The first FIA WTCC qualifying session after the summer break was a closely contested affair.
Despite the typhoon that had swept by a few hours earlier, the Citroën drivers were able to make it out onto the Twin Ring Motegi track on Friday lunchtime for an exploratory half-hour training session. Practice continued on Saturday morning, with the Citroën drivers experiencing mixed fortunes. While Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua were in the leading pack, Yvan Muller and José María López found the going somewhat harder. The French driver had to grapple which chronic understeering, while the Argentine reported problems with his brakes.
In the mid-afternoon, the sun was shining as the cars came out for Q1. Pechito López lifted his spirits by clocking the quickest time, 66 thousandths of a second ahead of Ma Qing Hua. Sébastien Loeb and Mehdi Bennani were also in the top 5, while Yvan Muller had to settle for eighth place.
It puts a few extra points between me and my rivals in the championship, who happen to be my teammates.
José María López
The Citroën drivers continued their efforts in Q2, mustering a pleasing overall result, despite Norbert Michelisz snatching the fastest time just before the chequered flag. Ma Qing Hua, Sébastien Loeb, José María López and Mehdi Bennani all qualified for Q3, while Yvan Muller ended up seventh behind Gabriele Tarquini.
José María López was the second to go in Q3, and shaved 0.159s off Mehdi Bennani’s opening time, before Sébastien Loeb slipped in between the two of them. The fourth and final Citroën to come out for a flying lap was that of Ma Qing Hua. The Chinese driver could not hit the heights he did in Q2, however, and was left with the fifth-fastest time when last man out Norbert Michelisz put the cat among the pigeons by claiming pole position!
What they had to say
Xavier Mestelan, Deputy Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “After a long summer break, it is clear that our rivals have made a lot of progress! Congratulations to Norbert Michelisz, who produced an excellent lap in Q3 and fully deserves his pole position. From our point of view, we knew that the 60 kg of ballast assigned to our cars would prove a real handicap here, on a circuit made up of medium bends and short straights. But despite that, we have finished just 0.08s off pole position, so we’re still in with a great chance tomorrow. In Race 1, Michelisz will have four Citroëns on his tail. Yvan Muller will also have an opportunity to shine in Race 2, which he will start from the second row.”
José María López: “First of all, I’d like to congratulate Norbert Michelisz, who produced a great performance to win pole position. I’m happy with my second place. It puts a few extra points between me and my rivals in the championship, who happen to be my teammates. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride, though; I had brake issues all morning. The team put in a lot of work and we managed to solve those problems in time for qualifying. I think the races are going to be interesting.”
Sébastien Loeb: “I’m satisfied. I feel like I’ve put in some good work since the start of free practice. In Q3, we always strive for perfection, and I was obviously a few hundredths short of what was required to win pole! This could be a good opportunity for me to gain ground on Yvan in the championship, but we’ll have to see how things go over the two races, as he is well placed on the Race 2 grid.”
Ma Qing Hua: “I had a great day right up until Q3! We tried a lot of different setups in free practice and we ended up with a really good one for qualifying. I don’t quite know what happened on my last lap, but I was bugged by some vibrations. Apart from that, it was really good. We put in some good work with the team and I think we can produce some good results tomorrow.”
Yvan Muller: “Ever since we arrived here I haven’t been able to get rid of a chronic understeering problem. We tried lots of setups and we managed to address the problem in part, but never completely. My Q2 lap was pretty good considering what my car allowed me to do. I couldn’t go any faster!”
Results and standings
1. Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic WTCC)
2. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
3. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
4. Mehdi Bennani (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
5. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
6. Gabriele Tarquini (Honda Civic WTCC)
7. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
8. Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic WTCC)
9. Nick Catsburg (Lada Vesta WTCC)
10. Hugo Valente (Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1)
11. Nicolas Lapierre (Lada Vesta WTCC)
12. Tom Chilton (Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1)