A post-qualifying investigation has sparked controversy in the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) tonight. After a lengthy stay in the scrutineering bay and hours of observation by FIA technicians, the three Hyundai i30N TCR cars of Norbert Michelisz, Yvan Muller and Thed Bjork have been accused of competing with illegal boost levels during qualifying.
As such, all three will be dropped to the back of the grid for Saturday’s opening race at the Slovakiaring. For Bjork, this has little significance as the Swede was set to start from the back anyway due to having to serve an engine change penalty. The ruling is a real kick in the teeth for Michelisz and Muller though, as they had provisionally qualified in the top three.
Despite clearly being the fastest car on the track, the fourth Hyundai of Gabriele Tarquini – which took pole position for the opening race – was cleared of any sort of foul play by the FIA stewards. Therefore, the experienced Italian will be able to lead from the front in Race One, providing him with a great opportunity to claw back at Yvan Muller’s advantage in the championship points standings.
Aside from the Hyundai debacle, the FIA have also decided to penalise Benjamin Lessennes with a ten-place grid penalty. This is a result of Lessennes being given his third reprimand of the season. After qualifying sixteenth, this would’ve dropped the young Belgian to the back of the grid, however he will start ahead of the Hyundai trio and line up in 23rd place instead.
Of course, all of these exclusions and penalties have shifted the rest of the field up the order a little bit. Now, instead of being joined by his team-mate Michelisz, Gabriele Tarquini will share the front row of the grid with the lightweight Peugeot 308TCR of Aurelien Comte. The Frenchman already has a race win to his name this year, but could he double his tally in the opening race? One driver who will try to stop him is Pepe Oriola. The young Spaniard has been fired up recently, and is a genuine contender for race victory on Saturday.
The rest of the top ten looks like this: Esteban Guerrieri will start alongside Oriola, while Jean-Karl Vernay and Tom Coronel lock-out row three. Championship contender Yann Ehrlacher will start from seventh, just ahead of local Slovakian hero, Mat’o Homola. The final top ten positions go the way of Comtoyou Racing team-mates, Aurelien Panis and Denis Dupont.
With the fast Hyundai competitors having to carve their way through the field, and the ever-impressive Comte & Oriola in contention for victory at the front, the opening race at the Slovakiaring is shaping up to be a fantastic spectacle.