Reigning World Touring Car champion José María López has continued Citroën’s dominance of the one-lap qualifying format by claiming pole position for Sunday’s main race at the Race of Hungary.
In doing so, the Argentine driver reclaimed the lead of the Drivers’ Championship by two points from Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, but his closest challenge in qualifying did not come from the Japanese cars. It was rather more unexpected, with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel putting in a sterling performance in his little-fancied Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 to claim a career-best second-fastest.
López and teammate Yvan Muller both had their work cut out just making it beyond the first phase of qualifying after setting overly cautious banker laps in the first session.
Once the rest of the field had put in their timed runs, both López and Muller were outside the top-twelve and were forced to put in another run in order to make it into Q2.
López’s second timed lap proved good enough to put him back in P1, while Muller made a mistake on his flying lap and had to squeeze in another lap. With his tyres relatively worse for wear, he only managed tenth-fastest, and was pushed down to twelfth by Volvo’s Fredrik Ekblom and the privateer Citroën of Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Tom Chilton.
Muller didn’t have the time or tyres left to extricate himself out of a potentially embarrassing result, but his next threat in the form of Hugo Valente was unable to improve on his time in his LADA, leaving the four-time champion to breathe a sigh of relief as he sneaked into Q2.
López was not about to cause himself the same headaches in Q2, and immediately set about putting in a quick time. He clocked a 1:46.487 to put himself on the top of the timesheets ahead of Volvo’s Thed Björk for much of the ten-minute session until a late flying lap from Honda’s Rob Huff knocked him from top spot.
Björk was squeezed down to fifth place by the second works Honda of Tiago Monteiro and the session’s surprise performer, Coronel. Without tyre sets to do the job, Muller could only manage eighth-fastest, putting him third on the grid for Sunday’s opening race, which Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani will start from pole alongside the second Volvo of Fredrik Ekblom.
The one-lap Q3 session was next, with Björk the first man out, posting a 1:46.980. Coronel was next up, and while the Dutch veteran has never been known for his one-lap prowess, he put in a stunner to comfortably outpace the Volvo.
Monteiro couldn’t match Coronel’s effort, but the same could not be said for López, who smashed last year’s qualifying lap record by a mammoth 2.6 seconds with a 1:46.109. Huff was the last driver out, with a mistake in his first sector consigning him to third place and ensuring that López would claim pole honours and five vital championship points.
Sunday’s track action will see the 14-lap Opening Race at 14:15 local time (CEST), followed by the 15-lap Main Race at 17:15.
|2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Slovakia – Qualifying Results|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||1:46.109|
|2.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:46.718||IND|
|3.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:46.833|
|4.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:46.895|
|5.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:46.980|
|6.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:46.597|
|7.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:46.725|
|8.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||1:46.824|
|9.||Fredrik Ekblom||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:46.831|
|10.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:47.078||IND|
|11.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:47.159||IND|
|12.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:47.170|
|13.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:47.484|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:47.704||IND|
|15.||Grégoire Demoustier^||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:47.751||IND|
|16.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:47.900||IND|
|17.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:48.707||IND|
- Grégoire Demoustier was issued a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nicky Catsburg during Q1.
Following López’s qualifying triumph, Citroën would go on to win – and then lose – the MAC3 post-qualifying event.
With López, Muller and Bennani representing the French carmaker, the trio posted a two-lap effort of 3:43.028 to edge out Honda by 0.174 seconds, despite the Hondas lapping one-tenth of a second quicker through the first sector.
The three LADAs were 1.490 seconds off the pace with a scrappy pair of laps after Hugo Valente appeared to jump the start. The Frenchman was subsequently issued a 30-second time penalty, with Bennani copping an identical penalty after being judged to have exceeded the track limits at Turn 11 on Citroën’s first flying lap.
With all three cars on each run required to post a combined two-lap timed run within 15 seconds of the leading car of each manufacturer, both LADA and Citroën will lose the Manufacturers’ Championship points they would have earned in this event.
The result means that Honda stretches its lead in the championship standings to 15 points over Citroën.
Images via Motorsport.com
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