Honda claimed a double pole position for the fifth round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship on the demanding Vila Real street circuit in Portugal.
Norbert Michelisz’s stunning performance in the single-lap Q3 section of qualifying gave the Hungarian a second consecutive Main Race pole and the third for the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team from the five rounds held this year.
His team-mate Tiago Monteiro, who is racing on his home circuit, had been fastest in Q1 and had set the best time of all in the first sector of his Q3 lap.
Unfortunately, a leaking damper led to a big slide at the final corner that cost last year’s Vila Real Main Race winner time and restricted him to fourth place.
Ryo Michigami will start from pole in Sunday’s Opening Race when his career-best 10th place in qualifying is converted into first place on the partially-reversed grid. Tiago and Norbert will start the Opening Race from seventh and 10th.
The bonus points secured by both Tiago and Norbert in qualifying mean they sit just one and 27 points away from the championship lead respectively.
After the session, Honda finished second in the fifth MAC3 contest of the year to maintain their challenge for the Manufacturers’ title.
Norbert Michelisz #5: « I haven’t been feeling well either today or yesterday, so I had to reach so deep into my energy reserves to do this lap, and taking my second pole position in a row is just a fantastic result. To be honest, I expected us to be strong here after we tried some things in a test in Italy last week that worked really well, and the practice pace was very strong too. Being in front also gives me a great opportunity to dictate the tactics with the new joker lap, but it also creates a difficult in the Opening Race because I will start 10th on the reversed grid. If we can put together a good strategy and finish sixth or seventh in the Opening Race, and then win the Main Race, this will be a very good weekend for us. »
Tiago Monteiro #18: « First of all well done to Norbi, who has done an amazing job. We had a tremendous package with the Honda today and I know pole was possible. I was faster than my 2016 pole in Q2 and I knew there was some extra margin to find in Q3. Unfortunately, I had a leaking damper so some fluid got on my brakes and caused me to have a big slide into the final corner. That meant I was fourth instead of maybe first, but I know how fast the car is so I think it’s possible to make up some places by using a good strategy in the joker lap. Although I’m thinking mainly about the championship, I’m prepared to take some risks tomorrow. »
Ryo Michigami #34: « It feels fantastic to know that I’ll be starting from pole position in the Opening Race tomorrow and to qualify in the top 10 in the WTCC for the first time. We tested in Italy last week and we put a lot of focus on my driving style and on how I can minimise understeer and I think today is the result of some very good work by us as a team. I’ve never been here before, but I’ve been inside the top 10 in FP1, FP2, Q1 and Q2, which is fantastic. My aim for the Opening Race is to win; pure and simple. Of course the joker lap is new and it adds a level of something we haven’t previously experienced, but the car is very strong so hopefully we should have enough pace to get the job done. »
Alessandro Mariani – Team Principal: « We have pole position for both races so obviously I’m very happy with that and must say well done to the whole team. Norbert did a fantastic job to take pole position for the Main Race and Ryo did a great job to qualify 10th and secure the Opening Race pole. It’s a bit of a shame that Tiago made a mistake at the end of his Q3 lap because without it I believe we could have had a one-two result, but from fourth he still has the possibility to finish on the podium. We know Sunday will be tricky because we expect rain for the races and this will add an extra layer of difficulty, but we’ll do everything we can to get some very good results. »
Ryuichi Furukawa – Large Project Leader WTCC Development, Honda R&D: « We have had a very strong day as all three drivers have been very fast. Norbi and Tiago have been inside the top three in every session and Ryo has been in the top 10 all the time. Norbi did a fantastic lap and Tiago was also capable of pole for his home race. I am very pleased for Ryo too. He is driving the car differently after we found some new strategies to try in testing and he has had his most competitive Saturday in the WTCC in 2017. Tomorrow the aim is to win both races. We know this will be tough, but we will push very hard to achieve this. »