Great eight of China as López takes WTCC pole
José María López has equalled Yvan Muller’s record of qualifying bests in one season with his eighth DHL pole position of 2016 after he topped the timesheets at FIA WTCC Race of China this afternoon. In doing so, the Argentine scored the points needed for Citroën to provisionally clinch the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers for a third year running*.
There was also success for LADA and Volvo Polestar with Nicky Catsburg going second quickest, just missing out on pole by less than two tenths for LADA, and Thed Björk making it through to Qualifying Q3 for the second time in 2016 at Volvo’s ‘home’ event.
Meanwhile, John Filippi will start Sunday’s reverse grid Opening Race on pole after he claimed the all-important P10 in Qualifying Q2, the second time in 2016 the 21-year-old from France has achieved the feat in his Campos Racing Chevrolet.
As the quickest driver in Q2, López was the last of the five racers to shoot for pole, and managed to better the benchmark set by LADA driver Catsburg by 0.161s. The Dutchman produced an impressive lap to claim a slot on the front row, four tenths clear of third-placed Yvan Muller in the second factory Citroën. Mehdi Bennani was the top performer in the WTCC Trophy in qualifying fourth, only 0.033s behind Muller, while Björk completed the top five having set the pace in Free Practice 1 this morning and gone third in Q2.
“I wouldn’t say I was relaxed but you always fear you gave everything too soon and the others will come back to you,” said world champion López, who now has 21 WTCC career poles. “It was a little bit what happened with Nicky. He put out a very good lap in Q3 and made the thing much more exciting and much more complicated. I knew it was going to be close but sometimes one of the good things of being first after Q2 is you have the advantage to see what the others did and know if you really have to go for more or maybe, if you are lucky enough, manage with what you have. But that was not the case today and I had to do my best and I’m sorry for Nicky.”
Of Citroën’s provisional title success, López added: “We are very lucky to be part of this team. We have learned a lot from them and for sure it’s much easier for us when you jump into the best car on the grid. We are going to miss them a lot and I’m very happy we achieved this result during a very difficult year with a heavier car.”
Citroën Team Principal Yves Matton said: “For sure we win the championship for a third time in a row and for the third time in China, which is an important market for Citroën. A lot of things have helped us to achieve this result. First of all, it’s an incredible driver line-up and also the drivers from Sébastien Loeb Racing have helped us to achieve this title. But also the work the team did since the first days we were involved in the WTCC. It was completely new for us. Never before did we go outside the dusty roads of the rally. We had a lot of things to learn and it was really interesting for all the team to find some new ways to work around the car and achieve success.”
Gabriele Tarquini narrowly missed out on a Q3 place in sixth for LADA following team-mate Catsburg’s late charge in Q2. The 2009 WTCC champion finished up ahead of Fredrik Ekblom, back on WTCC race duty for Volvo Polestar for the first time since Russia in early June. Tom Chilton was eighth, while Norbert Michelisz was the best-placed Honda driver in ninth, which gives the Hungarian a front-row start for the Opening Race alongside Filippi.
Filippi’s fellow Chevrolet RML Cruze drivers Tom Coronel and James Thompson were P11 and 12 respectively after making the cut for Q2, something that was missed by Hugo Valente in the third LADA and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Rob Huff. Grégoire Demoustier, Ferenc Ficz and Dániel Nagy were also unable to progress to Q2.
Sunday’s Opening Race takes place over 14 laps from 14h35 local time with the Main Race following shortly afterwards at 15h50 and running for additional lap.
*Citroën is the provisional FIA World Touring Car Manufacturers champion for 2016 subject to official FIA confirmation. This is because the WTCC promoter, Eurosport Events, has made a request to the FIA Touring Car Commission to cancel WTCC Race of Thailand, which will mean the championship will run over 11 events rather than 12, subject to final ratification by the FIA World Motor Sport Council.