Having spent last weekend at the Ningbo Circuit, the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) headed to the streets of Wuhan for the second leg of its trip to China.
With the Balance of Performance regulations updated ahead of this weekend, the all-conquering Hyundai quartet would inevitably be dethroned at the top of the time sheets, and it proved to be Audi who stood up to the task of replacing them.
Qualifying Round 1:
To decide the starting grid for the opening race of the weekend, the first round of qualifying got underway. It was quickly evident that Audi’s strong form in practice was anything but a fluke as Jean-Karl Vernay, Gordon Shedden, Frederic Vervisch and Denis Dupont all traded places at the top of the standings.
Nathanael Berthon also joined the party, and it looked as though the German marque could well lock-out the top five grid positions for Race One. However, Pepe Oriola put an end to that as the session entered its concluion. A mega lap elevated his Cupra up into second place on the time sheets, earning him a front-row start alongside pole-sitter Jean-Karl Vernay.
Yann Ehrlacher would end up in seventh place, just ahead of the impressive underdog trio of Kevin Ceccon, Aurelien Comte and Mat’o Homola.
As expected, the four championship-contending Hyundais of Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini, Thed Bjork and Norbert Michelisz all struggled with the handicap of success ballast.
Qualifying Round 2:
The second round of qualifying would define the order of the starting grid for the second and third races, with the second race incorporating a top-ten reversed grid.
Once again, Audi impressed with rapid pace, as five of the six RS3 TCR cars made it into the top six grid slots. This time round, however, it was Gordon Shedden’s time to shine. Only the smallest of margins separated the Scotsman and Frederic Vervisch in the battle for pole position, while Denis Dupont, Jean-Karl Vernay and the Honda of Esteban Guerrieri completed the top five.
For Shedden, this would be a huge relief. It’s no secret that this has been a troublesome campaign for the three-time British Touring Car Champion, who has switched cars since the European set of races in the hope of finding better pace. And indeed, it seems as though his decision to take over a new Audi has been vindicated.
Pepe Oriola, meanwhile, couldn’t quite replicate his earlier form and would have to settle for seventh place just behind Nathanael Berthon. Aurelien Comte got his Peugeot into eighth, while the top ten was rounded out by Ma Qing Hua and Mehdi Bennani, who would therefore share the front row of the grid in Race Two.