Volvo’s Bjork snatches WTCC crown

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORLD TOUR­ING CAR CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

FI­NALLY, ON THE WORLD Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship’s third visit to Qatar, the sea­son fi­nale had a pur­pose.

Six driv­ers ar­rived in math­e­mat­i­cal con­tention for the cham­pi­onship, but re­al­is­ti­cally the ti­tle fight boiled down to two: Volvo’s calm and con­sis­tent Thed Bjork and the form man, Nor­bert Miche­lisz, rep­re­sent­ing Honda.

Hopes were high for a proper el­bows-out show­down. Miche­lisz had slashed Bjork’s lead from

32.5 to just 6.5 points in the space of two rounds fol­low­ing Honda’s loss of points in China for non-com­pli­ant fuel injectors, and looked like he might give the boys in blue an­other headache with the fastest times in both of Thurs­day’s prac­tice ses­sions. In the end, though, this was not the grand fi­nale any­one had hoped for, but rather the dampest of squibs for the TC1 era to end on.

Fastest again in Q1 and on course to be so again in the sec­ond ses­sion, Miche­lisz then re­turned to the pits on the sec­ond of his fast laps. Per­plexed Honda faces quickly turned to pan­icked ones when the Hun­gar­ian was bumped from the top 10 by Kevin Glea­son and then failed to re­turn to the track. It later emerged that he had suf­fered a mas­ter cylin­der fail­ure that locked his brakes on.

Re­signed to 11th on the grid for both races, Miche­lisz still har­boured hopes of clinch­ing the ti­tle, but soon re­alised how dif­fi­cult the task ahead of him was on a cir­cuit dom­i­nated by medium and high-speed cor­ners.

With just two places gained in the re­versed-grid race, with Bjork fifth, Miche­lisz needed at least third in the fi­nale to stand any shot at tak­ing the crown. Three po­si­tions came to him on the open­ing lap, but he spent the re­main­ing 11 laps bot­tled up be­hind se­ries re­turnee Yvan Muller, who came out of re­tire­ment to sup­port

Volvo’s ti­tle bid.

Bjork, mean­while, had climbed to third be­hind Honda stand-in and even­tual race win­ner

Este­ban Guer­ri­eri and Rob Huff, as team-mate Nicky Cats­burg handed him the place. But, safe in the knowl­edge that Miche­lisz had not done enough, he slowed on the run to the line to al­low Cats­burg back through, and de­feated an “ex­hausted”

Miche­lisz with fourth.

For all the dis­ap­point­ment over the lack of fi­nale fight, Bjork was a wor­thy win­ner. The Swede’s steely ap­proach com­bined with ruth­less speed where nec­es­sary paid off in eas­ily the most open ti­tle fight in re­cent sea­sons.

Third place over­all looked to be the feisti­est scrap over the week­end, with four driv­ers in con­tention. Tom Chilton emerged on top of that tus­sle, thanks in part to his vic­tory in the open­ing en­counter, which he de­scribed as “the race of my life”. Once clear of Glea­son, Chilton set about reel­ing in his Se­bastien Loeb Rac­ing team-mate Me­hdi Ben­nani and, by lap eight of 10, was tucked up in the tow of the sis­ter C-el­y­see down the main straight. An at­tempt to over­take through the open­ing sec­tion of cor­ners failed, but Chilton had bet­ter luck at the Turn 12/13/14 se­quence of right-han­ders to­wards the end of the lap to squeak past.

Third not only marks the high­est over­all cham­pi­onship po­si­tion Chilton has achieved since join­ing the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship at the ten­der age of 17 in 2002, but a Ben­nani re­tire­ment in the sec­ond race also guar­an­teed him the In­de­pen­dents’ crown in what was un­doubt­edly his most ac­com­plished cam­paign since join­ing the WTCC in 2012.

First-tim ec ham­pion Bjork took two wins dur­ing 2017 cam­paign

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