Robert Huff has led yet another Chevrolet 1-2-3 in qualifying, with the Englishman posting the fastest time to claim pole position for Sunday’s first of two World Touring Car Championships races at the spectacular Salzburgring circuit in Austria.
The result is an all-important psychological boost for last year’s championship runner-up – currently lying third in this year’s standings – who has not quite enjoyed the same run of form that has benefitted team-mates Yvan Muller and Alain Menu.
But the cheery Englishman took full advantage of a slipstream offered to him by Muller to snatch top spot with his penultimate flying lap in Q2, while Muller just managed to edge out Menu for second place by less than three-hundredths of a second.
With the Salzburgring being one of the quickest circuits on the calendar, ‘pairing up’ with your team-mate was very much the order of the day: one driver would give his team-mate a tow for the entire lap, before they swapped positions and returned the favour.
This practice is not without risks, however, and Ford driver Tom Chilton would find that out to his horror when he cannoned into the back of Franz Engstler’s BMW in Q1 while trying to keep up with team-mate James Nash. The Englishman will almost certainly incur a grid penalty for his troubles, although he only ended up nineteenth-fastest out of 21 runners anyway. Engstler will start from seventeenth for what is effectively his home event.
Hungary winner Norbert Michelisz was another driver who failed to make the Q2 cut in the frantic final minutes of the session, while only three of his fellow BMW runners – Tom Coronel, Stefano D’Aste and Mehdi Bennani – were able to make the second round in what was a tough session for the 320TC runners.
With Chevrolet again claiming another qualifying sweep, it was SEAT’s Gabriele Tarquini who once again was the RML squad’s closest challenger – although the Italian was still over half a second slower than third-placed Menu.
Alex MacDowell earned the honour of the top Independent Trophy qualifier with an excellent fifth-fastest in his Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet. He shares the third row of the grid with Tiago Monteiro, who needed every bit of slipstream – given the power disadvantage he has in running an older-spec SUNRED engine – to get into Q2.
The top-ten places of Race 1’s grid were completed by Stefano D’Aste, Pepe Oriola, Coronel (who seemed to be targeting a good position for the reverse-grid Race 2) and Aleksei Dudukalo.
Tomorrow’s action will see the field tackle two twelve-lap races, and we’ll continue to bring you all of the news and results from the Austrian Alps as it breaks.
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Austria Q1 & Q2 Session Times:
The starting order for Race 1 is determined by the qualifying results indicated above, unless states otherwise. The ten-fastest drivers – as indicated by their Q2 fastest times – start in reverse starting order for Race 2, unless stated otherwise. (‘Y’ denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy entered driver).