WTCC newcomer sensational in qualifying but pays the price for pit lane woe
Privateer quickest in all but one Saturday track session as López takes pole
Michelisz second, Coronel fastest WTCC Trophy contender in Termas de Río Hondo
The FIA World Touring Car Championship has a new star after rookie Esteban Guerrieri went quickest of all in qualifying for WTCC Race of Argentina. However, it was double champion José María López who came out on top for DHL Pole Position number five of 2016 after Guerrieri’s stunning effort was disallowed because he failed to stop at the pit exit ahead of his flying lap.
Guerrieri, in a privateer Chevrolet, carried his pace-setting form from Free Practice into the first phase of qualifying, before López beat him to head Q2 as the glory fight between the home racers intensified. In the Q3 single-lap shootout for pole, Guerrieri set a lap time of 1m42.857s, 0.388s faster than the previous benchmark recorded by Norbert Michelisz.
However, he soon had his time disallowed for not stopping at the pit exit lights on his way out onto the 4.806-kilometre Circuito Termas de Río Hondo, amid fears he would damage the clutch on his Campos Racing having been unable to select neutral.
Armed with the knowledge that has countryman’s attempt to steel the limelight had failed, Citroën driver López knew that it was Michelisz’s time that he had to beat, and he was able to do this by 0.201s to secure pole ahead of the factory Honda racer who made it to Q3 with the fifth-best time.
“I’m very happy,” said López. “Honestly for me it was very important to come back a little bit from the mistakes we did in the last ‘qualies’, especially Vila Real. We worked well and in the end it was a very good result for me and the team. I wanted to fight for pole but I also have to think for the championship. In the end the team told me Esteban had been penalised and I took it a bit easier on the lap because I didn’t want to do a mistake. Five points is important for me because Tiago [Monteiro] was not in Q3 this time. It was a step forward to our objective [of winning the title]. There is still a long way to go but I am pleased how it went today.”
Guerrieri, who grew up in European single-seaters and used to race against current F1 stars Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, added: “I was fastest on track and I’m really pleased with that but I have mixed feelings after qualifying. I couldn’t get neutral to work and I was worried I would burn the clutch waiting for the lights to change and I also had a problem with the radio and talking to the team. But I have to put this behind me and focus on tomorrow.”
Tom Coronel was a fine third and the highest-placed WTCC Trophy driver in his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1. Yvan Muller was forced to settle for fourth for Citroën, with Guerrieri fifth on the grid for Sunday’s Main Race.
The best of those eliminated in Q2, Rob Huff will start sixth ahead of Mehdi Bennani, Tiago Monteiro, Tom Chilton and John Filippi, whose capture of P10 puts him P1 for the Opening Race. James Thompson and Gregoire Demoustier made it through to Q2 at the expense of LADA drivers Hugo Valente, Nicky Catsburg and Gabriele Tarquini, all knocked out in Q1 together with Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk and Robert Dahlgren and Zengo Motorsport’s Dániel Nagy.
Sunday’s Opening Race is over 13 laps and starts at 14h10 local time. The Main Race, which is scheduled for 14 laps, gets underway at 15h20.