Honda driver Tiago Monteiro has won pole position for Sunday’s main race in the season-opening FIA World Touring Car Championship round at Morocco.
The Portuguese driver came out on top on a closely-fought session, beating Polestar Volvo driver Néstor Girolami by just over two-tenths of a second in the final one-lap shootout for pole position.
Girolami provisionally held pole position in the one-lap Q3 shootout with a rapid lap of 1:22.031 around the tricky Circuit Moulay El Hassan, which proved too much for Monteiro’s teammate Norbert Michelisz to overhaul when he was the next driver out on track.
Monteiro – who’d gone fastest overall in Q2 with a 1:21.822 effort – was the final driver on track and went slower than Girolami through the first sector. Leaving himself with it all to do over the remainder of the lap, he clawed back the deficit to score his first pole position since his home race last year.
The trio were joined in Q3 by the field’s more fancied Citroën runners, with Rob Huff qualifying his Münnich Motorsport entry fourth-fastest and local hero Mehdi Bennani was fifth-fastest.
Huff’s result was all the more impressive given he was forced to sit out the opening practice session when his car failed technical scrutineering on Friday. The car hadn’t been fitted with the updated-specification seatbelts required under this year’s regulations, forcing an anxious wait until the right belts could be flown in.
Bennani’s fifth place was under scrutiny amid allegations that the Sébastien Loeb Racing driver had posted his fastest Q2 lap time under yellow flag conditions.
The yellow flag was brought out by a spin for RC Motorsport rookie Yann Ehrlacher, who somehow managed to avoid hitting his LADA Vesta against the barriers. The French youngster’s accident was a near carbon copy of what befell Polestar Cyan Racing’s Nick Catsburg earlier on, although the Dutch driver succeeded in briefly bringing out the red flags as he blocked the track with his spin.
Catsburg’s dramas consigned him to sixth-fastest in Q2 ahead of teammate Thed Björk, while Tom Chilton (Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën), Ryo Michigami (Honda) and Ehrlacher completed the provisional top ten.
Michigami and Ehrlacher would subsequently be stripped of their qualifying times after both drivers were found to have missed a weighbridge check. Their penalties promoted the RML Chevrolets of Esteban Guerrieri (Campos Racing) and last year’s race-winner Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport) to ninth and tenth – that gives the pair a front-row start for Sunday’s reversed-grid opening race.
The opening qualifying phase saw the slowest three runners eliminated from proceedings. Rather predictably, the two Zengõ Hondas of Daniel Nagy and Aurélien Panis were among the bottom three, while Sébastien Loeb Racing’s new signing John Filippi found himself bumped from the top-twelve thanks to a last-minute improvement from Coronel.
The first race, run over 18 laps, is scheduled to start at 16:35 local time (GMT +1) on Sunday.
|2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship Afriquia Race of Morocco – Final Qualifying Results|
|1.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||1:21.792|
|2.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:22.031|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||1:22.097|
|4.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||1:22.309||IND|
|5.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:22.412||IND|
|6.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:22.451|
|7.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:22.571|
|8.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:22.592||IND|
|9.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:22.886||IND|
|10.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:23.202||IND|
|11.||Yann Ehrlacher*||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||excluded||IND|
|12.||Ryo Michigami*||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||excluded|
|13.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:23.799||IND|
|14.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:24.043||IND|
|15.||Aurélien Panis*||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||excluded||IND|
* Post-Qualifying Penalties:
- Yann Ehrlacher’s Q2 lap times were cancelled for failing to stop at the weighbridge when instructed.
- Ryo Michigami’s Q2 lap times were cancelled for failing to stop at the weighbridge when instructed.
- Aurélien Panis’ Q1 lap times were cancelled for his car being underweight.
Image via FIA WTCC Media