Rob Huff underlined his reputation on the streets of Macau with pole position for the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race in dramatic fashion.
Huff – who set a new TCR lap record around the 3.8-mile circuit in the process – clocked a quickest time of 2:29.040 to eclipse Esteban Guerrieri by 0.479 seconds, despite being six tenths adrift after the opening sector on his final flyer.
Guerrieri himself could be subject to a stewards inquiry after he appeared to hold up title rival Yvan Muller as the Frenchman attempted to register a last quick effort into Turn 1.
That left Muller’s Hyundai i30 N TCR – run by his eponymous team – in third, with a 39 point gap to close on fellow veteran Gabriele Tarquini in the standings if he is to be crowned Champion this weekend.
His team-mate Thed Bjork will start a lowly 15th and is surely set to drop out of contention after sliding wide at Fisherman’s and clouting the front-left into the tyre barriers, bringing out the red flags.
Both Norbert Michelisz and Guerrieri had taken a turn atop the time sheets prior to the stoppage, the latter after the Munnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R trio used slipstreaming to maximum effect.
Huff, however, would show his hand by claiming P1 mere moments before the session was halted, with 23 minutes still to run.
That benchmark of 2:29.597 would go unchallenged to within four tenths until the final exchanges, as Ehrlacher, Jean-Karl Vernay, Huff’s team-mate Medhi Bennani, Muller, Michelisz and Tarquini all tried – and failed – to get onto terms with the 9-time Macau winner.
Aurelien Panis provided some late drama after head-butting the wall at Police corner in the Audi RS 3 LMS, but managed to get going again and kept the disruption to yellow flags.
Guerrieri then delivered what appeared to be a sucker punch to Huff’s pole position hopes, moving 0.078 seconds ahead on a 2:29.519.
The Argentinian – after the aforementioned incident with Muller – started celebrating prematurely with his team back in pit lane despite 2 minutes and 30 seconds remaining on the clock, clearly believing himself to have done enough.
Huff proved once again, however, that he remains the benchmark in a touring car on the iconic street layout, recovering from a poor start to his final flying lap to leave his rivals in his wake by a little under half a second at the chequered flag.
“The races in Macau are something, but I’ve just given myself the best chance,” commented pole-sitter Huff.
“That’s for the team, we’ve worked so hard this year, had some rotten luck and our end position in the championship isn’t a true reflection of what we’ve achieved this year.
“We got a good lap in early, then we had a red and yellow flag. I knew I had something left in the bag, halfway round the last lap I started to struggle with understeer but managed to pull it out of the bag.”
Ehrlacher would have lined up fourth behind team-mate Guerrieri and his uncle Muller, but a penalty for an engine change after the last round in Suzuka automatically drops him to the rear of the field.
That promotes Audi Sport racer Vernay into fourth, and makes it four different brands of car in as many positions.
Bennani made it a strong outing for Sebastien Loeb Racing in fifth, with fans favourite Michelisz for company on the third row.
Championship leader Tarquini starts seventh, with a late improvement from Frederic Vervisch putting the Comtoyou Racing Audi in eighth.
Pepe Oriola’s CUPRA and Macau rookie Timo Scheider – guesting for the Munnich team in a third Honda – round out the top ten.
Kevin Ceccon’s Alfa Romeo Guilietta had troubled the front-runners for much of the session, but the flurry of late improvements put him 11th with John Filippi for company.
Nathanael Berthon is 13th ahead of another wild card entry in Ma Qinghua, with Bjork rounding out the top 15 ahead of Mat’o Homola.
Gordon Shedden put his WRT-run Audi in 18th, but due to a 10-place grid penalty, picked up for earning a third strike in crossing the white line at pit exit during second practice, the Scot will start 28th.
The second and final qualifying session in Macau gets underway at 05:35 GMT.
|1||12||Rob HUFF||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||13||2:29.040||0.000|
|2||86||Esteban GUERRIERI||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||11||2:29.519||0.479|
|3||48||Yvan MULLER||YMR||Hyundai i30 N TCR||12||2:29.631||0.591|
|4||68||Yann EHRLACHER||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||11||2:29.960||0.920|
|5||69||Jean-Karl VERNAY||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||Audi RS3 LMS||12||2:30.037||0.997|
|6||25||Mehdi BENNANI||Sébastien Loeb Racing||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||13||2:30.173||1.133|
|7||5||Norbert MICHELISZ||BRC Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||13||2:30.267||1.227|
|8||30||Gabriele TARQUINI||BRC Racing Team||Hyundai i30 N TCR||13||2:30.403||1.363|
|9||22||Frédéric VERVISCH||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||Audi RS3 LMS||12||2:30.672||1.632|
|10||74||Pepe ORIOLA||Team Oscaro by Campos Racing||CUPRA TCR||13||2:30.827||1.787|
|11||42||Timo SCHEIDER||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||11||2:30.840||1.800|
|12||31||Kevin CECCON||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||13||2:30.931||1.891|
|13||27||John FILIPPI||Team Oscaro by Campos Racing||CUPRA TCR||13||2:31.118||2.078|
|14||23||Nathanaël BERTHON||Comtoyou Racing||Audi RS3 LMS||11||2:31.513||2.473|
|15||55||MA Qing Hua||Boutsen Ginion Racing||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||14||2:31.553||2.513|
|16||11||Thed BJÖRK||YMR||Hyundai i30 N TCR||4||2:31.860||2.820|
|17||70||Mat’o HOMOLA||DG Sport Compétition||Peugeot 308 TCR||14||2:32.120||3.080|
|18||52||Gordon SHEDDEN||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||Audi RS3 LMS||13||2:32.502||3.462|
|19||16||Luigi FERRARA||Team Mulsanne||Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR||13||2:32.585||3.545|
|20||9||Tom CORONEL||Boutsen Ginion Racing||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||14||2:32.645||3.605|
|21||7||Aurélien COMTE||DG Sport Compétition||Peugeot 308 TCR||14||2:32.743||3.703|
|22||21||Aurélien PANIS||Comtoyou Racing||Audi RS3 LMS||14||2:33.024||3.984|
|23||20||Denis DUPONT||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||Audi RS3 LMS||12||2:33.616||4.576|
|24||8||Norbert NAGY||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA TCR||5||2:34.798||5.758|
|25||89||André COUTO||MacPro Racing Team||Honda Civic Type R FK8 TCR||11||2:34.860||5.820|
|26||60||Filipe Clemente DE SOUZA||Champ Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||10||2:35.023||5.983|
|27||28||Kevin TSE Wing Kin||Teamwork Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||15||2:35.312||6.272|
|28||36||LO Kai Fung||Tian Shi Zuver Team||Audi RS3 LMS||11||2:35.987||6.947|
|29||66||Zsolt Dávid SZABÓ||Zengő Motorsport||CUPRA TCR||0||No time||N/A|
|30||77||LAM Kam San||Champ Motorsport||Audi RS3 LMS||0||No time||N/A|
|31||6||Rui VALENTE||PCT Racing Team||Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR||0||No time||N/A|