Yvan Muller secured pole position for tomorrow’s opening World Touring Car Championship race in Hungary, beating Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente and championship leader José María López for a first pole of the 2015 season.
Muller had gone into the session expecting to fight with Citroën team-mate López for pole, but in truth he was forced to push harder than he might have expected to after an impressive lap from Valente, with the Frenchman rewarded for his efforts by the retention of his second place on the grid having earlier been handed a grid penalty.
There was a significant scalp in the opening part of qualifying as Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini – who had been López’s closest challenger during the two earlier practice sessions – wrecked the front end of his Honda Civic after running wide onto the Astroturf on the exit of Turn 3 and drifting head-on into the barrier on the inside of the track.
After a short delay to remove the Italian’s stricken car, James Thompson was another big name to miss out on the second session, with a mistake at the end of his flying lap cancelling out the improvements he had made in the first two sectors. The Briton ended the session in 14th, with John Filippi in front of him and Gregoire Demoustier, Mikhail Kozlovskiy and Tarquini all eliminated.
Signs had started to appear that the tide was turning away from López – who had been dominant in the morning’s two wet practice sessions – and towards Muller, and the Frenchman continued that trend with his opening lap in Q2, with a 1:49.459s pipping López by a quarter of a second.
A good lap from Rob Huff at the halfway stage of the session put him in fifth and in with a shot of making Q3, but he missed the cutoff to return to the track in time to register a second lap and will start tomorrow’s opening race from sixth.
It was a stunning final sector from Valente – who along with Tom Coronel had taken to the track out of sync from the majority of the remaining runners – that first pushed Huff down the order, with the Frenchman’s effort enough for a place in the final shootout session.
López eventually topped the session from Muller, while a late improvement from Sebastien Loeb gave him third place and squeezed Tiago Monteiro out of the final session, with Valente sandwiched by Loeb and the fourth Citroen of Ma Qing Hua.
Ma had been due to be the first man to take to the track at the start of Q3, but having missed his window to do so it was Valente who first set a time.
Three great sectors from the Chevrolet Cruze driver gave him a 1:49.081s which was enough for him to see off Loeb – who had run wide at the start of his flying lap – and gave him a feint chance of the fastest time.
Those aspirations were quickly extinguished however as Muller eclipsed his lap by 0.053s, and with López making two uncharacteristic mistakes on his lap, the Frenchman sealed his first pole, in so doing becoming the first man to beat López in a Saturday session this year.
Second for Valente still marked a best qualifying result in the WTCC, although both he and team-mate Filippi were handed five-place penalties having both improved their times in first practice under yellow flags.
But that decision was later overturned by the stewards, with Valente set to start alongside Muller on the front row.
With López’s lap good enough only for third, Citroën will nevertheless have four drivers in the first five places on the grid, with Loeb and Ma lining up ahead of Monteiro and Huff.
Tom Coronel will start eighth ahead of team-mate Tom Chilton, while tenth place for home favourite Norbert Michelisz means the Hungarian will start tomorrow’s second race from pole.
Round 5 of the season takes place at 12:30 BST tomorrow.
Top ten times
|1||68||Yvan MULLER||Citroën Total WTCC||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||3||1:48.848|
|2||7||Y||Hugo VALENTE||Campos Racing||Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1||3||1:49.081||0.233|
|3||37||José María LÓPEZ||Citroën Total WTCC||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||2||1:49.567||0.719|
|4||9||Sébastien LOEB||Citroën Total WTCC||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||3||1:49.572||0.724|
|5||33||MA Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC||Citroën C-Elysée WTCC||0||No time||N/A|
|The following times are from Q2|
|6||18||Tiago MONTEIRO||Castrol Honda WTC Team||Honda Civic WTCC||5||1:49.819||0.648|
|7||12||Rob HUFF||LADA Sport Rosneft||LADA Vesta WTCC||3||1:49.834||0.663|
|8||4||Y||Tom CORONEL||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1||4||1:50.021||0.850|
|9||3||Y||Tom CHILTON||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1||4||1:50.284||1.113|
|10||5||Y||Norbert MICHELISZ||Zengő Motorsport||Honda Civic WTCC||5||1:50.301||1.130|