Lynk & Co driver Yvan Muller secured pole position for the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race after emerging on top in a super-tight qualifying session at the Ningbo International Speedpark, as less than a second separated the fastest 21 cars in the 26-car field.

The Cyan Racing driver set a time of 1:50.848 to pip home-race hero Ma Qing Hua (Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo) to the top spot by a scant 0.050 seconds.

Muller was especially delighted to take his first pole position of the year at Chinese manufacturer Lynk & Co’s home circuit.

“The first part of the job is done, now we have to confirm it in the race,” said the Frenchman. “It will be difficult to overtake, but anything can happen. It will be an interesting race.”

Ma was pleased with his effort in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR, despite reporting some understeer. “That was a really good qualifying,” he said. “The lap was comfortable. It was not perfect, but it’s difficult to be perfect at Ningbo.”

Free Practice 2 pacesetter and Ningbo rookie Mikel Azcona was a superb third-fastest in his PWR Racing CUPRA TCR, ahead of Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR) – and with SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson next up in his Golf GTI TCR, which made it five car brands in the top five positions.

Nicky Catsburg – whose Hyundai is running a new engine this weekend – was sixth-fastest, with Comtoyou DHL Team CUPRA Racing’s Aurélien Panis sandwiched between the BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team driver and his teammate Augusto Farfus.

WTCR Drivers’ Championship leader Esteban Guerrieri was next in his Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR, but will serve a three-place grid penalty in Race 1 following his clash with Catsburg at the last event in Portugal.

PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf completed the top ten ahead of Niels Langeveld, Andy Priaulx, Thed Björk, Kevin Ceccon and Frédéric Vervisch.

Néstor Girolami, who qualified P18 behind Yann Ehrlacher and Rob Huff, was hampered by a throttle issue. Mehdi Bennani and fellow Volkswagen-powered driver Benjamin Leuchter rounded out the top 20 ahead of Tiago Monteiro, Jean-Karl Vernay, Gabriele Tarquini, Attila Tassi, Tom Coronel and Gordon Shedden.

Race 1 at WTCR Race of China takes place at 15:40 local time (GMT +8).

2019 FIA WTCR Race of China – Race 1 Qualifying Results
Driver Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:50.848
2. Ma Qing Hua Team Mulsanne 1:50.898 + 0.050
3. Mikel Azcona PWR Racing 1:50.988 + 0.140
4. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:51.015 + 0.167
5. Johan Kristoffersson SLR Volkswagen 1:51.118 + 0.270
6. Nicky Catsburg BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:51.255 + 0.407
7. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1:51.309 + 0.461
8. Augusto Farfus BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:51.406 + 0.558
9. Esteban Guerrieri Münnich Motorsport 1:51.427 + 0.579
10. Daniel Haglöf PWR Racing 1:51.493 + 0.645
11. Niels Langeveld Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:51.521 + 0.673
12. Andy Priaulx Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:51.526 + 0.678
13. Thed Björk Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:51.557 + 0.709
14. Kevin Ceccon Team Mulsanne 1:51.575 + 0.727
15. Frédéric Vervisch be Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:51.652 + 0.804
16. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:51.749 + 0.901
17. Rob Huff SLR VW Motorsport 1:51.791 + 0.973
18. Néstor Girolami Münnich Motorsport 1:51.807 + 0.959
19. Mehdi Bennani SLR VW Motorsport 1:51.809 + 0.961
20. Benjamin Leuchter be SLR Volkswagen 1:51.826 + 0.978
21. Tiago Monteiro KCMG 1:51.847 + 0.999
22. Jean-Karl Vernay Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:51.868 + 1.020
23. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:52.026 + 1.178
24. Attila Tassi KCMG 1:52.099 + 1.251
25. Tom Coronel Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1:52.162 + 1.314
26. Gordon Shedden Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:52.590 + 1.742

Championship Points:

  • The fastest five qualifiers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Esteban Guerrieri will serve a three-place grid penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Nicky Catsburg at the preceding Race of Portugal round.

Text and images via FIA WTCR Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.