The final qualifying session of the season was dominated by the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs, who achieved another clean sweep in the streets of Macau.
Before qualifying, the FIA WTCC drivers had three half-hour sessions of free practice to get used to the Guia Circuit. On Thursday, the cars were in action bright and early at 7.15 a.m., on a dirty and slippery track. In the second session, early on Thursday afternoon, the times got a little quicker, but the Citroën drivers had not yet begun their search for speed.
On Friday morning, José María López shone, chopping more than a second off the existing lap record! Ma Qing Hua, another Macau rookie, offered further evidence that the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs were in good shape, clocking the second-fastest time of the session.
I will remember this pole position for a long time. Macau is a circuit I have been wanting to discover for over ten years.
When the time came for qualifying, things got heated. Q1 was extended to 30 minutes (as opposed to the usual twenty) due to frequent interruptions. Two red flags were shown during the session. After getting stuck behind a car following the second incident, Ma Qing Hua was just able to hang on to his 12th place and win through to Q2 with his three teammates.
The second instalment was just as breathtaking. José María López, Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller occupied the top three spots from the off. After their second lap, the three Citroën drivers remained in the same order, with Pechito’s 2:24.329 the time to beat. Realising that he wouldn’t be making it into Q3, Ma Qing Hua set his sights on tenth position so as to be able to start from pole in race 2, and he looked like he was going to achieve his goal right up until the chequered flag, when Tarquini’s improved time pushed the driver of C-Elysée WTCC n°33 down into eleventh.
After a rest day on the Saturday, the two races will be held in quick succession on the Sunday, at 11.15 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. Macau’s time zone is GMT+8, meaning that the races will get underway at 4.15 and 5.30 a.m. French time.
What they had to say
Xavier Mestelan, Deputy Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “On a circuit as perilous as this, our first cause for satisfaction is that all four of our cars are still in perfect condition after two days of driving. Congratulations to our drivers for their reliability and for their impressive performances. Together, we have put a lot of thought into how to optimise the setup to suit this unusual track. Qualifying was very tight, and our 1-2-3 means we can realistically aim for a win to round off the season. The outcome was more frustrating for Ma Qing Hua, who missed out on pole for race 2 by a whisker.”
José-María López: “I will remember this pole position for a long time. Macau is a circuit I have been wanting to discover for over ten years. But I never raced here in F3. My chance has come at the wheel of a Citroën WTCC! I did a lot of work on a simulator before I got here, but it’s a circuit that takes more time to adapt to than others. Given a clear track, you could be tempted to take the Mandarin Bend at top speed. But there are rails, so you need to go at it gradually to build your confidence. Seb and Yvan put me under pressure once again, but I’m delighted to have clocked the fastest time today.”
Sébastien Loeb: “We improved all the way through free practice and I felt really good in the car in qualifying. The second sector, the most winding part of the course, was where I made the most progress. I even tried using the handbrake on the hairpin, but it didn’t work out every time. In my Q3 lap, I made a slight mistake, braking too late before the last bend. And as I wasn’t very good over the first sector, Pechito won pole.”
Yvan Muller: “Everybody wants to finish the season on a high. I just wasn’t the fastest man out there today. We are having some difficulty rectifying my car’s understeering, and that makes things tough for me in the winding section.”
Ma Qing Hua: “I didn’t start Q2 with the ideal setup. We didn’t have time to change everything and we decided to focus on tenth place, which would give me pole position for race 2. In the end, it wasn’t to be, and I’ll have to start both races from eleventh spot.”
1. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 2’24’’294
2. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 2’24’’522
3. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC) 2’24’’779
4. Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic WTCC) 2’25’’327
5. Tom Coronel (Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1)
11. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)