Thed Bjork takes pole position for Moroccan Opener

Credit: WTCR

As part of the new World Touring Car Cup schedule, a 40-minute qualifying session was held today in order to define the grid for the Race one, which starts later this afternoon, the first race of a new era of International Touring Cars.

In drying conditions, the order on the time sheets was highly changeable throughout. Early on, as Frederic Vervisch narrowly avoided the tyre barriers, it was the local Moroccan hero Mehdi Bennani who went fastest after five minutes of the session. It wasn’t long, however, before he was overthrown by BRC Racing‘s veteran Italian Gabriele Tarquini.

The first yellow flag of the session was waved in sector two, as Benjamin Lessennes ended up down the escape road after braking far too late. On the debut for the new Peugeot 308 TCR, Aurelien Comte was having a strong start. The Frenchman found himself inside the top ten with under thirty minutes of the session remaining.

Reigning WTCC champion Thed Bjork was on a charge early on. Having spent most of the opening ten minutes in the bottom half of the standings, the Swede posted a lap fast enough to take his YMR Hyundai up to second place. Soon enough, with twenty-eight minutes on the clock, it became a Hyundai 1-2-3. Norbert Michelisz moved ahead of Bjork to slot into second place behind his BRC Racing team-mate, Tarquini. Then, on the following lap, the popular Hungarian lit up the timing screens with a lot of purple en route to going fastest.

Nathanael Berthon repeated Lessennes’ mistake from earlier in the session, and Thed Bjork followed him straight off. So, yellow flags were once again waved in sector two as Berthon tried to get his Audi RS3 LMS TCR back onto the track. In fact, Turn seven was proving rather tricky for some; Zsolt Szabo became the fourth driver to get caught out there, and the third to end up down the run-off escape road.

With about twenty-two minutes left on the clock, track conditions seemed to be changing at a faster rate. Esteban Guerrieri was the first to capitalise, breaking into the top three, while British duo Gordon Shedden and Rob Huff moved up into the top five. However, Bjork then found the extra lap time to go fastest of all – that is, until Michelisz then went quicker still.

But then, disaster struck for Michelisz. An engine failure for his Hyundai i30N TCR left a big oil slick in sector one, as flames roared out from the back of the car. Red flags came out and the qualifying session was halted as marshalls began the clean-up operation.

As soon as the session got back underway, Lessennes (who is filling in for the injured Tiago Monteiro this weekend) followed in the footsteps of John Filippi from earlier in the day and promptly ran off into the escape road at Turn eleven. The young Belgian was certainly pushing the brakes of his Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCR to the very limit.

Filippi then posted an impressive lap time for Campos Racing, moving up to sixth and becoming the fastest of the Cupra TCRs as fellow Cupra driver, Szabo, ran too deep into Turn eleven.

With Michelisz stranded in the pit-lane, he could do nothing but look on as Bjork went narrowly faster with just a handful of minutes left in the session. It would perhaps be irrelevant anyway, as Michelisz would likely be given a grid penalty should his Hyundai have to undergo an engine replacement.

Race of Morocco Race 1 Qualifying Result

1stThed BjorkHyundai1m24.698
2ndNorbert MicheliszHyundai+0.136
3rdGabriele Tarquini Hyundai+0.361
4thJean-Karl VernayAudi+0.558
5thRob HuffVolkswagen+0.596
6thJohn FilippiCupra+0.707
7thEsteban GuerrieriHonda+0.832
8thGordon SheddenAudi+0.879
9thMehdi BennaniVolkswagen+0.960
10thYvan MullerHyundai+0.981
11thJames ThompsonHonda+1.031
12thAurelien ComtePeugeot+1.170
13thYann EhrlacherHonda+1.219
14thFrederic VervischAudi+1.248
15thPepe OriolaCupra+1.249
16th Nathanael BerthonAudi+1.334
17thTom CoronelHonda+1.407
18thAurelien PanisAudi+1.558
19thMat'o HomolaPeugeot+1.673
20thDenis DupontAudi+1.681
21stFabrizio GiovanardiAlfa Romeo+1.686
22ndZsolt David SzaboCupra+1.775
23rdNorbert NagyCupra+2.010
24thBenjamin LessennesHonda+2.367
25thGianni MorbidelliAlfa Romeo+2.690