Sonoma Qualifying: Chilton grabs first pole

RML’s Tom Chilton grabbed his maiden pole position in WTCC, beating his team-mate Yvan Muller by only one tenth of a second with a last gasp lap in Q2.

Muller, however, took another step towards securing the 2013 Drivers’ Championship when he qualified in second place. The Frenchman has a mathematical opportunity to take his fourth WTCC crown tomorrow, while Honda could also wrap up the Manufacturers’ title.

The Honda Civic of Tiago Monteiro claimed the third spot on the grid, the only car capable of splitting the group of Chevrolet machineries. Alex MacDowall of bamboo-engineering qualified fifth and best of the Yokohama Trophy, ahead of his team-mate James Nash.

Gabriele Tarquini will start from pole position of the top-ten reverse grid for the second race.

The first of tomorrow’s races is scheduled to start at 11.50 local time with Race 2 at 14.20.

Qualifying 1

Muller set a best lap time of 1:45.941 late in the session and was the only driver to beat the 1:46.000 barrier. Behind the Chevrolet were the two Honda Civic cars of Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz, with Muller’s teammate Tom Chilton and Pepe Oriola rounding off the top five. A frustrated Tom Coronel was knocked out of the top twelve in the dying moments of the session when Mehdi Bennani and then Marc Basseng set lap times good enough to take them into the second stage of Qualifying. The following drivers went through to Q2: Muller, Monteiro, Michelisz, Chilton, Oriola, Basseng, Tarquini, Huff, Bennani, MacDowall, Nykjaer and Nash.

Qualifying 2

Muller immediately signaled his intentions by setting a lap time of 1:45.708 ahead of Chilton and Monteiro. Following a change of tyres, Chilton then snatched his first WTCC pole position from his colleague at the very last moment with a lap of 1:45.583.

Monteiro (1:46.240) will start Race 1 from third on the grid, alongside the Chevrolet of Pepe Oriola (1:46.266), with Alex MacDowall fifth (1:46.411) and the leading Yokohama Trophy competitor. After qualifying in tenth place with a lap time of 1:46.865, Gabriele Tarquini will start from pole position for Race 2.

Quotes from fastest drivers

Tom Chilton, pole position: “It’s not easy beating Yvan – I think everyone knows that he’ll be four-times World Champion this year – but it’s fantastic to get my first pole position in World Touring Cars. I really love this track. It was quite a scary lap, I could have come off at least three times but I just hung it all together and it was very enjoyable to drive – a great car. I was a little worried going into Q2 because it didn’t feel as though my steering lock was quite straight. I’d clearly done something when I spun at the end of Q1 and I was worried that I’d flat-spotted all four tyres. I’m just really happy that the car didn’t hit the wall because it was quite close. You just come off-line here by a couple of inches and you run wide really easily.”

Yvan Muller, second: “Okay, I’m disappointed that I’m not on pole position, but I’m pleased that my run has been ended by Tom. He did a perfect lap and he’s been fast all weekend and I just couldn’t catch him. I thought my first run in Q2 was enough for pole because there was a big gap; I still pushed on the second attempt but I had a big understeer at the first corner and lost one or two tenths. When you push, you risk making a mistake. I just couldn’t put together all three sectors today and Tom did it and deserves his pole position.”

Tiago Monteiro, third: “We are having an interesting weekend; we were right on the pace from the beginning but then we started to focus on a different area. We are still developing the car and we discover new things everywhere we go and so we kept working on that. This morning we really focused on developing and, yes, we were far away but we knew where we were. Of course, I hoped we could fight for pole position and I did a very nice lap but it wasn’t enough to beat these guys. I’m happy for the whole team because we are improving all the time and results like this are good motivation for everyone.”

Alex MacDowall, fifth overall and first in Yokohama Trophy: “I’m reasonably happy to qualify on pole for the Tropht because it’s always tough to beat guys who are in the same machinery. I’ve not been performing to what I should be and there’s quite a big points gap to make up. I was happy with my first lap, but I was going for the glory on the second lap and just got too much oversteer in Turn 1. It’s a very tough track on which to get the perfect lap and so I’m reasonably happy; it’s a good result.”