José María López has won his third pole position of the 2014 World Touring Car Championship season, defying a challenge from the steadily improving works Hondas of Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro to claim top spot at Moscow Raceway.
The Argentine’s Citroën teammate and main championship challenger, Yvan Muller – who’d been quickest in both practice sessions – failed to make the Q3 cut for the first time this season and will start Race 1 from sixth position.
Despite carrying an additional 20kg of performance ballast this weekend, the Honda Civics have shown improved pace heading into qualifying. Teammates Tarquini and Monteiro secured a surprise 1-2 in the first phase of qualifying, while López was the fastest of the championship-leading Citroëns in fourth place.
It was something of a scramble among the TC1 class runners to avoid being knocked out of the top-twelve positions needed to make the Q2 cut. Despite a home crowd advantage, the elimination of the three overweight LADAs was no great surprise, but the identities of their two fellow eliminated drivers was: Tom Coronel just missed the cut in thirteenth, while Austria pole-winner Gianni Morbidelli had a scrappy session and qualified seventeenth, slowest of the TC1 racers.
The Italian looked on course to cruise into Q1 after posting a fast first sector time, only to slide through the gravel a few corners later whereupon he was forced into the pits for a check-up on his Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet. He managed to rejoin in the dying minutes, only to lock up at Turn 1 and damage his front splitter, consigning him a challenger pair of races on Sunday.
This weekend’s four TC2 class runners took up their customary spots at the tail of the field, with class leader Franz Engstler claiming ‘pole’ from his teammate Pasquale di Sabatino. John Filippi was next up – but over two seconds adrift of the BMW pairing – and only just managed to outqualify guest driver teammate Nikita Misiulia.
The second qualifying phase saw Tarquini provisionally quickest until a rapid lap from López ensured he would have the final one-lap run in Q3. The Italian’s teammate Monteiro posted a last-second dash to secure a top-five Q3 berth, demoting Muller down to sixth and René Münnich out of tenth (and the Race 2 pole position that came with it).
The adjustment ensured Hugo Valente claimed tenth and the prime starting position for Race 2, although he’ll have the fourth Citroën of Chinese racer Ma Qing Hua – making his WTCC debut this weekend in a part-time campaign for the French marque – starting alongside him. Ma ran solidly despite his unfamiliarity with the circuit, and the former F1 test driver could spring a surprise on Sunday afternoon.
The final qualifying stint saw Monteiro first out, posting a benchmark time that neither Tom Chilton nor Sébastien Loeb could better. Tarquini was able to muster a rapid 1:38.877 lap time to move into P1, only to then be eclipsed by López on his one and only tour.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Russia – Final Qualifying:
|1.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:38.651||TC1|
|2.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 0.226||TC1|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 0.515||TC1|
|4.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 0.929||TC1|
|5.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1.047||TC1|
|6.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:39.575||TC1|
|7.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||1:39.715||TC1|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:40.001||TC1|
|9.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:40.092||TC1|
|10.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:40.312||TC1|
|11.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:40.368||TC1|
|12.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||no time||TC1|
|13.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:40.327||TC1|
|14.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T||1:40.639||TC1|
|15.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T||1:40.653||TC1|
|16.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport 1.6T||1:40.655||TC1|
|17.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:42.091||TC1|
|18.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||1:44.011||TC2|
|19.||Pasquale di Sabatino||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||1:44.229||TC2|
|20.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:46.467||TC2|
|21.||Nikita Misiulia||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:46.498||TC2|
Images via FIA WTCC Media
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