By Sports Reporter Doha
Norbert Michelisz believes the pressure is on Thed Bjork to win the FIA World Touring Car Championship at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar tomorrow.
Factory Volvo Polestar racer Bjork is 6.5 points ahead of his Honda driver Michelisz, with two night races at the Losail International Circuit left to run.
While Bjork said last week that he was ‘relaxed’ ahead of the trip to Qatar, Michelisz reckons playing catch-up with the leader puts him in a better position than the Swede.
“I don’t want to be too aggressive on Thed but from my point of view it’s him having the pressure,” said Michelisz. “He’s leading. I always had to catch up in terms of points and in the end there is almost nothing to lose from my side. I’ve had difficult times with a big points gap but all the bad memories from the Hungaroring, for example, and the disqualification in China has made me really stronger and maybe these experiences give me strength for the last race,” added the Hungarian.
Despite the fact he stands in his way of winning the WTCC crown, Michelisz is full of admiration of Bjork. “He is a really strong driver with a really strong overall package. I really rate him as one of the best touring car drivers in the world,” the Honda driver said
Tiago Monteiro has backed his teammate Michelisz to land the title. Monteiro will be making his first visit to the WTCC paddock since mid-July after a high-speed testing crash in September wrecked his title bid and left him nursing serious injuries.
With his recovering ongoing, Monteiro will be supporting Michelisz from the sidelines at the Losail International Circuit and believes the Hungarian has what it takes to cancel out Björk’s points advantage and win the Championship.
“He can do it, it’s a matter of keeping cool,” said Monteiro. “It’s obviously very stressful but the pressure will be the enemy of both drivers. It’s a world championship and it will be very hard on pressure, he’ll feel it, no doubt and so will Thed because nobody is ironman here, they all have feelings.
“But Norbi is very strong at managing it. He might seem from the outside that he’s nervous, sick and struggling but in the car he performs very well. They are very strong drivers and it will be interesting,” he added.
I will do my best for Arabic fans: Bennani
Meanwhile, Mehdi Bennani says he will do all he can to give local fans a reason to cheer. As the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in 2014, Bennani lists WTCC Race of Qatar as his second home event following the season-opening WTCC Race of Morocco.
With two races left and 60 points up for grabs, Bennani can still win the overall title although he’ll first have to overcome a deficit of 39.5 points to title leader Bjork.
However, it’s much closer in the battle to win the WTCC Trophy for independent racers: Bennani is a mere half point behind Sebastien Loeb Racing teammate Tom Chilton in his bid to defend the crown he secured in 2016.
“I want to do my best for the Arabic supporters and bring a trophy back to Morocco,” said Bennani, who heads to Qatar on a high after winning the Opening Race at WTCC Race of Macau. “We will push at the maximum and I hope to leave the people with the best message, a podium finish.”
Last year’s visit to Qatar was memorable one for Bennani in more ways than one after he scored his first Pole Position Award and Main Race victory.
The entrance to the Paddock and Grandstand is free for the spectators both today and tomorrow.
Name: Losail International Circuit
Length: 5.380 kilometres
Opening Race distance: 10 laps (53.800km)
Main Race distance: 12 laps (64.560km)
Lap record (qualifying): Mehdi Bennani (Citroën C-Elysée), 2m00.456s (160.7kph), 25/11/16
Lap record (race): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 2m01.628s (159.2kph), 27/11/15
WTCC appearances: 2
2016: Opening Race: Gabriele Tarquini (LADA); Main Race: Mehdi Bennani (Citroen C-Elysee)
2015: Race 1: Jose Maria Lopez (Citroen C-Elysee); Race 2: Yvan Muller (Citroen C-Elysee)
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