Gianni Morbidelli’s return to the World Touring Car Championship just gets better and better: the Italian claimed an amazing pole position in Saturday’s one-lap shootout at the Salzburgring to win top spot from the dominant Citroëns by just 0.049 seconds.

But the Münnich Motorsport driver’s joy would prove short-lived: he was later hit with a five-place grid penalty after being found guilty of failing to slow sufficiently during the earlier Q1 session. The penalty gave reigning champion Yvan Muller pole position for Sunday’s opening 15-lap race.

Yvan Muller

Yvan Muller inherited pole position for Race 1 after Morbidelli was hit with a five-place grid penalty.

The penalty shouldn’t detract from Morbidelli’s outstanding performance. After the Citroëns had dominated every session of the event so far, another 1-2-3 was expected for the all-conquering C-Elysées in final qualifying.

But 46-year-old Morbidelli pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a sensational 1:22.137 to overhaul provisional pole-sitter Sébastien Loeb; the time proved ultimately too good for Tom Coronel or Yvan Muller, who slotted into fourth and second respectively.

The field was trimmed to eighteen cars ahead of the start of qualifying, with Hugo Valente forced to skip the session after crashing his Campos Chevrolet heavily in the earlier practice session at Turn 9.

That meant getting through to Q2 could prove a tight battle in the TC1 class should either one of the three Ladas outqualify another class runner. The team sent its three cars out for a second dash in the closing minutes, but bungled their strategy by not giving their quickest driver, Rob Huff, a tow around the high-speed layout. James Thompson was the beneficiary and moved into thirteenth place – one short of the twelfth spot needed to graduate – while Huff was consigned to the fourteenth-fastest time.

The high-speed Turn 9 right-hander continued its tradition of catching out a number of drivers over the weekend. José María López made an uncharacteristic error by spinning at the corner in Q1, although he luckily did no damage to his car by avoiding the barriers.

The same could not be said of Dušan Borković in Q2. The lanky Serbian tagged the left-rear of his sister Campos Chevrolet at the same corner to bring out the red flags.

That ensured a mad scramble for the five Q3 spots on offer, which in the end went to the three Citroëns, Morbidelli and Coronel.

Gabriele Tarquini grabbed the all-important tenth spot on the timesheets to ensure he would have pole position for the reverse-grid Race 2, ahead of his three fellow Honda runners Norbert Michelisz, Mehdi Bennani and Tiago Monteiro.


2014 FIA WTCC Race of Austria – Final Qualifying:

Q3 Qualifiers Team Time Class
1. Gianni Morbidelli* Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 1:22.137 TC1
2. Yvan Muller Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen + 0.049 TC1
3. Sébastien Loeb Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen + 0.226 TC1
4. Tom Coronel nl ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet + 0.295 TC1
5. José María López Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen + 0.370 TC1
Q2 Qualifiers Team Time Class
6. Tom Chilton ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 1:22.565 TC1
7. Tiago Monteiro Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC Honda 1:22.790 TC1
8. Mehdi Bennani Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC Honda 1:22.866 TC1
9. Norbert Michelisz Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC Honda 1:22.871 TC1
10. Gabriele Tarquini Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC Honda 1:22.929 TC1
11. René Münnich Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 1:23.363 TC1
12. Dušan Borković Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet no time TC1
Q1 Qualifiers Team Time Class
13. James Thompson* LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 1:23.705 TC1
14. Rob Huff LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 1:23.722 TC1
15. Mikhail Kozlovskiy* LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 1:24.144 TC1
16. Franz Engstler Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC BMW 1:27.550 TC2
17. John Filippi Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT
1:28.245 TC2
18. Pasquale di Sabatino Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC BMW 1:28.901 TC2
Outside 107% Team Time Class
DNQ. Hugo Valente Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet no time TC1

* Gianni Morbidelli receives a five-place grid penalty for Race 1 after being found guilty of ignoring blue flags during Q1. James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy have been demoted to the back of the grid for Race 1 for unscheduled engine changes.

Images via FIA WTCC Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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