Bjork, Shedden claim pole positions at Vila Real

by James Bowers

Thed Bjork led a Hyundai 1-2-3 in the second World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) qualifying session at Vila Real, being the only driver to post a lap time which fell under the two-minute barrier. Considering that the Swede’s car ended Saturday as a fire-damaged wreck, this was a mighty turnaround in fortune.

Norbert Michelisz and Gabriele Tarquini ensured that Hyundai locked-out the first three positions on the starting grid for the third race of the day, while Pepe Oriola continued his impressive form to go fourth fastest in the Campos Racing Cupra. Just behind Oriola on the starting grid will be Yann Ehrlacher. Entering the weekend as the championship leader, Ehrlacher was another driver whose car was involved in the horrific incident in Race One. Now that it’s repaired, the Frenchman will be hoping to regain the championship lead from Yvan Muller, or at the very least make up some ground in the points standings.

Aurelien Panis shocked a few by being the quickest Audi driver in qualifying. Ending the session sixth fastest, Panis put in the best performance of his WTCR career to date. Jean-Karl Vernay will line up from seventh in Race Three, just ahead of the Peugeot of Mat’o Homola – another driver who impressed with good form during qualifying.

The final two spots in the top ten went to the likes of Yvan Muller and Gordon Shedden. The two former British Touring Car Champions will therefore share the front row of the starting grid in Race Two, where the top ten qualifying positions are reversed. Without a win so far this season, Shedden will no doubt give his all to hold off Muller and convert pole position into victory.

Front-runner, Esteban Guerrieri, had a session to forget and will start both of this afternoon’s races from 19th position. Additionally, Zsolt Szabo‘s pace has dropped off significantly since the first race accident. After qualifying very well on Saturday, his involvement in yesterday’s big pile-up seems to have left the talented youngster unable to replicate his earlier form. As such, Szabo will line up from 22nd on the grid in both races.

There has also been a number of withdrawals from the Vila Real event. Sebastien Loeb Racing’s woes have been confirmed; neither Volkswagen of Rob Huff or Mehdi Bennani is in shape to compete, with Huff’s car left looking particularly irreparable. For the British driver, this incident will be hard to take as a strong position in the championship standings has sadly been lost. In the Munnich Motorsport garage, James Thompson will also be unable to take any further part. Thompson, who rushed to aid his team-mate Ehrlacher get out of a boxed-in car during the direct aftermath of the Race One incident, also suffered extensive damage to his own Honda Civic FK8 TCR.

Race Two is set to get underway at 15:30 BST, while Race Three is scheduled for 16:45 BST.

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