*Honda driver quickest in both floodlit sessions
*Leader Björk third and fourth at Losail International Circuit
*Four-time world champion Muller returns to WTCC action
Factory Honda driver Norbert Michelisz holds the advantage in the battle for FIA World Touring Car Championship glory after he went quickest in both free practice sessions at WTCC Race of Qatar this evening.
The 45-minute runs at the floodlit Losail International Circuit marked the start of the title-deciding season finale when the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers will be settled along with the WTCC Trophy for independent racers.
“It’s a decent start but I was struggling with overall grip on a ‘green track’ in FP1,” said Hungarian Michelisz. “In the end everybody has the same issues with grip and it’s always nice to end up in the front. But I don’t think we should read too much into this because we still need to improve the set-up. It’s nice to be P1 and I hope we can continue like this through the event.”
Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk, 6.5 points in front of Michelisz in the title chase, was third in FP1 and fourth in FP2. He said: “We are lacking pace in some areas. I have a good feeling though and we will keep fighting hard for tomorrow.”
WTCC Race of Qatar resumes with Qualifying from 14h30 local time on Friday.
FREE PRACTICE 1 ROUND-UP
Norbert Michelisz made the perfect start to his world title bid when he outgunned Rob Huff by 0.211s with a final-lap charge to boost his earlier advantage of 0.089s. Thed Björk was 0.320s behind in third. Nicky Catsburg was fourth with four-time champion Yvan Muller fifth and 0.771s slower than Michelisz on his return to the WTCC in a factory Volvo, despite only recording one ‘flying’ lap. Tom Chilton lost significant track time after a brush with a tyre barrier left his Citroën with front-end damage and a lengthy repair job for his Sébastien Loeb Racing team, while Esteban Guerrieri’s session was curtailed by an oil leak in his Honda. The Argentine nevertheless ended up as the best Losail International Circuit rookie in sixth positon for the factory Honda team. Dániel Nagy limped into the pits with a technical issue. Kris Richard stopped on track when his Campos Racing Chevrolet ground to a halt with a fuel pump problem and was pushed into the pits by trackside marshals during a red flag period.
FREE PRACTICE 2 ROUND-UP
Michelisz again proved to be the driver to beat in Free Practice 2. After topping Free Practice 1 earlier this evening with a margin of 0.211s, his fastest time in Free Practice 2 tonight was 0.702s quicker than his second-placed factory Honda team-mate Esteban Guerrieri. Behind Guerrieri, Nicky Catsburg was third fastest for Polestar Cyan Racing followed by Thed Björk, Rob Huff and WTCC Trophy title pacesetter Tom Chilton. The 45-minute session was brought to a temporary halt shortly after it began when a collision between Zsolt Dávid Szabó and Yann Ehrlacher left the former’s Honda stranded on track with damage and the latter’s nursing a delaminated tyre. Dániel Nagy, Szabó’s Zengő Motorsport team-mate, was also involved: his switch to the left approaching Turn 6 appearing to trigger the chain reaction that led to Szabó and Ehrlacher colliding. Although Ehrlacher was able to resume his session following repairs to set the ninth fastest time for RC Motorsport, Szabó was unable to re-join the action. Former ETCC champion Kris Richard was the fastest of the Chevrolet Cruze drivers in P12 but his running was again curtailed by mechanical problems, this time a power issue. Ryo Michigami, who was seventh fastest, parked his Honda on the exit of Turn 3 just as the chequered flag came out after he ran out of fuel. Mehdi Bennani was eighth quickest with returning fourtime world champion Yvan Muller P11. “I focused on doing a long run during the session,” said the Frenchman.