Yvan Muller has narrowly held of Citroën teammate and reigning World Touring Car Championship-winner José María López in a closely fought contest at the Automotodróm Slovakia Ring to win his third pole position of the season.
The battle for qualifying honours was between the Citroëns and the ever-improving LADAs. The trio of Russian cars again led the way in the early stages of Q1, while the Citroëns would bide their time before releasing their four factory cars out on track. The end of the session saw López quickest ahead of teammate Ma Qing Hua, followed by the LADA Vestas of Rob Huff and WTCC rookie Nick Catsburg.
Despite suffering a rather torrid practice preparation in his WTCC debut on home soil, local driver Mat’o Homola impressed by knocking the Zengõ Motorsport Honda of Norbert Michelisz out of the top-twelve to grab the final spot in Q2.
Extra performance ballast was not helping the Honda Civics at a circuit where they have historically done well. Only one of its four cars – that of veteran driver Gabriele Tarquini – made it into Q2, with Michelisz joined by Tiago Monteiro and series debutante and reigning Super TC2000 champion Néstor Girolami.
Predictably, most of the RML Chevrolets were eliminated as well at a circuit that highlighted the Cruzes’ lack of straight-line speed. John Filippi, Tom Coronel and Stefano D’Aste also failed to progress, while Grégoire Demoustier didn’t even manage to get his Craft-Bamboo entry out on track in the session and will start both races at the back of the grid.
With the Slovakia Ring taking a tick over two minutes to lap at full tilt, the 10-minute Q2 session was going to be a one-lap affair to determine who would make the five-car shootout for pole in Q3.
The Citroëns led the way with Yvan Muller going fastest ahead of José María López and Sébastien Loeb, while Huff and Catsburg carried their Q1 pace and rounded out the top-five. The third LADA of Jaap van Lagen qualified tenth-fastest, giving the Dutchman a reverse-grid pole for Sunday’s second race.
The top-five shootout saw Catsburg threw away a shot at pole with a mistake in the same sector, although teammate Huff kept his lap tidy and equalled the team’s best qualifying performance to-date.
Loeb was next up, and while slower than both the LADAs through the first sector, his second sector split was good enough get the jump on both.
As has so often been the case this season, López and Muller took it up another notch on their flying laps. López put in a blistering second sector time to grab provisional pole, but Muller went one better, nailing his first sector and almost matching López’s time on the infield loop to grab pole.
The five championship points he claimed over his rival helped edge him to within one point of the reigning champion, continuing a remarkable turnaround in form for the Frenchman who had all but written off his chances of a fifth WTCC crown just a few rounds ago.
Sunday’s two races at the Slovakia Ring will be run over 11 laps apiece at 12:45 and 14:00 (UTC +2).
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Slovakia – Qualifying Results|
|1.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||2:03.736|
|2.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||2:03.959|
|3.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||2:04.583|
|4.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:04.598|
|5.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:04.905|
|6.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:04.858||IND|
|7.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||2:05.012|
|8.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:05.108||IND|
|9.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||2:05.312|
|10.||Jaap van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:05.346|
|11.||Mat’o Homola||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:06.081||IND|
|12.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||2:06.103||IND|
|13.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||2:05.659||IND|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:05.591||IND|
|15.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:05.729||IND|
|16.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:06.191||IND|
|17.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||2:06.263|
|18.||Néstor Girolami||NIKA Racing Honda Civic WTCC||2:06.264|
|DNQ.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||no time||IND|
Images via FIA WTCC Media