Andy Priaulx has done the best possible job to ensure that his late championship charge continues into the penultimate round of the 2010 World Touring Car Championship season, by heading a BMW 1-2 in qualifying at Okayama.
Despite Priaulx’s three consecutive WTCC crowns and his 16 race wins, one rather large anomaly in the Guernseyman’s career stats is the relatively few number of pole positions he has achieved – just five in total – and today’s marked his first since the 2006 Macau event.
That it’s taken close to four seasons to stitch up another pole position is quite a telling statistics, but Priaulx took full advantage of his 30kg car weight reduction (having switched to the six-speed sequential gearbox previously only used by Andrei Romanov) to post the fastest lap around the Okayama circuit this weekend: a 1:36.972.
Currently lying second in the Drivers’ Championship standings by 25 points, Priaulx used the slipstream offered by team-mate Augusto Farfus to great effect, out-pacing the Brazilian (who will share the front-row rolling start for tomorrow’s race with Priaulx) by nearly half a second.
Continuing his run from the second practice session today, Robert Huff was third-quickest overall.
The surprise pace-setter in the first phase of qualifying was none other than Colin Turkington, who sadly dropped to fourth in the second session that determines the grid order for tomorrow’s first 14-lap race.
Norbert Michelisz starts from a career-best fifth, one place quicker than Gabriele Tarquini, who endured a difficult qualifying session in which he was lucky not to be eliminated in Q1.
More importantly for Tarquini, his chief championship rival, Yvan Muller, qualified only eighth, with team-mate Alain Menu lining up seventh.
Michaël Rossi did an excellent job to make the top-ten shoot-out on his WTCC debut, and the Frenchman will start ninth on the grid.
Franz Engstler finished up tenth fastest overall and quickest of the Independent Trophy drivers, three places ahead of Darryl O’Young. Sergio Hernández – the current points leader – will start from 19th place.
The shock result from this session was that Tom Coronel – quickest overall in the second practice session – wound up seventh-quickest overall.
Wiechers Sport team-mates Mehdi Bennani and Masataka Yanagida were stripped of their qualifying times at the end of the session due to breaking the parc ferme regulations during qualifying.
FIA 2010 WTCC Okayama Qualifying Results:
* Denotes all qualifying times discounted due to breach of Parc Ferme regulations
[Original image via FIA WTCC official site]