*Volkswagen-powered ex-rallycross star secures his first outright pole position *Priaulx shows strong pace in Lynk & Co, but loses out on last corner of flying lap *Michelisz takes reverse-grid pole for Race 2 as Guerrieri cuts his title advantage *Top rookie Azcona is third after early rain eases off at Suzuka
FIA WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan: Second Qualifying report*
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Rounds 22, 23 and 24 of 30, Suzuka Circuit, 25-27 October
Johan Kristoffersson has taken his first DHL Pole Position in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO by topping the Qualifying Q3 shootout at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan this afternoon.
In doing so, the Volkswagen-powered Sébastien Loeb Racing driver denied Tiago Monteiro a second pole of the day at Honda’s home track, while Andy Priaulx emerged as the other star of the three-part session by topping Qualifying Q1 and Q2 before and error at the final corner dropped him back to fifth behind Mikel Azcona in third and fourth-placed Esteban Guerrieri.
Kristoffersson, the double FIA World Rallycross champion, judged the conditions perfectly, making a daring call to fit slick, dry-weather Yokohama tyres to the front of his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR and wet-weather treaded Yokohama covers to the rear to power his way to top spot on the 2.243-kilometre Suzuka Circuit East Course.
“It was very tricky conditions,” said Kristoffersson. “We tried some slick tyres in Q1 and left them on since then and tried to keep some temperature in them. It was nice to be able to have a free lap and string it together in the end.
Monteiro added: “It was very close. You’ve got to try everything, and I tried. I’ll just have to do a better start. We’re strong here, and I liked it in the dry. So far, it’s been a fantastic day.”
Priaulx leads the way, as Muller falls at the first hurdle
In the 20-minute Q1 session, the conditions were much improved from the day’s earlier First Qualifying, but times weren’t improving as much as might have been expected, and in the mixed conditions, it was Cyan Performance Lynk & Co driver Andy Priaulx who was revelling, with the triple-FIA World Touring Car champion leading the way with a time of 1m00.627s.
With just under five minutes to go, Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon bumped Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Motorsport driver Rob Huff out of the all-important top 12, but Huff was able to scrape back in at the expense of fellow Volkswagen driver Benjamin Leuchter, just as the red flags came out with eight seconds to go, when BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team driver Augusto Farfus slid off into the barriers, with the session not restarting.
Title contender Esteban Guerrieri was therefore safely through to Q2, with the ALL-INKL Münnich Motorsport Honda driver having set the second fastest time, while WTCR / OSCARO points leader Norbert Michelisz was also through in his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. But it was another tough qualifying for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co driver Yvan Muller.
The Frenchman’s 03 TCR had been repaired by his Swedish team following his high-impact accident in First Qualifying, but without the chance to set his final lap, the four-time champion is set to start P17 for Sunday’s races.
Guerrieri hits the wall, while Priaulx powers on
Q2 started off with a bang, as title contender Esteban Guerrieri ran wide at the final corner on his sighting lap and damaged the front-left of his Honda Civic Type R TCR and had to head straight back into the pits for emergency repairs.
Meanwhile, Andy Priaulx again shone in the slightly improving conditions, with the Lynk & Co 03 TCR driver the first to go under one minute in qualifying with a time of 59.974s.
Also showing good pace was First Qualifying pacesetter Tiago Monteiro, who was comfortably in the top five, while Johan Kristoffersson put his Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR safely into Q2, being one of the first drivers to add Yokohama slick tyres to the mix, running them on the front of the car, with the Yokohama wet tyres on the rear.
Guerrieri made it back out with a hastily repaired Honda and got himself into Q3, setting the third fastest time at the end of the session, while Priaulx improved his time again to a 59.864s.
The last driver to join the top five was PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona, with Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Thed Björk just missing the cut.
Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon was next followed by the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR of Gabriele Tarquini, with the Volkswagen of Rob Huff and the Hyundai of Norbert Michelisz completing the top 10, with the Hungarian title leader therefore securing pole for the partially reversed Race 2 on Sunday morning.
Heartache for Priaulx as Kristoffersson slickly takes over
With the conditions still improving, the drivers mostly opted to run as late as they could in the final stage of qualifying, but heading out first paid off for Johan Kristoffersson, whose benchmark time of 59.627s, the fastest of the weekend, proved impossible to beat.
Following him out on track was Mikel Azcona, and though the Spaniard was faster than the Swede in the first sector, he lost time in the second sector and then slid his CUPRA TCR in the final corner, dropping to almost half a second behind the 30-year-old at the line.
It was former title leader Esteban Guerrieri who was out next, with the Argentinian driving a duct-taped Civic Type R TCR around the course, but the Argentinian was struggling on his wet tyres, losing time in each sector and was 0.565s away from Kristoffersson when he completed his lap. Nevertheless, fourth best time hands him two points and cuts Norbert Michelisz’s lead to nine.
Race 1 pole-sitter Tiago Monteiro didn’t have the same problem in his KCMG Honda, however. The Portuguese was up on Kristoffersson’s time in the first sector, but slid back over sectors two and three to be just 0.153s behind at the line.
Andy Priaulx had opted to run last, and the 45-year-old was flying, two-thousandths faster than Kristoffersson in the first sector, and eked out another few hundredths in the second sector, but the Guernsey resident ran just a little too wide in the final sector, running off into the dirt and losing over a second, and would slip to fifth in the final ranking.
The results of Second Qualifying determine the starting positions for Race 2 and Race 3 on Sunday. The next track action for the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID is Race 1 from 15h05 local time tomorrow (Saturday). All drivers use Yokohama tyres as standard.
*Second Qualifying results are provisional, subject to change