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Seventh WTCC pole heaven for López in Qatar

José María López will start the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s first-ever night race from the DHL-presented pole position after he set the pace in qualifying for WTCC DHL Race of Qatar

World champion López, in a factory Citroën C-Elysée, was last to set his time in the Q3 showdown and excelled by outpacing rivals Mehdi Bennani, Sébastien Loeb, Hugo Valente and Nicky Catsburg to land pole for the seventh time in 2015 and the 14th time in his WTCC career. Bennani, who missed out on his maiden pole by 0.364s, was the leading Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy contender and narrows the gap to title rival Norbert Michelisz to six points after he earned a point for claiming the category top spot. Loeb’s bid to beat Yvan Muller to the overall runner-up spot received a boost as he claimed three points while Muller was unable to progress beyond Q2.

“Securing the championship at the last race meant I was a more relaxed and this played into my favour,” said López. “But you always have pressure and when the others improved I knew I had to go for it. The car was there for me, it was a nice lap and when I crossed the line it felt really nice like the first one. It’s always nice to do a pole and to be at the front of the field for race one.”

Honda driver Norbert Michelisz thought he’d made it into Q3 only for LADA’s Catsburg to knock him out in a dramatic Q2 finish. Ma Qing Hua also failed to reach Q3, finishing seventh quickest.

John Filippi was P10 in Qualifying Q2 and will therefore start the reverse-grid second race from first place with Tom Coronel, who qualified ninth, alongside him in a similar Chevrolet. Tiago Monteiro and Nicolas Lapierre were P11 and P12 respectively. “I’m very happy with this but first I must survive the first race,” said Frenchman Filippi, the WTCC’s youngest driver aged 20. “We have progressed and the car has improved a lot so we will try to do something good in the race.”

Gabriele Tarquini, Grégoire Demoustier, Tom Chilton, Rob Huff and local hero Nasser Al-Attiyah were unable to progress beyond Q1 with Tarquini admitting to making “some mistakes” at Turn 4. The two 12-lap races will take place under floodlights from 21h30 and 22h40 local time.