Girolami gives his All for sensational WTCR pole

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Néstor Girolami set the fastest lap of the WTCR Race of Italy weekend so far to bag pole position for Race 1 at Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi, the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda knocking Mikel Azcona off the top spot in the Q3 shootout.

Girolami clinched his second pole of the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup season with a lap of full commitment to demote Azcona, with Norbert Michelisz, Nathanaël Berthon and Esteban Guerrieri completing the top five.

“I had nothing left!” said a delighted Girolami. “We knew at this track we were so good. We have had two days of testing and this work has paid off. I’m grateful to the team and Honda because we worked really hard."

"We know this is the last opportunity we have to reduce the gap to Azcona, otherwise for us it’s the finish of the title because we have a gap of 40 points and we need to somehow reduce that. A good first step today and tomorrow we have two long races ahead.

“The car is very good and over one lap we are performing really well. In the race, we are suffering, as you have probably seen in the last races, with the heat. We are slowing down too much, so we have to take the points in qualifying.”

Guerrieri goes for it with Qualifying Q1 best

Guerrieri set the pace in the 20-minute Q1 session as the ambient temperature hit 40 degrees centigrade, with the track temperature at a sweltering 50. The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda set a time of 1m15.140s to head Attila Tassi’s LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler Honda and Goodyear #FollowTheLeader Azcona.

The quartet to miss out on progressing to Q2 was headed by Yvan Muller, who was forced to sacrifice his qualifying at the end of the session to avoid knocking out Cyan Racing team-mate and King of WTCR Yann Ehrlacher, who was on the bubble in P12 – and with the top dozen going through, Muller had to accept P13 to avoid damaging his nephew’s title bid.

Others to miss out included a disappointed Rob Huff, fourth in the standings coming into the weekend, but only P14 in this session in his Zengő Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición. Thed Björk was down in P15 in his Cyan Performance Lynk & Co, with Tiago Monteiro P16 for LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler. Björk will start Race 1 from the back of the grid after picking up a three-place grid penalty for a clash with Azcona in Vila Real.

Q2 honours go to Girolami

Girolami headed Guerrieri in the 10-minute Q2 session, with a lap of 1m15.083s − despite both ALL-INKL.COM Munnich Motorsport Hondas missing out on going for a final lap in a hectic end to the session. Their previous laps proved quick enough to head the session, as the rest of the field failed to find time running in a tight bunch to the chequered flag.

The remaining drivers to progress to the top five Q3 shootout were Azcona, Michelisz and Berthon. Meanwhile, Ehrlacher ended up in P10, which means he will start the partially reversed-grid Race 2 from pole position, with Cyan Performance Lynk & Co title rival Santiago Urrutia beside him. The Uruguayan was ninth in the session.

Tassi was sixth in Q2 − but drops three places on the grid for Race 1 following a yellow flag infringement during practice − with Mehdi Bennani and Gilles Magnus seventh and eighth in their Comtoyou Team Audi Sport Audis. Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua was in P11 in his Lynk & Co, with Tom Coronel in P12.

Berthon first to run in Q3, Girolami fastest to lap

Berthon was the first to run in the Q3 shootout. The Frenchman banked a neat lap to set a benchmark of 1m15.341s. Michelisz was next as the Hungarian took aim for his first pole position of the season. He was down on Berthon in the first sector, but faster in the second − and did enough in the third to go fastest by 0.061s.

Azcona was the third of the five to take his turn. The Goodyear #FollowTheLeader was down in the first sector, but fastest of all in the final two to hit the top with a 1m15.052s − a superb 0.228s quicker than his team-mate Michelisz. The effort was also the fastest of the whole qualifying session, putting Azcona on course for a maximum Saturday score.

It was down to the two ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Hondas to spoil Azcona’s day. Guerrieri ran first, but was well off the pace, by 0.466s from Azcona’s benchmark. “I’ll look at the data to see what happened, because the first sector, which is flat out, I already lost two tenths,” he said. “I don’t know if there was an issue or something. It is what it is.”

Could Girolami snatch the pole position? The Argentine gave his full commitment through Turns 8 and 9 and sure enough, pulled out a sensational pole position lap of 1m14.811s − the only sub-1m15s lap of the weekend and more than enough, by 0.241s, to take the maximum 10 qualifying points from Azcona. But the result was still a strong one for the Hyundai driver, who stretches his points lead over Urrutia to 24 heading into the first of the two races on Sunday.

Race 1 at WTCR Race of Italy is due to take place on Sunday at 11h55 local time, with Race 2 scheduled for 17h10.