Tom Chilton has shocked the establishment by claiming an unexpected pole position for Sunday’s opening World Touring Car Championship race at Beijing’s Goldenport circuit. It marks just the second time all season that a car other than a Citroën has finished on top in qualifying, and it also marked Chilton’s first pole position in over a year.
Having struggled in the damp practice conditions on Saturday, the upgraded Chevrolets made greater gains in Sunday morning’s qualifying session with both Chilton and Gianni Morbidelli making it into the top-five shootout for pole.
Chilton was the final – and slowest runner – to make the final cut, but his first-off one-lap effort in Q3 – a 1:04.321 – ultimately proved unbeatable, as none of the following four runners could better his time. Gabriele Tarquini came closest in his Honda to go second-fastest, falling just 0.032 seconds short.
Few were perhaps more stunned than Chilton, who has had an ordinary season by his standards.
“I was shocked in Q2 when I saw 1m04.5s, I thought, ‘Whoa! That was good’. Then I just chipped away and got another two tenths, down to 1m04.3,” he said afterwards.
“Yesterday our car wasn’t good in greasy conditions, but maybe also it is the circuit that has more grip than we thought it had. Down the straight I had another gear compared to yesterday. Comparing coming out of the hairpin, whereas before it was very progressive on the throttle, today I could almost floor the throttle on maximum lock.”
Reigning champion Yvan Muller will head an all Citroën second row of the grid ahead of championship leader and teammate José María López, while Morbidelli will start from fifth in his Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet.
The Italian shares the sixth row of the grid with the Zengõ Motorsport Honda of Norbert Michelisz, who managed to bump former World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb onto the fourth row.
The LADAs also showed well on the twisty Beijing circuit, with James Thompson and Rob Huff both qualifying inside the top-ten in the Russian carmaker’s best qualifying performance of the season. Thompson managed the eighth-fastest time, while Huff scooped tenth to give him pole position for Race 2. The Englishman will share the front row of the partially-reversed grid with Tom Coronel’s ROAL Chevrolet.
The extra pace of the LADAs proved to be bad news for a number of more fancied competitors. The most notable victims were Tiago Monteiro (Castrol Honda) and local driver Ma Qing Hua (Citroën) – who had each topped a practice session on Friday – who qualified eleventh and fourteenth respectively.
Qualifying saw two red flags. The first came courtesy of TC2T-class driver Felipe de Souza, who parked his Engstler BMW in the Turn 14 gravel trap five minutes into Q1. The second red flag came a few minutes later when Dušan Borković lost control of his Chevrolet and slid through the Turn 4 kitty litter, ripping off his front splitter on the process.
Sunday’s two 26-lap races get underway at 14:50 and 15:50 local time (GMT +8).
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Beijing – Final Qualifying:
|1.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:04.321||TC1|
|2.||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||+ 0.032||TC1|
|3.||Yvan Muller||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 0.090||TC1|
|4.||José María López||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 0.455||TC1|
|5.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 0.519||TC1|
|6.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:04.778||TC1|
|7.||Sébastien Loeb||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:04.872||TC1|
|8.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||1:04.937||TC1|
|9.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:04.937||TC1|
|10.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||1:05.019||TC1|
|11.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC||1:05.152||TC1|
|12.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:05.428||TC1|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||1:05.663||TC1|
|14.||Ma Qing Hua||Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:05.874||TC1|
|15.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T||1:06.069||TC1|
|16.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:06.147||TC1|
|17.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:06.210||TC1|
|18.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||1:08.028||TC2|
|19.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:08.693||TC2|
|20.||Michael Soong||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:11.443||TC2|
|DNQ.||Felipe de Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC||no time||TC2|
Image via FIA WTCC Media