Citroën Racing’s José María López made the most of the changing track conditions to achieve yet another pole position in Shanghai, host of the tenth round of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car season.
The reigning champion set a best lap of 1:49.447, piping local hero Ma Qing Hua by just 0.114 seconds.
The session took place in early morning conditions after being rescheduled due to a damaged safety barrier in one of the support races. The changes in track temperature from what would have been expected for an afternoon session conditioned the drivers to adapt their car setups very quickly.
Q1 started with all drivers taking to the track. Both Castrol Hondas went back to the pits before completing a flying lap and the first attempt around the track saw Lada’s Nicky Catsburg taking the top spot, just ahead of Tom Chilton and team-mate Nico Lapierre.
Hugo Valente went out in the Chevrolet RML Cruze from Campos Racing, and stole the top spot, being quickly improved by Lada’s Rob Huff, setting a time of 1:50.033. Next into first position was Sebastien Loeb at the wheel of his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, with team-mate Yvan Muller climbing up to third.
With just over five minutes to go, José María López went fastest with a best time of 1:49.647. At that time, both Castrol Hondas were in the danger zone, with Gabriele Tarquini in 12th position and Tiago Monteiro last but one, and going out with just enough time to manage one flying lap.
Nico Lapierre took his Lada to fifth place, whilst Tiago Monteiro improved to 14th position, with Tarquini going ninth, enough to go to the next round.
After all the last minute improvements, it was José María López, followed by Sebastien Loeb, Rob huff, Yvan Muller, Nicky Catsburg, Nico Lapierre, Mehdi Bennani, John Filippi, Hugo Valente, Gabriele Tarquini, Tom Coronel and Ma Qing Hua going through to Q2.
Tom Chilton was disappointed at being 13th, the position he will have on both starting grids today: “I couldn’t get the tyres to work, got a lot of understeering and oversteering, and I got called into the weighting bridge, so I couldn’t do a third run.”
Q2 started with José María López setting the fastest time, followed by team-mates Ma Qing Hua, Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller.
Nicky Catsburg got up to fourth position after his first attempt, whilst Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente and John Filippi and ROAL’s Tom Coronel waited for a clean track before their first run.
The Citroën contingent got ready for a second run, with Gabriele Tarquini coming out of his Honda Civic when he was seventh.
Hugo Valente completed a first flying lap with a few seconds left on the clock to go tenth, the French driver “kissing” the tyre barrier at the entrance of the main straight. The Campos Racing driver tried to do a second flying lap, but aborted his attempt, remaining in tenth place and with pole position for Race 2. Rob Huff didn’t improve in his last run, and qualified in sixth position.
After the second leg of the session was completed, it was José María López, Ma Qing Hua, Sebastien Loeb, Nicky Catsburg and Yvan Muller going through to Q3.
Hugo Valente was upset after being prevented from going faster: “I was looking to improve, but there were two Citroëns ahead of me in sector 1, I flashed my lights but they didn’t get out the way. We are pole for Race 2, so we have to make a good start and take it from there.”
Yvan Muller was the first out in Q3 at the wheel of his C-Elysée WTCC. The four-time champion completed a lap with a time of 1:50.108.
Next up was Lada’s Nicky Catsburg, who has consistently been fast with the Vesta WTCC. The Dutch driver clocked a time of 1:49.619, jumping to first position provisionally.
It was then Sebastien Loeb’s turn, who saw his front splitter adjusted with seconds to spare in order to go out in time. The Frenchman set a lap of 1:49.665, going second fastest.
Local hero Ma Qing Hua was next on the track. The Chinese driver completed a best lap of 1:49.561, climbing to the top of the classification.
José María López was fifth and last on track. The reigning champion clocked a lap in 1:49.447, scoring his fifth pole this year and 12th in his WTCC career.
Nicky Catsburg was pleasantly surprised at the result, being the best Lada on the grid: “I’m very surprised to be honest. I pushed thinking I was going to make the most of being fifth and I was third!”
Ma Qing Hua felt disappointed to not be able to get pole position in his home ground: “The result is ok, but not what I wanted. I was looking for pole position, but we were very close. The conditions had changed since yesterday, so we had to work on the balance. Here we have a good baseline to compare data with last year, so I think that we are looking good for this afternoon.”
José María López acknowledged the session wasn’t plain sailing: “It wasn’t easy today, I’m sorry for Ma but everybody is pushing and trying to do their best. The conditions were tricky as they were changing. My lap wasn’t clean, I had to push a lot. Congratulations to the team, we will be back on the track in a few hours!”
After the qualifying session, José María López has 356 points in his account, with a margin of 78 over team-mate at Citroën Racing Yvan Muller.
Race 1 is scheduled for 14:30 local time.
Tamara Aller / TouringCarTimes