Thed Björk claimed his third victory of the 2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup season with a comfortable lights-to-flag win from pole position in the opening race at Ningbo International Speedpark.
The YMR Hyundai driver made a textbook getaway from pole position and quickly broke clear of a fierce opening lap scrap that saw Münnich Motorsport Honda driver Esteban Guerrieri muscle his way into second place ahead of Norbert Michelisz’s BRC Racing Team Hyundai and Frédéric Vervisch’s Comtoyou Racing Audi.
Later around the lap, Vervisch would hit the rear of Michelisz’s car, damaging the rear of the Hyundai and forcing the Hungarian driver to slow and retire with smoke billowing from its exhausts.
The frenetic opening lap saw plenty of jostling for positions in the midfield that caused a number of early retirements. After qualifying a season’s best sixth, Nathanaël Berthon brought his Comtoyou Audi into the pits with bent rear tracking after copping a hit, while fellow Audi runner Jean-Karl Vernay popped a driveshaft in his WRT entry after clobbering a kerb.
Three of the field’s four Cupras were also early retirees. Zsolt Dávid Szabó retired with damage to his Zengõ Motorsport entry after making contact with both Sébastien Loeb Racing VWs, while his teammate Norbert Nagy was punted into Ma Qing Hua’s Boutsen Ginion Honda by Campos Racing’s John Filippi.
Up front, Björk was able to build a comfortable gap over Guerrieri to have an unchallenged run to the finish line. His victory moved him to third overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings, 24 points behind outright leader Gabriele Tarquini.
Demoted five places on the grid for his role in the Race 3 incident at the last round in Slovakia, Tarquini made one of his customary blinding starts and rocketed into fourth place, which he held until the chequered flag. With his closest title rival Yvan Muller finishing in seventh behind Sébastien Loeb Racing teammates Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff, the Italian was able to extend his points’ lead over the French ace to 9 points.
There was an interesting intra-team battle at SLR, with Rob Huff repeatedly pleading with his team over the pit-to-car radio to instruct Bennani to let him through. His calls fell on deaf ears, leaving the frustrated Briton to follow in the wheeltracks of the Moroccan to the chequered flag.
Championship frontrunner Yann Ehrlacher made progress from twelfth on the grid to finish eighth in the second Münnich Motorsport Honda, promoting him to equal fourth in the Drivers’ Championship standings alongside Michelisz who chalked up his fifth DNF of the season.
The Comtoyou Audis of Denis Dupont and Aurélien Panis claimed the final points on offer in ninth and tenth respectively, while WTCR newcomer Timo Scheider finished his first race in eleventh place in the third Münnich Motorsport Honda.
Qualifying for Race 2 takes place at 09:00 local time on Sunday (GMT +8), with Race 2 at 14:20 and Race 3 at 15:40.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China Ningbo – Race 1 Final Classification (13 laps)|
|1.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||13||24:27.793||27|
|2.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||13||+ 4.098||20|
|3.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||13||+ 6.509||17|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||13||+ 7.459||14|
|5.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||13||+ 12.512||12|
|6.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||13||+ 12.920||10|
|7.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||13||+ 15.681||8|
|8.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||13||+ 18.262||6|
|9.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||13||+ 21.330||4|
|10.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||13||+ 22.571||2|
|11.||Timo Scheider||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||13||+ 22.991|
|12.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||13||+ 24.891|
|13.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||13||+ 34.043|
|14.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||13||+ 36.378|
|15.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||13||+ 36.450|
|16.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||13||+ 36.721|
|17.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||13||+ 37.224|
|18.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||13||+ 37.540|
|19.||Ma Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||13||+ 38.583|
|DNF.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||4||Collision|
|DNF.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||4||Collision|
|DNF.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||3||Collision|
|DNF.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1||Driveshaft|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||1||Exhaust|
|DNF.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||1||Collision|
* Post-Race Penalties:
Images via FIA WTCR Media