Volvo’s Bjork snatches WTCC crown
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