José María López will have the best starting spot in the field Sunday as he goes in search of his fourth win of the 2014 season.
At the end of an exciting qualifying José María López claimed his third pole position of the season, beating Gabriele Tarquini by two tenths. Never before this season, Honda was so close to the ever-dominant Citroën Armada.
For the whole day at the Moscow Raceway, in different track conditions, the Civic cars of Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro competed on equal terms with the French machines.
Two out of four Citroën drivers dropped off after Q2, and quite unexpectedly one of them was Yvan Muller, kicked off by Monteiro’s last-gasp attempt.
After Sébastien Loeb was not able to be faster than Monteiro in Q3, and after Tarquini posted a brilliant lap time, López salvaged the day for Citroën with a perfect lap. The fastest of the day.
In tomorrow’s Race 1 the current championship leader is now due to face strong opposition from the Honda duo of Tarquini and Monteiro. While the top-ten reverse grid for Race 2 will see Hugo Valente and Ma Qing Hua sharing the front row.
The most disappointed drivers today were Tom Coronel and Gianni Morbidelli who were both eliminated after Q1, while LADA Sport’s dream of making to Q2 at least with one car vanished when Rob Huff was kicked off by Valente.
Franz Engstler took once again the pole among the TC2T cars, improving his last year’s time by four tenths.
The track was still partially wet after a shower when the green light gave the drivers the go-ahead.
Yvan Muller posted a first provisional fastest lap of 1:39.953; after setting an excellent time in the first sector, Gianni Morbidelli went wide at Turn 7 spoiling his lap and damaging the front splitter that eventually prevented him to make the top-12.
Norbert Michelisz improved the mark to 1:39.848. With five minutes left, the LADA cars of Rob Huff, Mikhail Kozlovskiy and James Thompson were all inside the top-12, while Tiago Monteiro was 13th.
Tom Chilton jumped on top with a lap of 1:39.443, but he was soon ousted by Monteiro’s 1:39.426. However, Gabriele Tarquini set the fastest lap for good, the first to drive under the 1:39. mark (1:38.754).
In the last seconds, Hugo Valente kicked off the last of the LADA drivers (Huff), and René Münnich eliminated Tom Coronel. The following drivers made it to Q2: Tarquini, Monteiro, Chilton, López, Michelisz, Valente, Muller Bennani, Loeb, Münnich, Ma and Borković.
On the drying track, a few drivers made mistakes, including Chilton, Bennani, Ma, Valente and Muller who spun on his first attempt at T3. An error that proved crucial as he eventually missed the cut for Q3.
Tarquini posted a provisional fastest lap of 1:38.872 that was beaten by López’s 1:38.832; Loeb (1:39.111) and Chilton (1:39.419) secured third and fourth places, while Monteiro stopped the watch at 1:39.423 under the chequered flag, kicking Muller off.
Monteiro took the track first and posted a very promising lap of 1:39.166 that Chilton (1:39.698) and Loeb (1:39.580) were not able to better.
Tarquini followed and jumped on top with a lap of 1:38.877. However his dreams of pole position were shattered when López completed his lap in 1:38.651.
José María López: “I’m very happy, obviously, as I didn’t expect to be on pole position. After this morning’s practices I was a bit nervous as I didn’t know what to expect. This is a very difficult track but thanks to the team I managed to improve the car and my lap times throughout the day. In Q1 I noticed after my first flying lap that everything felt good and I elected not to change too much on the car for Q2 and Q3. I was of course helped by the fact that Yvan didn’t make it into Q3. The points for pole position here could eventually be worth their weight in gold at the end of the championship. It’s also good to see that the Honda’s are improving as this will make for even better races which will be good for the championship.”
Gabriele Tarquini: “I was very happy in this morning, as the car felt very good from the beginning. I was really happy with the set-up and especially the chassis. I was surprised by my lap times when I put new tyres on for the first time in Q1. I tried to adapt my driving style a bit to improve a bit more, but I didn’t and even made a few mistakes. I then changed something for Q3 but in the end it didn’t work as planned. That said, we’ve never been so close to Citroën. Pole could have been possible since I set my fastest lap in Q1, but at least I can start from second on the grid.”
Tiago Monteiro: “I had been playing catch-up all day, so I was quite satisfied that I managed to scrape into Q3 on the very last lap of Q2. I hadn’t been very confident but in the end it all worked out. The harder a time we can give these guys (Citroën), the better it is for our confidence and the better it is for the championship as a whole and the spectators in particular. We have nothing to lose and can risk everything in the race since we’re not fighting for the championship.”
Franz Engstler: “The team did a great job in preparing the car for this race. The car was well balanced right from the beginning, so I could push it hard. Which is also the reason why I spun twice! In qualifying the car was just perfect, and combined with the fact that I like this track very much a good result was on the cards immediately.”