Marrakesh WTCR: Bjork leads Hyundai 1-2-3 in first qualifying
WTCC champion Thed Bjork grabbed the first ever WTCR pole position ahead of the season opener in Marrakesh, heading a Hyundai 1-2-3 in qualifying.
YMR driver Bjork eclipsed Norbert Michelisz's long-standing benchmark by 0.136 seconds in the final five minutes of the session to snatch pole.
Gabriele Tarquini was the first of the Hyundai contingent to show his hand at the start of the 40-minute session on the Moulay El Hassan street circuit, setting an initial best time of 1m25.942s.
That was then comfortably beaten by both Bjork and Tarquini's teammate Michelisz before the majority of the field headed back to the pits after their first runs.
Bjork briefly went fastest once again after returning for the track before Michelisz reclaimed top spot with a fastest lap of 1m24.834s, only to stop on track moments later after his engine failed.
That led to a delay of 10 minutes while his car was recovered, and also meant drivers took time to make any improvements when the session resumed, with dust laid down through Turns 2 and 3 to cover oil dropped by Michelisz's BRC Racing Hyundai i30.
But Bjork was able to improve in the final minutes, finding four tenths of a second over his previous best lap to end the session fastest with a 1m24.698s lap.
Michelisz, who also stopped in FP2 with a suspected electrical issue, remained second in the times but has been sent to the back of the grid after BRC was advised to change the engine in the Hungarian's car.
Any engine changes automatically result in the driver in question being sent to the back of the grid for the following race.
Tarquini completed the top three in qualifying, and was 0.361s slower than Bjork, but will start the race from the outside of the front row courtesy of Michelisz's penalty.
WRT driver Jean-Karl Vernay was the fastest non-Hyundai in his Audi RS3 LMS and will now line up third, ahead of Rob Huff's Sebastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen and the leading Cupra of John Filippi.
Second practice pacesetter Esteban Guerrieri was the leading Honda representative in seventh in the session, 0.832 seconds away from pole in his Munnich Motorsport Honda, while Gordon Shedden will start his first WTCR race from the fourth row in the second WRT Audi.
Huff's SLR teammate Mehdi Bennani qualified was next up on his home circuit, ahead of Yvan Muller in the fourth Hyundai.
James Thompson will start his first race for more than a year 10th.
Aurelien Comte was 12th in the fastest of the DG Sport Peugeot, while Fabrizio Giovanardi was the leading Alfa Romeo representative in 21st - 1.686s off the pace.
The first qualifying session sets the grid for Saturday afternoon's opening race, with a separate second qualifying session on Sunday morning - following the previous three-stage WTCC format - helping to form the grids for the second and third races.
Qualifying results (before Michelisz's demotion):
|4||Jean Karl Vernay||Audi||1'25.256||0.558|
|21||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Alfa Romeo||1'26.384||1.686|
|25||Gianni Morbidelli||Alfa Romeo||1'27.388||2.690|
Marrakesh WTCR: Guerrieri beats Ehrlacher by 0.052s in practice
Marrakesh WTCR: Tarquini leads Bjork in Race 1
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