José Maria López claims fourth pole position of the year in Vila Real

Citroën Racing’s José María López took his fourth pole position of the 2015 WTCC season at Vila Real by over half a second ahead of team-mate Sébastien Loeb. López’s pole came in a qualifying session strewn with controversy, with Citroën also locking out the front row for race two, with Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua strategically setting the ninth and tenth fastest times, with Ma pole for race two.

In the first part of qualifying, López led the way ahead of Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb with Zengo Honda’s Norbert Michelisz third in a session which saw plenty of drama.

The session was red flagged halfway through when Yvan Muller left the pits with the hand-held fan attached to his radiator, which came loose on the track and needed to be gathered up by the marshals.

The Frenchman left it until the final moments of qualifying to set a competitive time which then knocked Münnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste out of the top 12. This meant Lada’s Rob Huff found himself 12th, but was also struggling with a set-up issue, and following a late improvement from team-mate Jaap van Lagen, the 2012 champion found himself 13th and unable to progress to Q2.

Tom Coronel was on a flying run in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet, but was caught out by traffic when he came across Citroën’s Ma Qing Hua at the end of the session, and ended up 15th, with the Dutch driver delivering strong words for the Chinese driver.

“He was slow on purpose,” said Coronel. “I had my lights on and everything, and he just stopped in the chicane. This guy needs to get disqualified.”

In the second part of qualifying, a hub failure on the front-left of Néstor Girolami’s Nika Honda ended the Argentinian’s strong run this weekend and meant he would start no better than 12th tomorrow. After a long delay, the session resumed but Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani damaged the rear-right of his C-Elysée WTCC. This meant the top ten reversed grid would apply to all drivers who set a time in Q2, which seemed to come into the forefront of Citroëns minds when both Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua set uncompetitive times on their runs, with Ma’s lap a whole 1 minute 17 seconds off the pace ensuring the Chinese driver secured pole for race two with the tenth fastest time.

López’s time of 1:59.173 was the quickest in the session ahead of Loeb, while Gabriele Tarquini was third fastest for Honda ahead of Norbert Michelisz in the privateer Honda, with Hugo Valente the other driver to make it through to the top five shootout.

Local driver Tiago Monteiro was sixth fastest for Honda ahead of the Lada pair of Nicky Catsburg and Jaap van Lagen, who lock out row four which will be row two for race two.

In the one-lap shootout, Valente set a good target time of 1:59.333, while Norbert Michelisz was unable to go better on his lap and set a time just above the two-minute mark in his Honda Civic.

Gabriele Tarquini was faster than Valente in the first sector on his run, but a mistake at the first chicane saw no chance of improvement so the Italian opted to pit and settled for fifth.

Sébastien Loeb was next and was behind Valente’s time through the first two sectors, but made it up in sector three and went fastest with a time of 1:59.090.

López was next, and the reigning champion was almost three-tenths up in sector one and continued to build on this through the lap, and took pole position with a time of 1:58.515, half a second clear of Loeb with Valente demoted to Loeb.

With the additional five points for pole position, and with Muller ninth and not picking up points for qualifying, the Argentinian’s championship lead is increased to 44 points ahead of the two races tomorrow.

The first race is due to take place at 11:45 WEST.