José María López has given himself the best possible chance of claiming more FIA World Touring Car Championship silverware with a blitzing run in qualifying at the Race of Portugal to land his fourth pole position of 2015 and five valuable championship points.
López was the last driver to gun for top spot in a dramatic five-car shootout but a sensational performance handed him the advantage by 0.575s after he lapped the 4.755-kilometre Vila Real street track in 1m59.179s at an average speed of 143.6kph.
“It’s not only my lap but my engineer’s lap and my mechanics’ lap because they worked hard for this,” said López, who received a special pole position award from Ni Amorim, the Vice President of the FPAK, Portugal’s motorsport federation. “With Yvan [Mulller] not in Q3 I was more relaxed and that gave me the confidence to do a clean lap without the mistakes. I was surprised when I saw the time but it’s a good feeling to be back on the pole position.”
Nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb continued his recent strong run of form to make it an all-Citroën front row with Hugo Valente (Chevrolet Cruze) the top Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy contender in a fine third, one place ahead of category rival Norbert Michelisz, who ended up as the top Honda driver in fourth. Despite being quite blatantly held up by Muller and the sister Citroën of Ma Qing Hua in Q2, Gabriele Tarquini also made it into Q3 and will start fifth alongside Honda teammate and local hero Tiago Monteiro, who came within one place of making it through to the pole showdown.
Nicky Catsburg starts the first of Sunday’s 13-lap contests in seventh with fellow LADA driver Jaap van Lagen eighth. Yvan Muller, López’s arch-rival for the WTCC title, was ninth with Ma Qing Hua in P10 and on the provisional pole spot for the reverse grid second race. The pair opted to book-end the top-ten and give themselves the best shot of a Citroën 1-2 in each race by deliberately running slowly in Q2 when it emerged that neither Mehdi Bennani nor Néstor Girolami would be able to set a time in the session.
Contact with a trackside barrier prevented a flying lap in Q2 for Bennani, who will start in P11, while Girolami – who advanced to Q2 for the first time in his short WTCC career – sufferede damage to the front-left wheel of his NIKA Racing Honda Civic and temporarily red-flagged the session to allow the recovery of his stricken car.
The two Toms – teammates Chilton and Coronel – along with Stefano D’Aste, Grégoire Demoustier, John Filippi and Rob Huff all failed to make it through Q1. Coronel was incensed at Ma Qing Hua, suggesting he had baulked him on his flying lap in the closing moments of the session.
The race stewards, however, deemed that no judicial action was necessary against Ma, despite vocal protests from a number of his rivals.
Sunday’s two races at the Circuit Vila Real will be run over 13 laps apiece at 11:45 and 17:15 (UTC +1).
|1.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:58.515|
|2.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:59.090|
|3.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:59.333||IND|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||2:00.023||IND|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||no time|
|6.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||2:00.349|
|7.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:01.724|
|8.||Jaap van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:02.187|
|9.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||2:39.871|
|10.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||3:17.063|
|11.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||no time||IND|
|12.||Néstor Girolami||NIKA Racing Honda Civic WTCC||no time|
|13.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||2:01.186|
|14.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:01.333||IND|
|15.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:01.338||IND|
|16.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:01.516||IND|
|17.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:04.538||IND|
|18.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:05.128||IND|
Images via FIA WTCC Media