Photo: Citroën Racing

Yvan Muller takes pole in close fight with Citroën team-mate López

Yvan Muller has taken pole position in Slovakia in a close fight during the one-lap shootout, with the Citroën driver outpacing team-mate José María López to take his third pole of the season, while Lada’s Jaap van Lagen secured the reversed grid pole position for race two with tenth.

Qualifying was a fight principally between Lada and Citroën, with Lada leading the time sheets at the start of Q1 while the Citroëns waited to make their run later in the 20-minute session. When the Citroëns did show their colours, it was points leader José María López was fastest ahead of team-mate Ma Qing Hua, with Rob Huff and Nicky Catsburg third and fourth in the Lada Vestas.

The last driver to get bumped out of the top 12 was Zengo Motorsport driver Norbert Michelisz, who was knocked down to 13th by Mat’o Homola in the Campos Racing Chevrolet, with the Slovakian showing his best pace of the weekend despite technical issues blighting him in practice so far this weekend.

In the second part of qualifying, with ten minutes and a two-minute lap, it was effectively a one-shot affair, and the Citroëns led the way with Yvan Muller setting the fastest time ahead of José María López and Sébastien Loeb, with the two Ladas of Rob Huff and Nicky Catsburg completing the top five and heading into the one-lap shootout.

Hugo Valente was the best placed independent driver and Chevrolet in sixth, with Ma Qing Hua seventh in the Citroën seventh ahead of ROAL Chevrolet driver Tom Chilton eighth.

Gabriele Tarquini was ninth fastest and the only Honda in the top 12, and will start from the front-row for race two, while Jaap van Lagen qualified tenth and will therefore start race two from provisional pole position.

In the one-lap shootout, a mistake by Nicky Catsburg in sector two scuppered the Dutch driver’s chance to score Lada’s first pole position, putting one wheel out on the dirt on his run.

Rob Huff’s lap ensured he replicated Lada’s best qualifying result from the last round at the Moscow Raceway with fourth.

Sébastien Loeb was next up and although he was slower than the Ladas in the first sector, the second sector pace of the Citroën meant the rally champion was able to jump ahead of both of the Ladas to take provisional pole.

However, it was all about the last two runs, with José María López going first, with the Argentinian slowest of the five runners during that sector, but the best second sector of all saw him grab pole from team-mate Loeb and throw the gauntlet down to Muller.

Muller picked it up and ran with it though, blasting away the best sector which had been set by Rob Huff and almost matched López’s time in sector two to grab his third pole position of the season and reduce the gap to his title rival by one point.