Jean-Karl Vernay leads Leopard 1-2 in rain-hit qualifying in Macau

Jean-Karl Vernay claimed pole position for the Guia Race 2.0T in Macau in a dramatically rain-hit qualifying session, with lap times falling to 30 seconds from the dry pace, with Stefano Comini qualifying in second, and in a strong position to close in on championship leader James Nash, who could only qualify seventh.

The two-part qualifying started in dry conditions, and the the first casualty in the first 25-minute segment of qualifying was WestCoast Racing’s Mikhail Grachev. The Russian driver hit the wall with the rear of his Honda Civic at Mandarin on his first lap, and will be forced to start from the back of the grid for the first race on Sunday.

The first lap time target was set by Slovkaia’s Mat’o Homola in the B3 Racing SEAT León, before Tiago Monteiro was the first driver into the 2:35s in his WestCoast Honda, also handing the Target Competition-run Honda of Josh Files a tow to move the Brit up to second.

The Craft-Bamboo SEATs and Leopard Racing Volkswagens ended up towing each other around, and all stormed to the front on their next lap, with Pepe Oriola going fastest ahead of Comini, before Monteiro improved again to go second fastest on his next lap.

The next casualty was Tin Sritrai, who crashed his Team Thailand Honda out at Faraway Hill, but despite the yellow flags waving, Leopard VW racer Jean-Karl Vernay was able to go second fastest before a surprise rain shower hit the circuit, preventing any further improvements.

Just missing the top 12 cut-off for Q2 were the Engstler pair of Andy Yan and Davit Kajaia, with Sunny Wong and Alex Hui the best-placed of the CTCC drivers behind them in the Teamwork Citroën C-Elysées.

The rain continued to fall between the two sessions, with the track becoming more and more wet before it was eventually started after a 15-minute delay.

The 12 cars tip-toed around the track, but in the wet conditions everything switched from Honda’s favour to Volkswagen’s, with the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golfs showing impressive pace lap after lap.

Jean-Karl Vernay set provisional pole on his first lap with a 3:10, and improved to a 3:05 on his second. Comini then turned up the wick and moved to the fore on his third lap, and was set to go faster still, but the Swiss was caught up behind championship rival Pepe Oriola’s SEAT and lost critical time, with Vernay able to jump back ahead on his final lap and claim provisional pole.

Vernay also gains five points in the championship chase, with Comini scoring four, reducing Nash’s lead in the championship to 13 points.

Tiago Monteiro qualified in third position in the WestCoast Racing Honda, with Antti Buri’s LMS Racing SEAT fourth and B3 Racing’s Dusan Borkovic fifth. Championship leader James Nash qualified seventh, with team-mate Pepe Oriola tenth.

Race 1 starts at 10:00 local time (03:00 CET) on Sunday.