Rounds 19 and 20 – Shanghai Jiading, China
Ma Qing Hua had posted an outstanding lap time of 1:48.898 during his Q3 shot at his home racetrack.
And yet, this was not enough to prevent his team-mate and current championship leader José María López from adding another pole position (the fifth so far) to the impressive tally of his first complete season in WTCC.
The Argentine staked a claim on the pole with a spectacular split time in the first sector (41.868) that gave him a three-tenth margin over Ma. And despite a disappointing second sector that cost him the whole advantage, López was able to sprint in the third sector, completing the lap in 1:48.782.
The first sector was also crucial for Yvan Muller, who ruined his chances of challenging López and Ma for the pole.
This result meant that Citroën is now only two points away from securing the Manufacturers’ title, although Norbert Michelisz did his best to spoil the French manufacturer’s party and qualified in fourth, ahead of Sébastien Loeb and best of the Honda cars.
Q1 – The track was dry in spite of a shower that fell a few minutes before the start.
The Citroën cars dominated the first part of the session, filling the first four positions. After brief spells on top from Tom Chilton (1:50.749) and Norbert Michelisz (1:50.312), Ma Qing Hua posted the fastest time for good (1:49.313).
His team-mates improved to rank immediately behind him: Yvan Muller in second (1:49.514), José María López in third (1:49.546) and Sébastien Loeb in fourth (1:49.875).
None of the other drivers was able to break the 1:50 mark. Chilton was the best of the Chevrolet men in fifth (1:50.229) ahead of Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda (1:50.226).
After the winning weekend in Beijing last week, the LADA Sport team was disappointed by seeing all his three drivers missing the cut for Q2.
The following drivers advanced to Q2: Ma, Muller, López, Loeb, Chilton, Tarquini, Michelisz, Monteiro, Coronel, Bennani, Borković and Valente. Franz Engstler set the pole in the TC2T class.
The slipstreaming game
Q2 – A light rain was reported on the first sector when the drivers returned to the track. The Citroën quartet settled the matter on their first lap: Muller (1:49.299), López (1:49.418), Ma (1:49.436) and Loeb (1:49.579). Only Michelisz was capable of setting a lap time close to theirs: a 1:49.848 that placed him in fifth position.
A final attempt of the four Honda drivers to play the slipstreaming game came to nothing. Monteiro and Tarquini remained in sixth and seventh, out of Q3.
Mehdi Bennani won pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for the second race.
López did even better
Q3 – Michelisz was the first on the track and posted a brilliant 1:49.681. Loeb followed, but the nine-time WRC champion spoiled his chances by hitting the stack of tyres at the apex of the final turn.
Then Ma broke the 1:49 barrier and posted an outstanding 1:48.898. López did even better and improved to 1:48.782, while Muller had to settle in third position with a lap of 1:49.424.