Yvan Muller takes closely contested pole position in Russia

Citroën Racing’s Yvan Muller took his second pole position of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship season at the Moscow Raceway, less than half-a-tenth of a second ahead of championship leader José María López, but the Citroëns didn’t have it all their own way as they were pushed hard throughout qualifying by both Honda and Lada, with Gabriele Tarquini and Rob Huff qualifying third and fourth.

The first part of qualifying was all about the fight to make it into the top 12, and Lada put all their effort into making it into the second part of qualifying running new tyres for all three drivers Rob Huff, Jaap van Lagen and Nicky Catsburg, with the Russian manufacturer getting all three cars into the top 12 for the first time in their championship history.

Yvan Muller set the lap record during the first part of qualifying with a time of 1:37.900, which was never bettered throughout the session, with Gabriele Tarquini second, López third, Huff fourth and Valente’s Campos Chevrolet fifth come the end of the 20 minutes.

Mehdi Bennani just missed the top 12 cut-off in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée, with many of the Chevrolet RML drivers struggling for pace with Tom Coronel, Stefano D’Aste, Grégoire Demoustier and John Filippi also missing the cut, with only Tom Chilton and Hugo Valente able to make the top 12.

In Q2, it was López who went out and set the first target time ahead of Muller and Tarquini, while Huff, Tarquini and Chilton would set improvements on their second runs to make the top five shootout, with Ma Qing Hua just missing out after being held up on his fast run behind the Zengő Honda of Norbert Michelisz.

Nicky Catsburg was called into scrutineering and ran out of time to set a second run in his Lada on his debut, but with both team-mate Jaap van Lagen, and perhaps more surprisingly Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb unable to improve on their second runs, the Dutch driver made the top ten with ninth on his WTCC debut, with Tiago Monteiro securing the critical tenth position and therefore pole position for race two, while Loeb and van Lagen will line-up 11th and 12th for both races tomorrow.

In the Q3 shootout, it was down to the ROAL Chevrolet of Tom Chilton, Lada’s Rob Huff, Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini and the two Citroëns of Yvan Muller and José María López to fight for pole in that order.

With each lap, each driver improved until López, with the Argentinian unable to get the better of Muller, with the four-time champion therefore taking his second pole position of the season, and with it the five points for pole position which safely moves him ahead of Loeb in the drivers’ standings.

“It was a tough lap,” said Muller. “The time difference is very small, every thousandth was important. Of course there are some other thousandths to find but thankfully it was enough.”

With former team-mate and the eldest driver on the grid Gabriele Tarquini lining up third and proving to be the main threat to a Citroën pole position this weekend, the Frenchman remarked:

“It’s nice to see different colours, and nice to see the old men are not completely finished.”

The first 16 lap race starts at 12:15 local time on Sunday.