*Sensational in Sepang: Michelisz sets pace in both qualifying sessions *Guerrieri hits back from P10 in First Qualifying to go P2 in dramatic DHL pole shootout *Tough day for title-chasing team-mates Muller and Björk at WTCR Race of Malaysia
FIA WTCR Race of Malaysia: Second Qualifying report*
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO 2019
Deciding rounds 28-30 of 30, Sepang International Circuit, 12-15 December
Norbert Michelisz’s domination of the deciding round of the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO season continued as he secured a pole double at the Sepang International Circuit this evening.
And with Esteban Guerrieri going second fastest in the one-lap shootout, the top two in the standings are set to line up on the front row of the grid for the third race of Sunday’s super-finale.
Driving a Hyundai i30 N TCR for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Michelisz set a best time of 2m13.141s to out-gun his nearest title rival Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR) by 0.784s. Mikel Azcona was third fastest in his PWR Racing CUPRA with Nicky Catsburg and Gabriele Tarquini both making it through to Q3 in their Hyundais and ending up fourth and fifth respectively.
“To be honest, there was not much more in it [in Q3], I gave it my best and twice I was close to crashing into the tyres,” said Michelisz, who has opened up a 15-point title advantage. “But in the end, I managed to build a rhythm, so I am incredibly happy. Now I can smile a bit, I know it is three races but I’m very happy with my performance because we maximised what we have and we scored 10 vital points for the championship.”
Meanwhile, Team Mulsanne’s Ma Qinghua was P10 in the Q2 phase of Second Qualifying, which hands the Chinese driver pole position for the partially-reversed-grid Race 2 in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris. ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami is set to join him on the front row in his Honda.
Michelisz’s domination of the Sepang weekend means he will start on pole for two of the three races held at the former Malaysian Grand Prix venue, having topped First Qualifying earlier today. He also earns 10 points towards his title quest. But while Michelisz and Guerrieri both had cause for celebration, the other two title chasers, Yvan Muller and Thed Björk, struggled for pace in their Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCRs. P16 and P28 respectively in First Qualifying, it didn’t get much better for the pair in Second Qualifying with Muller P13 and Björk P19.
How Michelisz won the battle for the DHL pole in Malaysia
With light rain falling ahead of Second Qualifying and the threat of heavy showers before the Q3 shootout increasing, Norbert Michelisz elected to run first for his one-lap attack, which was just a tenth of a second slower than his fastest time in Q2.
Gabriele Tarquini and fellow Hyundai-powered racer Nicky Catsburg were next to run, but with both mindful of not trying to better the Hungarian’s time, they ended the session in fifth and fourth respectively as Mikel Azcona went second after his lap.
After sneaking into the Q3 shootout ahead of Augusto Farfus, Esteban Guerrieri was the last to run. Knowing that a front-row start could make a huge difference to his title bid, Guerrieri went into all-out attack mode, snatching second from Azcona to make it a title contender one-two for the final race of 2019 on Sunday night.
Catsburg sets Q1 pace but Muller struggles
Nicky Catsburg was fastest of all after the opening 15-minute segment of First Qualifying with Norbert Michelisz second and Mikel Azcona third followed by Esteban Guerrieri and Niels Langeveld (Comtoyou Team Audi Sport). Néstor Girolami was sixth with Gabriele Tarquini and Augusto Farfus seventh and eighth.
Title contender Yvan Muller was eliminated in P13, while Aurélien Panis, who was second in First Qualifying, failed to make the cut after losing his best lap for causing a full-course yellow for dislodging a tyre stack.
“Since the beginning of the day we struggle with the balance and especially the speed,” Muller explained. “We are 30kg heavier than the second heaviest car, so that is worth six-tenths here. In these conditions it’s complicated. That costs us a lot over the weekend, but never mind, we never give up. We’ll see on Sunday.”
Jean-Karl Vernay languished in P20 following contact with Frédéric Vervisch, who progressed to Q2 in ninth ahead of Kevin Ceccon, Attila Tassi and Ma Qinghua.
De Oliveira fastest wildcard as Cheah and Syahrin fly the flag for Malaysia
Brazilian João Paulo de Oliveira ended up as the fastest wildcard for KC Motorgroup in P25. Mitchell Cheah was the leading Malaysian driver in P28, one place ahead of the country’s MotoGP star Hafizh Syahrin, who is making his first proper car racing debut this weekend alongside competing in the 8 Hours of Sepang FIM Endurance World Championship event on Saturday.
“It’s not the best position but what I can say is we improved,” said Hyundai Team Engstler-run Syahrin. “We know it is a bWe know it is a bit far from the top, it is a matter of the experience and also the confidence with the car. As a bike rider, I am very happy driving the car for the first time and to only be three seconds off the top driver. The race will be a different pace, what I did today was a race pace so we will see what we can do and I hope I can at least race with some drivers and not make any mistakes or spin. For sure the top guys will be fighting like crazy and maybe will make some mistake, but we will see.”
Next up for the #WTCR2019SUPERGRID is the nine-lap Race 1 on Sunday afternoon with all cars run on Yokohama tyres as standard. The inaugural Races of Malaysia continues unabated on Saturday, however, with the 8 Hours of Sepang from 13h00 local time.