Urrutia the (Vila) Real deal with blistering WTCR pole lap in Portugal

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Santiago Urrutia made light work of intense heat on the Vila Real’s city streets to bag pole position for WTCR Race of Portugal with a stunning lap on the 4.790-kilometre iconic round-the-houses track.

Driving a Lynk & Co 03 TCR on Goodyear tyres and in ambient temperatures of 33 degrees centigrade, the Uruguayan sensation beat King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher to top spot by a slender margin of 0.049s with Néstor Girolami in third place, 0.204s slower than Cyan Racing Lynk & Co driver Ehrlacher.

Urrutia’s Cyan Performance Lynk & Co team-mate Ma Qing Hua was fourth, just 0.001s down on ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver Girolami as Norbert Michelisz hit back from a practice smash to place fifth for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse.

“I’m super-happy, it’s always good to be on pole position,” said Urrutia following the third such achievement of his WTCR career, and on his first visit to Vila Real. “Thank you to Cyan Performance, they gave me a really good car. It was a tough day learning the track, but the guys they delivered the best for me. The last time I was on pole was a long time ago in Aragon, so I’m happy. Now we need to look to the strategy for tomorrow.”

Ehrlacher was disappointed to miss out on pole, especially by such a small margin. “It’s good for the team. We’ve got 10 points today [for setting the fastest time overall in qualifying], so it’s quite a good achievement. It’s the way it is. My performance was really good, but unfortunately some few things didn’t make it to the end. But we did a good job.”

Ace Azcona quickest in Q1
Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Mikel Azcona set the pace in the 30-minute Q1, banking a fast lap in 2m00.063s right at the end of the session. That was impressive given that his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse team had been forced to work hard and fast to repair damage to his right front corner after Azcona nudged a barrier.

Yvan Muller’s Lynk & Co was second fastest from Attila Tassi and Ehrlacher, the Frenchman qualifying well despite a radio problem forcing a change of safety helmet.

Néstor Girolami pulled a big lap right at the end to rise out of the drop zone and into P10 to ensure he progressed to Q2. Behind him the Lynk & Cos of Ma Qing Hua and Thed Björk also just made it through in P11 and P12.

Those to miss out included home hero Tiago Monteiro, who qualified just outside the bubble in an agonising P13. The others to drop out of qualifying at this stage were Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport), Nathanaël Berthon and Tom Coronel (Comtoyou DHL Team Audi Sport) and Dániel Nagy (Zengő Motorsport).

Q2 best goes to King of WTCR Ehrlacher

In a closely fought Q2, Ehrlacher shot to the top of the times at the end of the 15-minute session with a time of 1m59.543s and claim the maximum points score. The others to join him in Q3 were Santiago Urrutia and Ma, making it a Lynk & Co 1-2-3 in this part of qualifying. Just as he had in Q1, Girolami pulled out another big effort to jump into fourth to also make it through, while the fifth and final qualifier for Q3 was Nobert Michelisz for BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse.

WTCR Trophy pacesetter Mehdi Bennani just missed out on progressing in sixth in his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport, with Rob Huff seventh in his Zengő Motorsport CUPRA. Azcona dropped out in eighth, with Tassi ninth and Muller in P10 – which means the Frenchman will start the partially reversed-grid Race 2 from pole position, for what will be the 100th WTCR race.

Gilles Magnus was P11 after slowing during the session, the Belgian reporting on the radio “no power”, while Björk was in P12 after a mid-session driveshaft change.

Urrutia the street star with Q3 stormer

In the one-at-a-time Q3 shootout, Michelisz was the first to run. The Hungarian set a respectable benchmark of 2m00.101s. Girolami was next, the Honda driver proving slower than Michelisz in the first sector, quicker in the second – and faster in the third to hit the top by 0.222s.

Ma was the third to run. Fastest in the first two sectors, he looked set to go quickest, only to lose out in the final sector – to end up an incredible 0.001s slower than Girolami.

Now it was Urrutia’s turn. The Uruguayan was slowest of all in the first sector, dropped more time in sector two – then putting in fantastic final sector to jump to the top, 0.253s faster than Girolami with a mark of 1m59.626s.

That left Ehrlacher as the last to run. The Frenchman was fastest of all in sector one, was down on Ma’s sector two benchmark and then lost time in the final sector to end up second, just 0.049s to Urrutia. That left the final order as Urrutia, Ehrlacher, Girolami, Ma and Michelisz.

Girolami was pleased to be third fastest. “Let me congratulate all the team, they did a fantastic job. We are extracting 100 per cent from the car, maybe 110. That’s why we sometimes make a mistake, like we did in Aragón. We are absolutely on the limit.”

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” said Ma, “because it was a very tiny amount lost. But we have a good chance for tomorrow because my team-mates start from the front row, and we are on the second row, plus Yvan is on pole for the reverse-grid race. It’s a very positive result for the team and we are looking forward to tomorrow.”

WTCR Race of Portugal Qualifying Q3 classification

1 Santiago Urrutia (URY) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, 1m59.626s (144.1kph)
2 Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, +0.049s
3 Néstor Girolami (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR, +0.253s
4 Ma Qing Hua (CHN) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR, +0.254s
5 Norbert Michelisz (HUN) BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, +0.475s
Reverse-grid pole for Race 2: Yvan Muller, Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR

WTCR Race of Portugal Qualifying points allocation

10 points: Yann Ehrlacher (FRA) Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
8 points: Santiago Urrutia (URY) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
6 points: Ma Qing Hua (CHN) Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, Lynk & Co 03 TCR
4 points: Néstor Girolami (ARG) ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR
2 points: Norbert Michelisz (HUN) BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse, Hyundai Elantra N TCR