Norbert Michelisz has gone fastest in Free Practice 1 at WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Macau as the FIA World Touring Car Championship returned to the iconic street track. Driving a Honda Civic WTCC for the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team, Michelisz lapped the challenging 6.120-kilometre Circuito da Guia in a best time of 2m27.802s, some eight tenths shy of Rob Huff’s qualifying lap record from 2014.
“It was difficult, not because it was hot but because the overall grip level was very poor and I don’t remember to have this feeling before in Macau,” said Michelisz, currently second in the WTCC standings, 16.5 points off the lead. “Of course I’m happy to be in front and I did enjoy being back here with the extra adrenalin rush, but nobody should overestimate the results from today.”
Huff, the eight-time winner of the Suncity Group Macau Guia Race, was second fastest, 0.352s adrift of Michelisz with Tom Chilton snatching third from Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Mehdi Bennani on his final lap of the 45-minute session, which took place in ambient temperatures of 26 degrees centigrade.
Bennani’s Free Practice 1 ended in dramatic fashion when he clattered the barriers braking downhill for the Melco hairpin. The Moroccan ended up fourth quickest followed by his Citroën C-Elysée-driving team-mate Ma Qing Hua, who is making his return to the WTCC after a lengthy absence.
Néstor Girolami was the fastest Macau rookie and the best of the three Polestar Cyan Racing drivers in sixth with Ryo Michigami and Esteban Guerrieri next up in their works Hondas, as Nicky Catsburg and championship leader Thed Björk completed the top 10 for the factory Volvo Polestar squad.
Björk, who is also making his first appearance at Macau, said: “It feels good to have done this first session and I like the track. When I was sat in the car at the beginning I felt my heart was beating more because of the anticipation, but I feel my preparations have been really good, I’ve had help from Yvan [Muller] and Nicky and when I rolled out of the pit lane I just focused on my driving, I was feeling relaxed and going faster all the time. It’s a long way to the limit but I just wanted to build up to it, focus on myself and nothing else.”
Elsewhere, Tom Coronel was P11, John Filippi P12 with Yann Ehrlacher and Kevin Gleason P13 and P14 respectively. Zsolt Dávid Szabó, who turns 22 today, was P15 ahead of local racer Mak Ka Long and Hong Kong-based WTCC newcomer Po Wah Wong. Dániel Nagy failed to set a time after a technical failure struck shortly after he ventured out onto the track. Kin Pong Clerebold Chan was also absent from the timesheets in his Campos Racing Chevrolet. Free Practice 2 is up next from 09h15 local time on Friday.