World Touring Car champion Thed Björk has claimed the first pole position of the new FIA World Touring Car Cup for Saturday’s inaugural race on the streets of Marrakech, leading a Hyundai 1-2-3 result.
The Swede managed to edge out long-time provisional polesitter Norbert Michelisz by just over one-tenth of a second in the final five minutes of a frenetic 40-minute session, navigating around a sizable oil trail left by the Hungarian after his i30 N TCR blew its engine midway through the session.
With the day’s two earlier practice sessions both blighted by rain, qualifying presented a journey into the unknown for the 25-car field who ventured out on slick tyres for the first time.
Michelisz’s BMR racing teammate Gabriele Tarquini led the way early on around the 2.791-kilometre Moulay El Hassan circuit with a lap of 1:25.942, which was comfortable beaten by Björk and then Michelisz as the circuit started to rubber in.
On their second runs, Björk returned to the top of the time sheets before he was again beaten by Michelisz, who posted a 1:24.834 only for his engine to spectacularly fail as he drove through Turn 1.
His car trailed a large oil slick until he was able to stop it on the side of the circuit, forcing the session to be briefly red-flagged so his car could be recovered and cement dust laid over the slippery section of the track.
With the first sector of the lap now quite slippery, it took until the final few minutes before grip levels had improved and some fast times could be posted.
Björk was able to do it best, stringing together a lap some four-tenths of a second quicker than his previous effort to bump Michelisz from pole position.
Michelisz ended up second-fastest, but it almost certain to be demoted down the grid so the team can breach parc fermé conditions to repair or replace his engine.
Tarquini rounded out a Hyundai 1-2-3 in an impressive showing for the i30, heading reigning TCR International Series champion Jean-Karl Vernay’s WRT Audi by two-tenths of a second.
Rob Huff finished up fifth-fastest in his Sébastien Loeb Racing VW, while John Filippi surprised with an impressive sixth in his Campos Racing Cupra.
Esteban Guerrieri, who was the pacesetter in the damp FP2 session, was the lead Honda and qualified seventh-fastest in his Münnich Motorsport entry ahead of Gordon Shedden in the second WRT Audi. The Scot survived a number of brushes with the wall as he hustled his RS3 LMS around the circuit.
Huff’s teammate Mehdi Bennani was ninth-fastest at his home event, while Yvan Muller rounded out the top ten in the fourth Hyundai.
Less than one second covered positions 11 to 23 on the grid. James Thompson led this group in the second Münnich Motorsport ahead of Aurélien Comte, who defied expectations by qualifying his underpowered DG Sport Compétition Peugeot twelfth-fastest.
Low-grip conditions saw a number of drivers pushing their cars beyond the limit of adhesion. Comtoyou Racing trio Nathanaël Berthon (16th) and Denis Dupont (20th) both had trips off-track, as did Cupras of Pepe Oriola (15th) and Zsolt Szabó (22nd).
The worst offender of all was rookie driver Benjamin Lessennes, who had umpteen spins in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda and qualified second-slowest ahead of Gianni Morbidelli’s Alfa Romeo.
The season’s opening 18-lap race takes place at 17:00 local time (GMT +1). Sunday’s action will see a WTCC-style three-part qualifying session which will determine the starting grids for the weekend’s second and third races.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Morocco – Race 1 Final Qualifying Results|
|1.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||1:24.698|
|2.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||1:24.834||+ 0.136|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||1:25.059||+ 0.361|
|4.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1:25.256||+ 0.558|
|5.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||1:25.294||+ 0.596|
|6.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||1:25.405||+ 0.707|
|7.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:25.530||+ 0.832|
|8.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1:25.577||+ 0.879|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||1:25.658||+ 0.960|
|10.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||1:25.679||+ 0.981|
|11.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:25.729||+ 1.031|
|12.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||1:25.868||+ 1.170|
|13.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:25.917||+ 1.219|
|14.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||1:25.946||+ 1.248|
|15.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||1:25.947||+ 1.249|
|16.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||1:26.032||+ 1.334|
|17.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||1:26.105||+ 1.407|
|18.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||1:26.256||+ 1.558|
|19.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||1:26.371||+ 1.673|
|20.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||1:26.379||+ 1.681|
|21.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||1:26.384||+ 1.686|
|22.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||1:26.473||+ 1.775|
|23.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||1:26.708||+ 2.010|
|24.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||1:27.065||+ 2.367|
|25.||Gianni Morbidelli||Mulsanne SRL||1:27.388||+ 2.690|
* Post-Qualifying Penalties:
Image via FIA WTCR Media