Yvan Muller and Yann Ehrlacher delivered a WTCR Race of China qualifying 1-2 for Lynk & Co at the Chinese car brand’s home track following a dramatic session on Saturday morning which saw heartbreak for home hero Ma Qing Hua.

Uncle and nephew were the last to run in the top-five Q3 shootout and with light rain causing an element of lottery over lap times, the pair were on the track at the right time for Muller to secure his second pole position of the weekend and break the Ningbo International Speedpark circuit’s WTCR lap record.

“My lap in Q2 could have been good,” said Muller, who was only fourth-fastest before the shoot-out. “But it was too early and there was too much rain. But for Yann and I, it was a good choice to run last in Q3. I stayed in my car to hear what time he did. It would have been the first time I would have been happy to be beaten!”

Ehrlacher just fell short in his attempt to depose his uncle, but he was delighted to be second fastest. “I struggled a bit yesterday and was not confident,” he said. “I stayed at the track until 1am, so to go from P15 to P2 is great. Now I must work more for the races.” As for his uncle, he quipped: “Not bad for a 50-year-old!”

Trouble for Ceccon, hope for Ma in Q1

The 20-minute Q1 session was effectively truncated by a full course yellow flag period after Kevin Ceccon stopped his Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR out on the circuit early on.

The Italian had an engine change after Race 1 thanks to a stone damaging a radiator. “We still have to check the car, obviously,” he said. “It’s frustrating but Suzuka will be better for sure, I promise you.”

Meanwhile, light rain towards the end made conditions less than ideal and tough to predict. But the weather did not stop a number of late improvements to shake up the order.

Ma Qing Hua set the pace with a time of 1:49.980 from Norbert Michelisz, Aurélien Panis, Thed Björk and Yvan Muller. Those to just make the top 12 and thus progress to Q2 included WTCR points leader Esteban Guerrieri and Gabriele Tarquini, the Italian only making the cut after Frédéric Vervisch’s best time was disallowed for a track limits violation. Vervisch ended up in P15 behind Daniel Haglöf in P13 and Jean-Karl Vernay in P14.

Other notable names to miss out included Race 1 podium finisher Mikel Azcona in P16, Tiago Monteiro in P18 and Rob Huff in P20.

Drama as Girolami and Ma clash on track

The 10-minute Q2 session ended early because of a red flag in the final moments after Néstor Girolami failed to move out of the way of the faster Ma, which led to the Alfa driver to spin. That left the home-race hero annoyed and hugely disappointed in P12 just behind Andy Priaulx.

Girolami claimed his innocence over the incident. Ma said: “The car felt much better than yesterday, so I was confident in my pace, but I don’t know what happened with Girolami. Usually drivers don’t make such mistakes in qualifying. I was flashing my lights from the beginning of the lap and I thought he should see me. I thought he would open the door, but he didn’t. It really surprised me. I believe I could have been on pole position.”

Afterwards, Girolami received a double punishment from race stewards: his fastest Q2 lap time was deleted after he was adjudged to have caused the red flag, while he was handed a five-place grid penalty for Race 2 for impeding another driver.

The five fastest drivers who graduated to the Q3 shootout were Panis, Nicky Catsburg, Girolami, Muller and Lynk & Co team-mate Yann Erhlacher. Guerrieri just missed out in sixth, from Tarquini, Augusto Farfus, Björk and Michelisz. The Hungarian’s P10 position initially awarded him the DHL Pole Position for the reverse-grid Race 2, boosting his hopes of challenging for the WTCR / OSCARO points lead. However, following Girolami’s penalty, Andy Priaulx moves from P11 to P10, handing him top spot instead of Michelisz, who will join him on the front row.

Nestor Girolami, Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR - 2019 FIA WTCR Race of China

Néstor Girolami was heavily punished by the FIA Stewards after his incident with Ma Qing Hua in Q2.

Panis starts first, Muller finishes first in Q3

The threat of rain led Panis to choose to run first in the one-at-a-time Q3 top five race for first on the grid. Sure enough, the lottery of the weather came into play as light rain returned during the Frenchman’s run. He still managed a respectable time of 1:50.536 in his DHL-backed, Comtoyou-run CUPRA.

Catsburg was next to go, but the Dutchman didn’t quite have enough to beat Panis’s mark. He was slower by just 0.199 seconds for BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team.

Now Girolami took his turn, and the Münnich Motorsport driver was determined to make the most of his chance. He pipped Catsburg’s benchmark to go faster by just 0.039s, admitting “we were lucky today” on his slow-down lap.

Muller was next up. The Race 1 winner was clearly faster than those who had run before and set a time comfortably quickest by 0.362 seconds.

The last to go was Muller’s nephew and Fellow Lynk & Co-powered driver Ehrlacher. He was faster than his uncle in the first sector, but couldn’t maintain the pace in the final two sectors and ended up second, 0.282 seconds down on the pole position winner.

Race 2, which features a partially reversed grid, is due to begin at 14:30 for 13 laps with the 16-lap Race 3 set to follow at 15:50 (GMT +8).

2019 FIA WTCR Race of China – Race 2 & 3 Qualifying Results
Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:50.135
2. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:50.417 + 0.282
3. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1:50.536 + 0.401
4. Nicky Catsburg BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:50.735 + 0.600
EXC. Néstor Girolami Münnich Motorsport excluded
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
6. Esteban Guerrieri Münnich Motorsport 1:50.514 + 0.442
7. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:50.538 + 0.466
8. Augusto Farfus BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:50.710 + 0.638
9. Thed Björk Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:50.743 + 0.671
10. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:50.794 + 0.722
11. Andy Priaulx Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:50.821 + 0.749
12. Ma Qing Hua Team Mulsanne no time
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
13. Daniel Haglöf PWR Racing 1:50.568 + 0.586
14. Jean-Karl Vernay Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:50.609 + 0.588
15. Frédéric Vervisch be Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:50.735 + 0.629
16. Mikel Azcona PWR Racing 1:50.785 + 0.755
17. Attila Tassi KCMG 1:50.876 + 0.805
18. Tiago Monteiro KCMG 1:50.912 + 0.896
19. Benjamin Leuchter be SLR Volkswagen 1:50.950 + 0.932
20. Rob Huff SLR VW Motorsport 1:51.003 + 0.970
21. Tom Coronel Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1:51.067 + 1.023
22. Johan Kristoffersson SLR Volkswagen 1:51.086 + 1.106
23. Niels Langeveld Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:51.124 + 1.144
24. Mehdi Bennani SLR VW Motorsport 1:51.130 + 1.150
25. Gordon Shedden Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:52.420 + 2.440
Outside 105% Team / Entry Time Gap**
DNQ. Kevin Ceccon Team Mulsanne no time

* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:50.072 posted by Aurélien Panis.
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:49.980 posted by Ma Qing Hua.

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:

  • Néstor Girolami was stripped of his fastest lap times in Q3 and Q2 for causing a red flag in Q2 and given a five-place grid penalty for Race 2 for causing an avoidable collision with Ma Qing Hua.

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.