Nathanaël Berthon claims pole position in Jeddah as Mikel Azcona crowned champion

Comtoyou’s Nathanaël Berthon achieved the last-ever FIA WTCR pole position in Jeddah, with Mikel Azcona clinching the 2022 drivers’ title before racing even kicked off.

The night qualifying session started with the BRC Racing Team putting into place their team strategy to take the first three positions with Mikel Azcona at the front. Comtoyou soon replied with a similar strategy, climbing to the top with Tom Coronel, Nathanaël Berthon and Franco Girolami.

The pressure was on as Azcona missed the braking point at Turn 2, going wide and having a fast lap disallowed. The Spaniard returned to the pits complaining of an issue with one of the pedals sticking as he fell down to 12th place.

Franco Girolami rose to the top having been towed by fellow Comtoyou driver Gilles Magnus as Néstor Girolami tried to benefit from the Audi trail to get a slipstream, climbing up to tenth place in his Honda.

BRC resolved the issue on Azcona’s Elantra N TCR, with the championship leader returning to the track to climb up to seventh place.

Esteban Guerrieri and Néstor Girolami ventured to the track with eight minutes to go for Münnich Motorsport, in an attempt to help Bebu stay on the top-twelve in order to keep his championship hopes alive. The bet paid off, with Girolami climbing up to ninth place.

The Hyundai drivers tried one last team effort, with Azcona stealing the top spot after getting the tow from both Catsburg and Michelisz.

After Q1, Azcona, Magnus, Franco Girolami, Berthon, Catsburg, Tom Coronel (Audi), Norbert Michelisz, Guerrieri, Viktor Davidovski (Audi), Néstor Girolami, Rob Huff and Attila Tassi made their way through to Q2.

Zengo Motorsport’s Dániel Nagy, Local hero and wildcard entry Ajhmed Khaled Binkhanen and Engstler Motorsport’s Tiago Monteiro took the last three places of the grid for both races.

Q2 started with the entire field taking to the track, led by the Hyundai contingent closely followed by the Hondas from Münnich Motorsport. Catsburg made a mistake going into Q1, compromising Michelisz right behind. The Dutch racer allowed his team-mates to go through, but Michelisz missed his braking point soon after, leaving Azcona on his own followed by Néstor Girolami.

The cars came into team formation again, but Azcona aborted and returned to the pits. Comtoyou didn’t falter and led the Q2 half-way through, with Magnus at the top followed by Berthon and Franco Girolami.

The entire field returned to the track with six minutes to go. Néstor Girolami, aiming for a reverse grid pole position, could only manage 11th place, as Azcona rose to the top. Berthon soon stole the top spot.

Girolami mounted new tyres and returned to the track with just two minutes left on the clock for a last attempt. The Argentinean couldn’t improve and, with Azcona going through to Q3, the Spaniard clinched the drivers’ title.

“It’s unbelievable, what a season, incredible!” said the new 2022 champion after Q2. “All my life I have worked for this with all the support from my family and my sponsors, thank you so much to everyone. Vamos!”

In Q3, Berthon completed his lap with a time of 1:16.362, taking pole position, ahead of Michelisz with a time 0.107 seconds behind.

Azcona was third, 0.150 seconds off the pace, followed by Coronel, 0.202 seconds behind Berthon. Magnus qualified in fifth position, 0.319 seconds behind his team-mate.

“Finally pole position!” said Berthon after the race. “We’ve worked very hard all the crew, we scored some important points and I’m very happy for the team and for Tommy, he helped me and I helped him, so great result for us.”

The FIA WTCR returns to the track on Sunday for Race 1 at 19:45, 17:45 CET.