Photo: TCR Europe

Norbert Michelisz picks up the first pole of the TCR World Tour era

BRC Racing’s Norbert Michelisz narrowly claimed pole position in his Hyundai Elantra N TCR for the first ever TCR World Tour event at Algarve.

The 20-minute first segment of qualifying was hotly contested, although most drivers at first did an outlap and then pitted rather than put a laptime down. Aggressive Team Italia pairing Nicola Baldan and Mikael Karlsson were the exception, and so hit the top of the times.

After five minutes it was another Hyundai driver at the top, as BRC’s Mikel Azcona set a 1:52.233 to go fastest ahead of his team-mate Micheliz. They then pitted as the rest of the field returned to track, and next to put himself in first place was Comtoyou Racing’s Frédéric Vervisch.

He led ALM Motorsport’s Néstor Girolmi and Lynk & Co Cyan Racing duo Santiago Urrutia and Ma Qing Hua, and although Urrutia had his fastest lap deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 15 he then improved soon after. He still lost a place though, being shuffled down to fourth as Vervisch’s TCR World Tour team-mate Rob Huff set a new 1:51.479 benchmark.

Vervisch responded by improving his pace, but was still 0.006 seconds slower than Huff, while practice two pacesetter Kobe Pauwels jumped up to fourth place. Michelisz then returned to the top three before the majority of the field pitted with seven minutes remaining.

Many of them returned to track in time to set two more flying laps at the end, and Vervisch snatched back first place from his team-mate by setting a 1:51.021 with a minute to go. Azcona went second fastest, and Huff failed to improve but only by 0.001s from his previous benchmark.

The chequered flag waved with the top three unchanged, while Michelisz, Girolami, Hua, Pauwels filled the top seven. Also making it through to Q2 were Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Racing), Urrutia, Tom Coronel (Comtoyou), John Filippi (Comtoyou) and Thed Bjork (Cyan Racing).

Missing out on progressing by 0.244s was Target Competition’s Dušan Borković in 14th place, who has returned to TCR Europe this weekend after a year out.

“The car was very new to me. We had some issues with my style of braking,” said the Hyundai-driving Serb. “Also I don’t know this track.”

He put his failure to get through to Q2 down to “a big lock-up at Turn 13”, but predicted “for the races we’ll be okay”.

There were two strategies at play in the 10-minute Q2, with most drivers opting to get as many laps in as possible while Girolami and the Cyan Racing left it late before going out to make the most of a track that was gripping up.

The former strategy proved more effective, and Michelisz put himself on Race 1 pole by setting a 1:51.297 on his first flying lap halfway through Q2. Azcona was just 0.035 seconds slower in second place, with Huff only a further hundredth of a second behind in third.

Vervisch was fourth fastest, and improved on his second effort to solidify that position. Coronel was initially fifth, before being shuffled down to seventh by Hua and then Girolami, who posted his first flying lap with just 35s left on the clock.

Coronel was still however the top driver entered for TCR Europe points and the fastest Diamond Trophy entrant, and was only 0.307s off pole. The top ten was completed by Bjork, rookie classification leader Pauwels and Urrutia.

Pending any penalties, Urrutia provisionally has pole position for the reversed-grid Race 2.

Former double WTCR champion was left a disappointed eleventh, the position he will start both races from.

The first race of the weekend starts at 14:20 local time/15:20 CEST.