José María López will start his home round of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship from pole position after he outgunned his WTCC rivals during a sweltering qualifying session at Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo this afternoon.
The Argentine hero, WTCC champion in 2014, headed a Citroën lockout of the top four places with Tiago Monteiro the leading Honda driver in fifth. Yvan Muller was second, Sébastien Loeb third and Ma Qing Hua fourth. As well as starting Sunday’s opening 13-lap race in the provisional top spot, López has bagged five championship points for his eighth WTCC-career pole position, which is presented by the WTCC Official Logistics Partner DHL.
“It feels great,” said López, who was fastest in Q3 by 1.240 seconds at the wheel of his Yokohama-shod Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. “It doesn’t matter how you finish the previous year because everybody is competing. But we’re at the track I know the most and the one I can give my 100 per cent at. It was difficult, very hot but it’s important to start the season like this and winning tomorrow would mean the world to me.”
Muller, who won the first WTCC Race of Argentina in 2013, said: “After Q1 I was only P8 and really struggling to find the balance so in the end second place is good but I would liked to have been better. Now I must try to get a better start than my team-mate and keep him behind but it’s much more easy to say than to do.”
Loeb could have been higher up the order but for an off-track moment at the high-speed Turn 11 in Qualifying Q3. “In Q3 you need to try really hard if you want to get a good position,” said the nine-time world rally champion. “It’s what I did but I lost a little bit the rear in the fastest corner of the track, went wide and finished with four wheels on the grass. I tried but it was a little bit too much.”
China’s Ma Qing Hua was fastest of all in Qualifying Q2 but couldn’t quite better his Citroën team-mates in the one-lap pole position shootout. He starts race one in fourth with Monteiro fifth and Tom Chilton the leading Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy contender in sixth in the highest-placed Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1. Gabriele Tarquini was seventh for Honda, Stefano D’Aste eighth on his WTCC return after a one-year absence and Tom Coronel ninth.
Rob Huff was fastest in Qualifying Q1 in the all-new LADA Vesta but an engine misfire meant he was unable to replicate that impressive form in Qualifying Q2, which was momentarily halted to allow trackside marshals to recover Mehdi Bennani’s stricken Citroën after the Moroccan slid off into a gravel trap. While Huff was a frustrated 11th in Q2, team-mate James Thompson’s capture of the 10th fastest time means the Briton will start in pole position for Sunday’s second race under the reverse grid order regulations.
There was frustration for Norbert Michelisz and Hugo Valente. Michelisz was eliminated when his Honda Civic WTCC lost its front-left wheel while the Hungarian was on his first flying lap in Qualifying Q1, while Valente was unable to start the session following his crash in Free Practice 2 this morning. However, the rising French star has been given special dispensation to start Sunday’s races, despite his non-participation in qualifying. Dušan Borkovic, John Filippi, Grégoire Demoustier and Rickard Rydell were all eliminated from Qualifying Q1.
Sunday’s races are both scheduled for 13 laps with race one starting at 15h15 local time followed by the second race at 16h30. The races will be broadcast live in Argentina on FOX Sport 1, TV Publica and Canal 12 in Córdoba. Eurosport will show both races live in Europe and Asia while another 90 networks worldwide will broadcast the races as they happen.
José María López: 5pts
Yvan Muller: 4
Sébastien Loeb: 3
Ma Qing Hua: 2
Tiago Monteiro: 1
Media diary (Sunday 8 March)
08h00-12h00: Media accreditation open (accreditation tent)
08h00-until the last journalist leaves: Media Centre open
10h45: FIA Action for Road Safety WTCC drivers photo (Start/finish straight)
15h15: WTCC Race 1 (13 laps, track)
15h55 (approx.): WTCC podium race 1 (Podium area)
16h30: WTCC Race 2 (13 laps, track)
17h10 (approx.): WTCC podium race 2 (Podium area)
17h20 (approx.): WTCC post-race press conference (Media Centre)