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Qualifying report: Borković uses speed and strategy to claim Paul Ricard ETCC pole

2015-06-29

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Dušan Borković found that the right combination of speed and strategy was enough to give him the overall FIA European Touring Car Cup pole at the legendary Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France today, as Davit Kajaia, Michal Matĕjovský and Niklas Mackschin all recorded category success.

Serbian Borković set a banker lap early in the 30-minute session in his SEAT León Cup Racer and was able to conserve his Yokohama tyres thereafter for the two races tomorrow.

In temperatures that exceeded 30 degrees centigrade, Borković, who jointly leads the Single Make Trophy standings along with Petr Fulin, has been quick since testing on Friday and his pole for Sunday’s opening race gives him the best possible chance of a third win of the campaign. His best lap was set at an average speed of 145kph precisely around the 3.841-kilometre track. Andras Pfister was a season-best second with Mato Homola third and Fulin fourth.

“It was definitely a combination of having the right pace and the right tactics,” said Borković. “Unlike the last race at the Slovakia Ring, where I had a puncture early in the session and the pressure was on, I was able to set a good time straight away, which means that I could conserve the tyres for tomorrow. I actually could have been quicker, but I lost two or three tenths overtaking a Super 1600 car.”

Kajaia, from Georgia, continued his domination of the TC2T category in his BMW, ending up fifth overall – just over a second behind Borković – after also prioritising tyre life in the punishing conditions. During Free Practice this morning he was actually third overall, meaning that he could spring a big surprise on race day.

“It was important not to take too much life out of the tyres in Qualifying in order to have them in good condition for the race,” added Kajaia. “So I tried to do the best possible job that I could in that respect.”

Michal Matĕjovský confirmed the pace of the BMWs around the fast and flowing former French Grand Prix venue by heading the TC2 runners in P11. The Czech said that the searing conditions – leading to temperatures of around 50 or 60 degrees centigrade inside the car – were no problem for him.

“It doesn’t bother me at all, which is just as well because I think it could be even hotter tomorrow,” he said. “But in the past I’ve done a few endurance races in hot conditions so I really don’t mind.” He will line up ahead of Turkish driver Ibrahim Okyay in Sunday’s opener with Honda pair Peter Rikli third and Daniel Conrad fourth.

German driver Niklas Mackschin was also revelling in the warm conditions, coming out on top after an intense battle with Ulrike Krafft in the Super 1600 category. “Maybe it was a little too warm for her!” he joked. “But, speaking seriously, I love this track and it all came together for me well. When it comes to the race, of course, you always have to wait and see.”

Top qualifiers, TC2T: Davit Kajaia (BMW); TC2: Michal Matejovský (BMW); S1600: Niklas Mackschin (Ford); SMT: Dušan Borković (SEAT). Sunday key timings: 09h00-09h15: Warm-up; 11h10: Race 1 (14 laps); 11h40: Post-R1 press conference; 15h15: Race 2 (14 laps); 16h05 (estimated): Post-R2 press conference (Media Centre)

They said what? ETCC drivers on Paul Ricard qualifying

David Kajaia, Michal Matĕjovský, Niklas Mackschin and Dušan Borković attended the post-qualifying press conference for JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of France. A transcript follows.

David Kajaia, Michal Matĕjovský, Niklas Mackschin and Dušan Borković attended the post-qualifying press conference for JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of France. A transcript follows.

Q: Dušan, how hot was it out on track today?

DB: I don’t know what to say. I was more careful because I knew the track was hotter than yesterday and the air temperature was higher. My plan was to push a little bit at the beginning to see the difference, and then I decided to wait to have more new tyres for tomorrow and my plan was good. It was really nice: I set a good time but it could have been better. On my fastest lap I had to overtake a Super 1600 car, which made me lose maybe one or two tenths, but when I saw the time I was happy. In Slovakia I had a puncture on the first lap in qualifying and that meant I then had to push to set a time but here it was good because I could set a banker at the beginning. I’m looking forward to tomorrow but it’s going to be a difficult race. Even if you set a good time in qualifying, you can never tell: I’m just going to do my best. Congratulations to all my colleagues: they are really good.

Q: Davit, how hard is it for the tyres in these conditions?

DK: I tried to preserve my tyres for the race and have them in as good a position as possible. I just tried to do as best as I could with this process.

Q: Davit, this is a fast and open track: does it suit your TC2T car well?
It was perfect for my car: I would say that my car is particularly good in faster turns and less good in slower turns.

Q: Michal, are you expecting the conditions to be the same tomorrow?

MM: I think it will be even hotter, especially in the second race. The first race will be fine: the second race will be much hotter: we’ve got 14 laps and temperatures of 32 degrees, to this means that the temperature in the car will be something like 50 or 60 degrees. So we’re going to be losing some weight in the race I think! Still, the conditions are the same for every driver and this is part of the challenge.

Q: Michal, have you done any specific training for these hot conditions?

MM: No, but I don’t have too many problems with the heat. I’m quite used to it and I’ve done a few endurance races before with one or two hour stints in the car, so for me it’s not a problem at all.

Q: Nicklas, a close battle in qualifying with Ulrike once more. What tipped the balance in your favour?

NM: I don’t know – maybe it’s too hot for her! But as for me, I love this weather. When it’s hot I feel really comfortable with the conditions.

Q: Nicklas, what’s your favourite part of this really famous circuit?

NM: The first sector is really tough to drive and technical. Then you get to give it the full gas in sector two. I love this track, it’s really, really good.

Q: Dušan, what’s the plan for tomorrow? Lead from the front?

DB: It’s a secret! In the two races so far I had a slight problem in the rolling start; I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit heavier: I’m a tall guy and in the Single Make Trophy the car is weighed without the driver, so this probably costs me around 20 kilograms. Luckily it is a reasonably short run to the first corner so I don’t think the others will be able to get past but if they pass me, I will try to pass them back: I am a fighter and I will fight again. So let’s see. If we’re smart tomorrow and don’t destroy the tyres we should be OK. I’m a bit afraid after the Slovakia Ring, as the cars are heavier than the standard Eurocup cars with 100 kilograms of ballast. We need to be careful, and have a good strategy as well.

Q: Finally a question for Davit again: last weekend you raced to raise awareness of the floods in your home city of Tbilisi. What is the situation there at the moment?

DK: As everyone knows, there were lots of people injured and made homeless, with the zoo totally destroyed and many animals killed. The only one positive thing to come out of this situation is that it has really united the country, which does not happen all the time, and people have come together to start to rebuild the damage.