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WTCR Marrakech: Thed Bjork leads Hyundai trio in qualifying

Thed Bjork YMR Hyundai WTCR Marrakech 2018

World Touring Car champion Thed Bjork grabbed the first ever WTCR world cup pole position ahead of the season opener in Marrakech, 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 team-mate 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 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 Golf GTi 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 Civic, while Gordon Shedden will start his first World Touring Car race from the fourth row in the second WRT Audi.

Huff's SLR team-mate Mehdi Bennani was next up on his home circuit, ahead of Yvan Muller in the fourth Hyundai i30. 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 308TCRs, 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.

Starting grid

1Thed BjorkYMRHyundai1m24.698s
2Gabriele TarquiniBRC Racing TeamHyundai0.361s
3Jean-Karl VernayWRTAudi0.558s
4Rob HuffSebastien Loeb RacingVolkswagen0.596s
5John FilippiCampos RacingCupra0.707s
6Esteban GuerrieriMunnich MotorsportHonda0.832s
7Gordon SheddenWRTAudi0.879s
8Mehdi BennaniSebastien Loeb RacingVolkswagen0.960s
9Yvan MullerYMRHyundai0.981s
10James ThompsonMunnich MotorsportHonda1.031s
11Aurelien ComteDG Sport CompetitionPeugeot1.170s
12Yann EhrlacherMunnich MotorsportHonda1.219s
13Frederic VervischComtoyou RacingAudi1.248s
14Pepe OriolaCampos RacingCupra1.249s
15Nathanael BerthonComtoyou RacingAudi1.334s
16Tom CoronelBoutsen Ginion RacingHonda1.407s
17Aurelien PanisComtoyou RacingAudi1.558s
18Mat'o HomolaDG Sport CompetitionPeugeot1.673s
19Denis DupontComtoyou RacingAudi1.681s
20Fabrizio GiovanardiTeam MulsanneAlfa Romeo1.686s
21Zsolt SzaboZengo MotorsportCupra1.775s
22Norbert NagyZengo MotorsportCupra2.010s
23Benjamin LessennesBoutsen Ginion RacingHonda2.367s
24Gianni MorbidelliTeam MulsanneAlfa Romeo2.690s
25Norbert MicheliszBRC Racing TeamHyundai0.136s

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