Michel Nykjær will start from pole position for Sunday’s opening World Touring Car Championship race at the Salzburgring after one of the most bizarre qualifying sessions in the championship’s history.
Ten of the twelve-fastest qualifiers were hit with grid penalties and hefty fines for what the FIA claims were actions that were “unsporting on the race control, which damage the image of motorsport in general and, in particular, the FIA WTCC”.
The crime? The entire twelve-car Q2 field crawling around the circuit in the dying minutes of the session to try and deny each other an all-important slipstream to improve their lap-time!
At the start of Q2, eleven of the twelve runners hit the circuit to post ‘banker’ lap times, with only Tom Coronel waiting in the pits to see how things panned out.
The opening lap times had, not unexpectedly, delivered the RML Chevrolets of Yvan Muller and Tom Chilton a provisional front-row start for tomorrow’s opening race. The surprise performer was Rob Huff, who hustled his venerable SEAT León into the RML drivers’ tow to claim a provisional third place in a car that really had no business being that high up the grid here.
On the second run, Chilton led the pack out – this time with Coronel joining them as well – but knowing that he would have the most to lose by punching a big hole in the air for the rest of the field, he took the field around at a snail’s pace.
No one else wanted to move to the head of the pack, and as the seconds counted down, it looked like no one would cross the finish line in time to start a flying lap.
Being the only one without a lap time and facing an unattractive twelfth-placed starting position for both races, Coronel scrambled past the field in the final corners, but got caught out on his flying lap in the confusion and crashed!
It was the same theme for Q1 and there were a few tears and tantrums as the drivers jockeyed for position before starting their flying laps. Some were caught out, including Pepe Oriola and Coronel (who was not having a good day), who ran into the back of the suddenly slowing Charles Ng and Hugo Valente, respectively, at the final corner.
The officials were understandably unimpressed with these shenanigans and hauled fourteen of the 23-driver field into the FIA Stewards’ offices for a marathon group hearing.
Of the group, only the LADA pairing of James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy – escaped sanction, while hefty fines and grid penalties were handed out as follows:
Hugo Valente, five-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Tom Chilton, twelve-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Yvan Muller, twelve-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Tiago Monteiro, twelve-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Gabriele Tarquini, twenty-four-place grid penalty and a €6,000 fine
Tom Coronel, fifteen-place grid penalty and a €4,000 fine
Norbert Michelisz, twelve-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Rob Huff, ten-place grid penalty and a €1,000 fine
Pepe Oriola, sixteen-place grid penalty and a €6,000 fine
Alex MacDowall, eight-place grid penalty and a €3,000 fine
Stefano D’Aste, five-place grid penalty and a €1,000 fine
Darryl O’Young, five-place grid penalty and a €1,000 fine
All were found guilty of breaches of the International Sporting Code Appendix L, Chapter 4, Article 2e and 151, which states: “It is not permitted to drive any car unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers at any time.”
The stewards also subsequently ruled that the three Honda Civics of Tarquini, Monteiro and Michelisz failed post-qualifying scrutineering for a non-confirming rear wing, sending the trio to the back of the grid for Race 1 as punishment.
The final starting positions for Race 1 will be communicated before the race, as the stewards are still yet to determine in which order the grid penalties will be applied.
The certainty is that Nykjær and James Nash will have pole position for Races 1 and 2 respectively, as they were the only two Q2 drivers not to be hauled up before the Stewards.
2013 FIA WTCC Race of Austria Q1 & Q2 Session Times:
|1.||Yvan Muller*||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:25.756|
|2.||Tom Chilton*||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.205|
|3.||Robert Huff*||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||+ 0.798|
|4.||Alex MacDowall*||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.804||Y|
|5.||Michel Nykjær||NIKA Racing Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 0.898||Y|
|6.||Gabriele Tarquini*||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 0.945|
|7.||Tiago Monteiro*||Castrol Honda Civic WTCC||+ 0.990|
|8.||Pepe Oriola*||Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||+ 1.131||Y|
|9.||Norbert Michelisz*||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 1.146|
|10.||James Nash||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||+ 1.182||Y|
|11.||Stefano D’Aste*||PB Sport BMW 320TC||+ 1.676||Y|
|12.||Tom Coronel*||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||no time|
|Q2 CUT-OFF: 1:27.319||Q1 Time|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Scuderia Proteam BMW 320TC||1:27.323||Y|
|14.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta||1:27.415|
|15.||Fredy Barth||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||1:27.564||Y|
|16.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||1:27.647||Y|
|17.||Marc Basseng||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||1:27.860|
|18.||Darryl O’Young*||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||1:28.017||Y|
|19.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta||1:28.021|
|20.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||1:28.575||Y|
|21.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport SEAT León WTCC||1:28.932||Y|
|22.||Fernando Monje||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||1:29.454||Y|
|OUTSIDE 107%||Q1 Time|
|NQ.||Hugo Valente*||Campos Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||no time||Y|
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).
* A mix of grid penalties awarded for transgressions in Q1 and/or Q2. The final starting orders for Race 1 and Race 2 are still to be determined by the FIA.
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