Thed Björk snatched his second consecutive DHL Pole Position at WTCR Race of China-Ningbo after emerging fastest from a hugely-close qualifying at the Ningbo International Speedpark this morning, which resulted in the top three covered by 0.1s in the top-five shootout.

The YMR driver only graduated from Q2 with the fourth fastest time in his Hyundai i30 N TCR, but hooked up a strong lap when it mattered to claim top spot ahead of BRC Racing Team’s Norbert Michelisz by 0.103s.

ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri, who was fastest in Q2, ended up third in the showdown in his Honda Civic Type R TCR, ahead of BRC’s Gabriele Tarquini and Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Rob Huff (Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR).

“Esteban really put the pressure on in Q2,” said Björk, who topped both free practice sessions on Friday and took victory in Race 1 on Saturday from pole. “But I knew if I could connect a lap I could do it. We have the reverse-grid race next, but then in Race 3 – I’m flying!”

How the battle for the DHL Pole Position unfolded?
Yvan Muller, in the second YMR Hyundai, headed the times in the 20-minute Q1 session, ahead of Michelisz, Björk and Guerrieri. Those who notably made the top 12 to continue into Q2 included Chinese WTCR OSCARO debutant Ma Qing Hua, who was an excellent P8 in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda. Behind him, Nathanaël Berthon, Yann Ehrlacher, Rob Huff and Frédéric Vervisch made the cut – although the latter carried some car damage into the next session.

Those who dropped out at this stage included a frustrated Jean-Karl Vernay, just outside the bubble in P13 in his Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team RS 3 LMS. Others to miss out were Aurélien Comte in P14, Pepe Oriola, Aurélien Panis, Zsolt Szabó and the other new driver to the series, Timo Scheider, the double DTM champion from German. Both Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCRs dropped out at this stage too, with Kevin Ceccon in P19 and Fabrizio Giovanardi in P25, the touring car legend struggling with an engine issue.

Guerrieri is Q2 pacesetter
Guerrieri topped the 10-minute Q2 session, with Tarquini, Michelisz, Björk and Huff joining him in that order to progress into the one-shot Q3 session. A late shuffling in their final runs bumped Nathanaël Berthon from the crucial P10, which decides who is on the DHL Pole Position for the reverse-grid Race 2. The beneficiary was Mehdi Bennani who dropped into P10 and will thus will start from the front in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf. Comtoyou Audi drivers Denis Dupont and Frédéric Vervisch missed out on a top five place, as did Yann Ehrlacher in P8 and his uncle Muller in P9. The YMR Hyundai will at least benefit from a front-row start slot for the reverse-grid Race 2. For Dupont, the RACB National Team driver, the performance was his best in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO so far. A broken anti-roll bar meant Ma Qing Hua had to settle for P12.

Fast five go for it in Q3
Huff was the first to go in the one-at-a-time Q3 shootout, the Briton setting a benchmark of 1m50.902s. Björk was next to go and comfortably eclipsed Huff’s time by 0.531s with an assured effort. Now Michelisz set out to make up for his disappointing retirement from Race 1. But while the Hungarian was faster than Huff, he was slower than Björk by 0.103s. Next up was WTCR OSCARO points leader Tarquini. The Italian was up on Björk in the first sector, but lost time thereafter to end up slower than both the YMR Hyundai and his team-mate Michelisz. Guerrieri was the last to set his flying lap, but he couldn’t hook up an effort that would challenge for the DHL Pole Position. He ended up third behind Björk and Michelisz, but ahead of Tarquini and Huff as three World Touring Car champions ended up in the top five.

Race 2 of WTCR Race of China-Ningbo takes place at 14h20 local time, with Race 3 scheduled for 15h40.


Thed Björk (YMR, Hyundai i30 N TCR): DHL Pole Position Race 3 (1m50.371s)
“It’s really good but Esteban really put the pressure on me in Q2. But I felt like if I can connect the lap maybe I can do a good lap, maybe not like he did, but a very competitive lap and it was enough so I am really happy. At home my family is sleeping now but it’s been tough work for my wife, she is pushing and I can relax here when she is doing that so I just keep pushing. The first race is the reverse grid but the second race today, will be the same as the first race yesterday! The others are catching up, they see what I do, they catch up, the track evolves with the grip levels and so on and they are really competitive drivers. I can only focus on myself and putting the lap I have together 100 per cent. I was really close. In Q3 it was a really smooth lap, it was not a fantastic lap, smooth and it was enough, consistent and consistency won me the championship last year.”

Norbert Michelisz (BRC Racing Team, Hyundai i30 N TCR): P2 (1m50.474s)
“It was an okay performance and I’m a bit more happy than yesterday. I managed to extract the most of myself and the car today. Yesterday it was a bit down to driving that I lost out on pole. But starting from the front row it’s a good possibility to win the race and that’s my aim for this afternoon. I didn’t look at the weather forecast but I think we should have bit hotter than yesterday but we are prepared for that so it shouldn’t be any problem.”

Esteban Guerrieri (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, Honda Civic Type R TCR): P3 (1m50.517s)
Actually my lap time was showing the same time I did in Q2 so I thought it was pole but then [my engineer] said P3 and I start to think where I lost the time, maybe a bit in the braking for Turn 5, here and there. The lap was good but I am a little disappointed. P1 in Q2, of course I improved from my previous lap but I thought I could repeat [my Q2 performance]. I would prefer pole position and now they know my overtaking tricks already. It will be two tough races but now I am thinking about the end of qualifying because I always like to put it together and go for pole.

Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing, Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR): DHL Pole Position Race 2 (1m50.913s)
“All the team works very well and when they give me the last information about my position and how close we are I think it’s better to stop and come to the pit and save our ninth of 10th position because we managed to be between eight and 10 and 10 is much better than eighth. I am very, very happy. We fight every time and even in Q1 I was fighting for the top five. It means we are good, even with the BoP and our weight, everything looks good. Portugal was not so good event for us but it was a good race for the car because we had been fighting for the pole position and the second position with my team-mate. Most of all we have to be very happy to be back in the best conditions for the racing. We cannot forget that Slovakia was very soon after the crash and me and also Rob was not ready 100 per cent. I was still driving with a lot of [vertigo] and it’s not nice to drive with something like this when you are not 100 per cent. It’s good, the car is performing good and congratulations to my team, to Volkswagen and my team-mate also because we are doing altogether a good job.”