Six days is a short time for a complete turnaround in fortunes, particularly in motor racing, but Jean-Karl Vernay achieved just that after claiming pole position for the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race on the Wuhan street circuit.
The WRT Audi driver, who was off-the-pace and failed to score a single point across last weekend’s three races at Ningbo International Speedpark, was completely hooked up on Saturday morning to claim his second P1 qualifying result of the season.
It was an incredibly close qualifying session with all but the slowest two qualifiers covered by barely one second. Benefiting from being able to run without any compensation ballast this weekend, the Audi, Cupra, Peugeot and Alfa Romeo runners featured particularly well in the 40-minute qualifying session.
The Audi customer entries fared best, claiming five of the top six grid positions. Comtoyou Racing’s Frédéric Vervisch and Denis Dupont swapped top spot on the timesheets with the two Team WRT drivers Gordon Shedden and Jean-Karl Vernay during the early exchanges.
Vernay moved into top spot with an ultimately untouchable 1:22.846, which came just moments before teammate Shedden looped his Audi into a spin and triggered a brief red flag period so his car could be restarted.
The Audi runners were denied a 1-2-3-4-5 result by Pepe Oriola’s Campos Racing Cupra, who improved late in the session and fell narrowly short of claiming pole position by just 0.044 seconds.
Nathanaël Berthon popped his Comtoyou Audi into third spot before he too had a late spin, slotting ahead of Dupont, Shedden and Vervisch.
Championship frontrunner Yann Ehrlacher – who like Vernay desperately needs a strong result this weekend to keep his title ambitions alive – qualified seventh-fastest as the lead Honda entrant for Münnich Motorsport. The Frenchman narrowly pipped Kevin Ceccon in the Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta, with the two DG Sport Peugeots of Aurélien Comte and Mat’o Homola rounding out the top ten.
After their dominance last weekend at Ningbo where they swept to victory in every race, the latest Balance of Performance adjustments were always going to hurt the field’s four Hyundai runners who qualified well down the order.
Thed Björk, who claimed a clean sweep of pole positions last time out, could manage no better than 17th ahead of YMR teammate Yvan Muller, while championship leader Gabriele Tarquini was just 21st. The Italian’s BRC Racing teammate Norbert Michelisz was a poor 24th-fastest and will start from the back row of the grid due to an engine change penalty.
Race 1, scheduled over 18 laps, gets underway at 16:00 local time (GMT +8).
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of China Wuhan – Race 1 Final Qualifying Results|
|1.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1:22.846|
|2.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||1:22.890||+ 0.044|
|3.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||1:22.909||+ 0.063|
|4.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||1:22.959||+ 0.113|
|5.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||1:22.989||+ 0.143|
|6.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||1:23.004||+ 0.158|
|7.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:23.186||+ 0.340|
|8.||Kevin Ceccon||Mulsanne SRL||1:23.201||+ 0.355|
|9.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||1:23.250||+ 0.404|
|10.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||1:23.256||+ 0.410|
|11.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:23.322||+ 0.476|
|12.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||1:23.359||+ 0.513|
|13.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||1:23.368||+ 0.522|
|14.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||1:23.506||+ 0.660|
|15.||Ma Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||1:23.545||+ 0.699|
|16.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||1:23.651||+ 0.805|
|17.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||1:23.655||+ 0.809|
|18.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||1:23.669||+ 0.823|
|19.||Timo Scheider||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||1:23.771||+ 0.925|
|20.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||1:23.777||+ 0.931|
|21.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||1:23.858||+ 1.012|
|22.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||1:23.859||+ 1.013|
|23.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||1:23.882||+ 1.036|
|24.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||1:24.672||+ 1.826|
|25.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||1:24.860||+ 2.014|
- Norbert Michelisz will start Race 1 from the back of the grid for an unscheduled engine change.
Image via FIA WTCR Media