Having come out on top in qualifying, Thed Bjork would start from pole position in the final of three World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) races at Ningbo Circuit in China. However, title rival Yann Ehrlacher‘s bad luck continued, as damage from the previous race meant that he couldn’t take to the grid in time (and thus would start from pit lane).
As the lights went out to signal the start of the race, it was Bjork who led the cars away as Gabriele Tarquini and Esteban Guerrieri battled for third place just behind. Then, rather unceremoniously, Guerrieri clattered his way past Norbert Michelisz for second place at the first hairpin, forcing the Hungarian out wide. Tarquini and Denis Dupont followed through, but Guerrieri would soon be struck with a dose of karma. As a result of the rough overtake, the Argentine’s Honda had picked up terminal damage, halting any further participation in this race.
Onto lap three, and Yvan Muller began to struggle for pace in the lower reaches of the top ten. First, he was passed by Frederic Vervisch at turn two, before temporarily fending off the other Comtoyou Racing Audi of Nathanael Berthon. Berthon had the pace advantage, however, and soon made his way past the championship points leader at the hairpin.
In an act of apparent desperation, Jean-Karl Vernay then tried to rush past Muller too, on the entry to the chicane. However, this was a case of two into one doesn’t go, and heavy contact ripped the front-left wing off Vernay’s Audi as it was pitched sideways. Both cars continued, however, though Pepe Oriola got ahead of Muller before being shoved back behind him on the entry to the hairpin.
Perhaps as a result of all the contact, Yvan Muller then slowed with a puncture, meaning that his points tally from this race would be a resounding zero. With other rivals set to score highly, his brief championship points lead had come to an end.
With parts of the curbing at turns sixteen and seventeen breaking up, red flags were deployed to halt the race so all debris could be removed.
After this untimely stoppage, the race got going again roughly twenty minutes later. Bjork had lost his lead advantage but quickly worked to rebuild it after the re-start. A few cars back, Rob Huff out-braked himself at the first hairpin, allowing Frederic Vervisch to dive past on the inside line for fifth place. Berthon was the next to try and overtake Huff, this time at turn two, however the Frenchman ran way too deep into the corner and eventually dropped to ninth place after having returned to the circuit.
With time rapidly running out, Vervisch was keen to make further progress, and indeed he did so. Norbert Michelisz ran wide through sector one on the last lap, allowing the Belgian up into fourth place.
Out in front though, Thed Bjork controlled the race with relative ease and took yet another race win in his quest to defend his 2017 world title. Gabriele Tarquini retook the points lead from Muller however, with a fairly comfortable second place.
The story of the race though was the success of Denis Dupont. The youngster from Belgium had already been having a breakthrough weekend, but third place in this race ensured that he scored his first ever podium result in the World Touring Car Cup.
Full Race Result:
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