Award contender Gilles Magnus impressed as he has all weekend at his home circuit of Zolder to end up third.
“We had a very good pre-season and the guys did a really good job on the Audi,” said a delighted Berthon. “This lap was pretty quick, especially the last sector. I knew I had to give it everything.”
Ehrlacher, while disappointed to miss out on the DHL pole, was satisfied with his effort. “After this long time with no racing I’m quite happy to be on the front row and score some qualifying points. I did a lap on the edge, there was nothing left. It would have been difficult to find more and we will fight again tomorrow.”
In the 20-minute Q1 session, Thed Björk and Magnus both had spells at the head of the times, but Ehrlacher’s late effort pushed him back to the top with a lap of 1m35.827s. The top 12 progress to Q2 and experienced WTCR aces Jean-Karl Vernay, reigning champion Norbert Michelisz and Nestor Girolami only just made the cut in P10, P11 and P12 respectively. Those who missed the cut included Australian Dylan O’Keefe, just outside the bubble in P13, Nicky Catsburg, 2018 champion Gabriele Tarquini, FIA Rookie Award contender Jack Young and Tiago Monteiro.
Catsburg said he was not surprised to miss out, with Michelisz the only Hyundai to progress to Q2. “We weren’t expecting to get through and from testing we knew it would be a tough weekend. It just means we need to work a bit harder.”
A flurry of last-lap improvements shook up the order as Goodyear’s new WTCR tyres found more grip in the 10-minute Q2 session. As he had in the second free practice session, Magnus used his Zolder knowledge to lead the way, an impressive lap of 1m35.480s knocking Santiago Urrutia from the top. The other three to progress to the one-at-a-time Q3 shoot-out were Ehrlacher, Yvan Muller and Berthon as the fifth fastest qualifier, with Tom Coronel just missing out in sixth.
The others to drop out at this stage were Attila Tassi, Björk, Vernay and Argentine team-mates Girolami and Guerrieri. Michelisz propped up the times in P12. Geurrieri said: “It’s not the best start to the weekend, but still we are going to fight.”
As the fastest qualifier, Magnus had the pick of the running order in Q3 – and chose to go first. The 21-year-old, buoyed by confidence, set an impressive benchmark time of 1m35.527s.
Uruttia was next up in his Lynk & Co and put in a spectacular effort, only to lose out in the final sector to end up 0.353s slower than Magnus. Then Ehrlacher was the third to run in his Lynk & Co. What could the Frenchman do? To the delight of his Cyan Racing team, his time put him on top by just 0.010s.
“Sector 2 and sector 3 were close to perfect,” said Magnus, shaking his head, “so to see Ehrlacher go fastest by such a margin is a little frustrating. But as it’s my first super pole, I’m happy.”
Muller was next and could only end up 0.552s down on his nephew on the provisional pole. But Berthon was the last to run – and had a special lap up his sleeve. The Frenchman managed a 1m35.486s to top the list by just 0.031s.
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