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Kajaia times first ETCC pole to perfection ahead of Zolder rain

Davit Kajaia beat the Zolder rain in style to claim a surprise pole position for round nine of the FIA European Touring Car Cup, which takes place over 13 laps at the former Belgian Grand Prix venue on Sunday afternoon.

The Georgian’s TC2T class BMW runs to an older specification than the latest-generation Single Make Trophy SEAT Leóns that had dominated qualifying in this season’s class-based ETCC. But the LIQUI MOLY Team Engstler driver belied the performance gap to make the most of a well-timed run as a sudden downpour in the opening moments of the 30-minute session proved decisive.

With rain coating the 4.0-kilometre track early on, few drivers managed to improve on their initial efforts, leaving Kajaia to take top spot by a slender 0.033s ahead of a quartet of SMT class runners, Mato Homola (Slovakia), Dušan Borković (Serbia), Petr Fulín (Czech Republic) and Ronny Jost (Switzerland). It was Kajaia’s maiden ETCC pole and the first in the championship for BMW since Homola set the pace in qualifying at the Slovakia Ring in May 2014. 

“I am very happy,” said Kajaia, who scores three TC2T bonus points. “My car was in a very good condition. I could have done better because I made one mistake in my first lap when I went out after missing a braking point but I am happy with pole position for the first time in my debut ETCC season.”

Czech Michal Matĕjovský took his BMW to the TC2 pole in sixth ahead of Turks Aytaç Biter, Ibrahim Okyay, Ümit Ülkü and Galip Atar. Teenaged Swiss Daniel Conrad finished up P11 and third in TC2 in his Honda Civic with Niklas Mackschin (Germany) continuing his impressive run of form in Super 1600 ahead of fellow category contenders Gilles Bruckner (Luxembourg), Ulrike Krafft (Germany) and Erwin Lukas (Germany).

However, it was a qualifying to forget for Florian Hildner, whose roll at the first corner brought out the red flags to allow his Ford Fiesta to be recovered from the gravel trap but not before the German had set the fifth fastest time in S1600 in P16 overall. Andreas Pfister (Germany) and Peter Rikli (Switzerland), who had been expected to challenge for pole in their respective classes, were also left nursing their dented pride as they languished close to the bottom of the timesheets after they were caught out by the early rain and unable to set a meaningful lap time when they did take to the track. ETCC returnee Ben Lintgen (Luxembourg) rounded out the 19 runners.

Race one on Sunday is due to begin with a rolling start at 12h50 local time. Race two will get underway from a standing start at 15h05 with the top eight from race one lining up in reverse order.