Yvan Muller has narrowly claimed his second pole position of the 2015 World Touring Car Championship season in a closely-fought qualifying contest at Moscow Raceway.
The four-time series champion edged out championship leading teammate José María López by just 0.046 seconds in a tense one-lap shootout for pole, which – for the first time this year – featured all four manufacturers.
For once, the all-conquering Citroëns were really made to work for qualifying honours. The French outfit was pushed hard in the preliminary phases of qualifying by both Honda and Lada, with the latter showing impressive pace at their home circuit to have all three cars into Q2 for the first time. Both manufacturers’ lead drivers, Gabriele Tarquini and Rob Huff, made the final cut and qualified third and fourth respectively.
The first part of qualifying saw an intriguing battle spearheaded by the three Lada Vestas, with the team throwing everything at a strong qualifying performance with an aggressive tyre strategy. Running brand new tyres in Q1 paid dividends, with Huff joined in the top-twelve phase by teammate Jaap van Lagen and series debutant Nick Catsburg, who drove sensationally on a track he’d never previously visited.
The pace in Q1 was frenetic, with Muller ultimately breaking the previous qualifying lap record with a time of 1:37.900 to go fastest in the session ahead of Tarquini, López and Huff. Hugo Valente was the lead Chevrolet for Campos Racing, posting the fifth-fastest time.
Mehdi Bennani continued his rather off-song qualifying form and failed to make the Q2 cut in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée; the Moroccan will start both of Sunday’s races from thirteenth on the grid.
Valente and Chilton aside, the RML-built Chevrolets struggled for one-lap pace thanks to the extra performance ballast they had acquired, and the remaining four Cruzes were eliminated at the first hurdle: Tom Coronel, Stefano D’Aste, Grégoire Demoustier and John Filippi claimed four of the five slowest grid slots, with the the recuperated Rickard Rydell joining them at the bottom of the timesheets in his NIKA Racing Honda.
The second phase of qualifying saw López return serve against Muller with the session’s fastest time. Muller and Tarquini rounded out the top three, with Huff and Chilton making the top-five cut by improving their best times on their second qualifying runs.
The impressive Catsburg looked to be in with a shout of a stunning qualifying upset, only to lose out on the chance to have a second qualifying run when he was called up to the weighbridge with just minutes of the session to run; the Dutchman ended up ninth-fastest and will share the front row of the grid for Race 2 witrh Tiago Monteiro.
The biggest upset of the session came from Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb, who failed to consolidate a provisional tenth-fastest time and find himself bundled out of a reversed grid pole position for Race 2 when he slipped to eleventh in the final reckoning.
Teammate Ma Qing Hua – who famously won on debut here a year ago – was equally unlucky not to make the Q3 cut when he was badly baulked on his only flying lap by the Zengő Honda of Norbert Michelisz.
The final one-lap dash in Q3 saw Chilton, Huff, Tarquini, Muller and López out to claim pole honours. Chilton was never in the hunt, but Huff put in what looked to be a potential pole-winner until Tarquini, and then Muller, comfortably bettered the Englishman’s impressive time.
López was last out, and despite looking rapid and tidy as always, he fell just fractions short of Muller’s time.
Sunday’s two races at Moscow Raceway will be run over 16 laps apiece from 12:15PM and 1:25PM (UTC +3).
|1.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:37.923|
|2.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||+ 0.046|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 0.168|
|4.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||+ 0.716|
|5.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1.216||IND|
|6.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:38.836|
|7.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:38.873||IND|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:38.918||IND|
|9.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:39.047|
|10.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:39.071|
|11.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:39.139|
|12.||Jaap van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:39.195|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:39.172||IND|
|14.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:39.550||IND|
|15.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:39.867||IND|
|16.||Grégoire Demoustier*||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:39.951||IND|
|17.||Rickard Rydell||NIKA Racing Honda Civic WTCC||1:40.060|
|18.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:40.127||IND|
* Will start from the rear of the grid for Race 1 after unscheduled engine change.
Images via FIA WTCC Media