Rob Huff has claimed pole position for Sunday’s main World Touring Car Championship race in Marrakech in a tense qualifying session around the re-profiled street circuit.

The works Honda team dominated proceedings on Saturday afternoon, with the British driver edging out teammates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro for top spot over their one-lap shootout for pole.

Defending two-time series champion José María López looked on course to sweep to another pole position with a strong first sector in his Citroën, but fell to fourth with a rare mistake by damaging his car midway through his flying lap.

The opening phase of qualifying saw Huff lead the way ahead of López, who managed to split the Hondas, with Monteiro lapping third-fastest. LADA’s Nicky Catsburg was fourth-fastest ahead of the third Honda of Michelisz, who had his fastest time disallowed for exceeding the track limits.

A late run by López’s teammate Yvan Muller vaulted him to sixth on the timesheets ahead of Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk and LADA’s Gabriele Tarquini. ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel was the fastest of the Independent Trophy drivers, finishing ahead of fellow Chevrolet runner and Münnich Motorsport ‘super sub’ James Thompson.

The final two drivers to make it into Q2 were Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Tom Chilton and Hugo Valente in the third LADA.

The shock casualty was local driver Mehdi Bennani, who failed to advance his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën beyond the first round. He will start both of Sunday’s races from a lowly fourteenth on the grid.

The second phase of qualifying produced two battles – who would make the five-car shootout for pole and who would claim pole position for the reverse grid opening race – and it was a session that did not disappoint.

The Hondas initially held a 1-2-3 before a late run by López saw the Argentine vault to top spot and cement his position as the final Q3 runner. Of the three Civic drivers, Michelisz finished quicker than Monteiro and Huff. Catsburg did well to claim the final spot in the top-five, narrowly outpacing Muller by just 0.011 seconds in the final reckoning.

Coronel finished seventh-fastest ahead of Volvo’s Björk, while Valente and the impressive Thompson secured front-row starts for Sunday’s opening race.

The battle for pole position would be a tense affair. Catsburg’s run of 1:22.161 would ultimately only be good enough for fifth on the grid, as it was quickly bettered by Huff who set a rapid 1:21.743 that would not be toppled by anyone else. Monteiro and Michelisz lapped barely one-tenth of a second slower before López lost ground in the second sector of the lap and fell to fourth-fastest after damaging his front splitter.

While it may not have claimed pole position honours, Citroën did restore some pride by winning the latest Manufacturers Against the Clock (MAC3) session ahead of LADA. Honda looked on course to win until a second-lap error by Norbert Michelisz ended their chances.

The LADA trio of Tarquini, Valente and Catsburg had a trouble-free run over their two laps, but it was clear that the following run by Honda should have moved them ahead. That was, until Michelisz clipped the wall with two corners to go on their second lap and punctured a tyre.

Citroën was last out, with López settling at the back of the field in his still-hobbled C-Elysée WTCC. Bennani, who had already been eliminated in Q1, headed the trio, but rather held them up as he was some way off the pace of Muller and López – nonetheless they completed their two laps with a one-second margin to the LADAs to claim valuable Manufacturers’ Championship points.

Sunday’s opening race, run over 21 laps, will start tomorrow at 12:15 local time (GMT +0), while the 22-lap main race is scheduled for a 17:15 start.

2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Morocco – Qualifying Results
Q3 Qualifiers Team Time Class
1. Rob Huff Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC 1:21.743
2. Norbert Michelisz Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC 1:21.779
3. Tiago Monteiro Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC 1:21.862
4. José María López Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée 1:22.024
5. Nick Catsburg LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 1:22.161
Q2 Qualifiers Team Time Class
6. Yvan Muller Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée 1:22.115
7. Tom Coronel ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 1:22.194 IND
8. Thed Björk Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 1:22.237
9. Hugo Valente LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 1:22.251
10. James Thompson Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 1:22.455 IND
11. Gabriele Tarquini LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 1:22.575
12. Tom Chilton Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 1:22.658 IND
Q1 Qualifiers Team Time Class
13. Fredrik Ekblom Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 1:22.656
14. Mehdi Bennani Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 1:22.709 IND
15. John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze 1:23.020 IND
16. Grégoire Demoustier Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 1:23.541 IND
Outside 107% Team Time Class
NQ. Ferenc Ficza Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC no time IND

Image via FIA WTCC Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.