Robert Huff will share the front row with his team-mate and sole championship rival Yvan Muller for Sunday’s first World Touring Car Championship finale races at Macau.
The British driver claimed his third pole position in successive events at the Guia circuit, edging out his Chevrolet team-mate in an exciting and incident-filled qualifying session.
With the Chevrolets having set the pace in each of the day’s two earlier practice sessions, it was widely expected that all three factory drivers – along with Independent Trophy driver Darryl O’Young (Bamboo Chevrolet) – would comfortably make it into the top-ten phase of qualifying.
The first half-hour session would prove to be a great game of tactics, with the leading drivers trying to qualify inside the top-ten, but not too high up the order that it affected their positions for Race 2, where the grid is determined by reversing the running order of the top-ten qualifiers.
And it was Menu who was the session’s biggest casualty. The Swiss driver had gone a rather-too-pedestrian 13th on his first run, and it was in trying to improve his time on his second run that he collided with the SUNRED of local driver André Couto. The contact gave Menu a puncture, leaving him unable to improve his time – he was later seen remonstrating with the Macanese driver after qualifying.
Couto, meanwhile, was one of the lucky drivers who made it through into Q2. Slowest of the top-ten runners was Franz Engstler (Engstler BMW), who will start from pole position for Race 2 alongside the ever-improving Michel Nykjær (SUNRED), while Huff starts from third ahead of Tom Coronel (ROAL BMW).
Huff had reason to be pleased, for Muller – who holds a 20-point lead in the championship – will start from eighth place.
With Q2 barely underway, there was more drama when Robert Dahlgren (who was quickest overall in Q1) crashed his Polestar Volvo heavily at the Solitude Esses. The impact triggered a brief fire at the heavily-battered front end, but fortunately the Swede was able to emerge unaided – he later visited the local medical centre complaining of a sore arm.
It will be a challenge for the Polestar outfit to have his battered car fixed in time for Sunday’s two races given the colossal damage to the front end of the car, but at least tomorrow is a rest day where the WTCC cars will remain in their garages.
The session was red-flagged and restarted after a lengthy delay, Huff snatched provisional pole from Muller with a time of 2:31.868. Both would attempt another run, and Huff managed to hold on to top spot, lowering the benchmark with a mighty 2:30.881. Muller simply had no answer, and had to settle for second place on the grid.
A hugely impressive effort from Gabriele Tarquini (SUNRED) saw the Italian manage to stop an expected Chevrolet 1-2-3 in qualifying; he just managed to hold out O’Young for third spot, while Coronel and Mehdi Bennani (Proteam BMW) occupy the third row of the grid.
The 25-car field was reduced by one further entrant after the luckless Fredy Barth (SUNRED) crashed heavily in the day’s second free practice session. The Swiss driver’s car caught fire after hitting the wall, and he had to be assisted from his smashed car by trackside medics. He will be kept overnight in hospital, and will in all likelihood miss Sunday’s two races.
2011 FIA WTCC Race of Macau Q1 & Q2 Session Times (Race 1 Grid):
|1.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:30.881||(Q2)|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:31.149||(Q2)|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:32.147||(Q2)|
|4.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:32.519||(Q2)|
|5.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||2:33.825||(Q2)|
|6.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||2:34.355||(Q2)|
|7.||André Couto||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.363||(Q2)|
|8.||Michel Nykjær||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.498||(Q2)|
|9.||Franz Engstler||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||2:34.876||(Q2)|
|10.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Volvo C30 ‘Drive’||no time||(Q2)|
|11.||Tiago Monteiro||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.320||(Q1)|
|12.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ-Dension Team BMW 320TC||2:34.526||(Q1)|
|13.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:34.804||(Q1)|
|14.||Kristian Poulsen||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||2:35.131||(Q1)|
|15.||Javier Villa García||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||2:35.321||(Q1)|
|16.||Pepe Oriola||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:35.466||(Q1)|
|17.||Aleksei Dudukalo||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:36.694||(Q1)|
|18.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||DeTeam KK BMW 320TC||2:39.822||(Q1)|
|19.||Gary Kwok||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||2:41.598||(Q1)|
|20.||Jo Merszei||Team Engstler BMW 320si||2:42.042||(Q1)|
|NQ.||Mak Ka Lok||RPM Racing Team BMW 320si||2:43.810||(Q1)|
|NQ.||Filipe de Souza||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||2:44.720||(Q1)|
|NQ.||Philip Ma||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si||2:48.067||(Q1)|
|NQ.||Kuok Io Keong||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||3:05.627||(Q1)|
|NQ.||Fredy Barth||Swiss SR León 1.6T||Injured|
Top-10 starting order determined via a separate top-ten single-lap qualifying session.
2011 FIA WTCC Race of China Q1 Session Times (Race 2 Grid):
|1.||Franz Engstler||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||2:34.232|
|2.||Michel Nykjær||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.232|
|3.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:34.224|
|4.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||2:34.171|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.085|
|6.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||2:33.976|
|7.||André Couto||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:33.954|
|8.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:33.353|
|9.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:33.177|
|10.||Robert Dahlgren||Polestar Volvo C30 ‘Drive’||2:32.881|
|11.||Tiago Monteiro||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:34.320|
|12.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ-Dension Team BMW 320TC||2:34.526|
|13.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||2:34.804|
|14.||Kristian Poulsen||Team Engstler BMW 320TC||2:35.131|
|15.||Javier Villa García||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||2:35.321|
|16.||Pepe Oriola||SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:35.466|
|17.||Aleksei Dudukalo||Lukoil-SUNRED SR León 1.6T||2:36.694|
|18.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||DeTeam KK BMW 320TC||2:39.822|
|19.||Gary Kwok||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||2:41.598|
|20.||Jo Merszei||Team Engstler BMW 320si||2:42.042|
|NQ.||Mak Ka Lok||RPM Racing Team BMW 320si||2:43.810|
|NQ.||Filipe de Souza||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||2:44.720|
|NQ.||Philip Ma||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320si||2:48.067|
|NQ.||Kuok Io Keong||Corsa Motorsport Chevrolet Lacetti||3:05.627|
|NQ.||Fredy Barth||Swiss SR León 1.6T||Injured|
Top-10 starting order determined reversing the order of the ten fastest drivers in Q1.
[Original images via FIA WTCC Media]