*KCMG driver tops Honda 1-2-3 at home track *Guerrieri trims Michelisz’s points advantage on the #RoadToMalaysia *Girolami completes top three during rain-hit Suzuka session *Japan’s Miyata is top wildcard in a fine seventh overall
FIA WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan: First Qualifying report*
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 22, 23 and 24 of 30, Suzuka Circuit, 25-27 October
Tiago Monteiro snatched the DHL Pole Position for Race 1 at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan exactly one year on from his return from serious injury, in a qualifying session run in heavy rain at Suzuka.
The 30-minute session was stopped four times as drivers struggled to stay on track in the extreme weather. Monteiro led the way for most of the running, but having been knocked off top spot, the KCMG driver dug deep to produce a lap of 1m59.713s and put his Honda Civic Type R TCR back in front for the first time in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO.
“Suzuka seems to work for me,” said a delighted Monteiro. “I returned to racing here last year which was a very emotional moment. Since then I had a win at my home race in Portugal and now this – I’m so, so happy. We are a heavy car here, but the rain has helped us a little bit. I’m liking this fairytale.”
The first red flag interruption was for PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf, who spun his CUPRA TCR into a gravel trap. “It’s a bit tricky,” he said. “I got some aquaplaning and went off. There’s no damage, but my best time has been deleted which is a shame because I was running in the top eight.”
Then seconds after the session restarted Haglöf’s PWR team-mate Mikel Azcona was hit by Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing’s Tom Coronel and caused another stoppage. Spaniard Azcona desperately tried to get his CUPRA TCR to the pits, but was struggling with wheel damage.
“I just aquaplaned,” said Coronel. “I had no grip on the front and I just couldn’t stop the car, then hit Azcona. It’s so wet and then I hit the wall as well. It’s very strange – very dodgy weather.”
The session was stopped for a third time, just over three minutes after it restarted, when Yvan Muller aquaplaned straight off at Turn 1, having just improved his position with the third fastest time, which was subsequently deleted due to the fact he caused the stoppage. His Lynk & Co 03 TCR incurred heavy front-end damage in its impact with the barrier.
Once the session resumed, a number of drivers made significant improvements, with first Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) and then Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Team Audi Sport) topping the times – before Monteiro pulled out his best. Seconds later his team-mate Attila Tassi went off to cause the fourth red flag stoppage of the session.
Just four minutes were left on the clock when the cars again returned to the track. Although some drivers improved and even threatened to steal Monteiro’s thunder, the Portuguese hung on.
Behind Monteiro, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport duo Esteban Guerrieri and Néstor Girolami completed a 1-2-3 for Honda at its home track, with a performance that gives Guerrieri a golden chance to take back the WTCR / OSCARO points lead in Race 1. His capture of four points in First Qualifying means he cuts Norbert Michelisz's title lead to 11 points.
Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Niels Langeveld was fourth fastest, ahead of team-mate Vervisch and BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s Gabriele Tarquini.
Japanese wildcard entrant Ritomo Miyata was a brilliant seventh for Audi Team Hitotsuyama, ahead of Thed Björk in his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR. Priaulx ended up ninth with SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson in P10.
#RoadToMalaysia points leader Michelisz was down in P14, two places ahead of another wildcard Audi Team Hitotsuyama’s Ryuichiro Tomita. The third wildcard, KC Motorgroup’s Jim Ka To, was in P19 in his Honda Civic Type R TCR.
The #WTCR2019SUPERGRID are due to be back on track at 15h30 local time for Second Qualifying with Race 1 scheduled for 15h05 local time on Saturday 26 October over 24 laps. All cars run on Yokohama tyres as standard.
*First Qualifying results are provisional, subject to change