José María López has moved one step closer to claiming back-to-back FIA World Touring Car Championship titles by securing pole position for Sunday’s opening race at the series’ inaugural visit to Thailand.
The Argentinian led a Citroën 1-2-3-4-5 rout of Saturday’s three-part session and will start alongside teammate Sébastien Loeb on the front row.
López’s sole championship rival, Yvan Muller, qualified third-fastest ahead of the fellow Sébastien Loeb Racing-run C-Elysées of Mehdi Bennani and Ma Qing Hua – Bennani was subsequently stripped of his Q3 time for exceeding the Chang International Circuit’s track limits.
López was fastest in a tense Q1 session, which delivered a big surprise in Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini – who fancied himself a shot of securing the Race 2 reverse-grid pole position – being knocked out of the top-twelve. The Italian qualified thirteenth-fastest, but will start Race 1 from the back of the grid thanks to a five-place grid penalty.
The Chevrolets of ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel and Münnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste both had engine dramas in the session and failed to post competitive times, while the LADA of Nicolas Lapierre also failed to make the Q2 cut.
That left the door open for a few other RML Chevrolet Cruze runners to ease into the top-ten, with Corsican youngster John Filippi being the standout in clocking the third-fastest time.
The top-twelve phase of qualifying saw Mehdi Bennani go quickest to guarantee himself the final slot in Q3’s one-lap dash for the fastest five runners. Muller opted to run one timed lap, which proved enough for him to be second-fastest ahead of López, Loeb and Ma.
Hugo Valente qualified sixth-fastest in his Campos Racing Chevrolet, while Nicky Catsburg was the fastest LADA runner in seventh. Tom Chilton qualified eighth-fastest in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet ahead of the two remaining Hondas of Tiago Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz, who will start from the front row for Race 2.
LADA’s lead driver Rob Huff was bumped out of the top-ten at the last minute by Monteiro, and had his woes compounded further when he was excluded from qualifying altogether after his Vesta WTCC was found to have non-conforming side windows.
The final one-lap dash for pole was an all-Citroën affair, with López breaking the track’s touring car lap record on his flying lap in another standout display.
Sunday’s two races at the Chang International Circuit will be run over 14 laps apiece at 16:25 and 17:30 (GMT +7).
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of Thailand– Qualifying Results|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:37.916|
|2.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:38.185|
|3.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:38.231|
|4.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||1:38.333|
|5.||Mehdi Bennani^||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||no time||IND|
|6.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:38.224||IND|
|7.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:38.399|
|8.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:38.533||IND|
|9.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:38.551|
|10.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:38.642||IND|
|11.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:39.623||IND|
|EX.||Rob Huff^||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||excluded|
|12.||Gabriele Tarquini^||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:39.161|
|13.||Nicolas Lapierre||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:39.279|
|14.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:39.343||IND|
|15.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:40.618||IND|
|EX.||Tin Sritrai^||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||excluded||IND|
|NQ.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||no time||IND|
- Mehdi Bennani had his Q3 qualifying lap-time disallowed for exceeding the track limits and gaining an advantage.
- Rob Huff – who originally qualified eleventh-fastest – had his qualifying times disallowed after his car failed scrutineering (window thickness) and will start both races from the back of the grid.
- Gabriele Tarquini will serve a five-place grid penalty for Race 1 per his penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Rob Huff at the Race of China.
- Tin Sritrai had his qualifying times disallowed for failing to follow the weighbridge procedures and will start both races from the back of the grid.
Image via FIA WTCC Media