Lopez edges closer to WTCC with sensational Thai pole

José María López will start the inaugural WTCC Race of Thailand from pole position following a blitzing run in Qualifying Q3 at the Chang International Circuit this morning to further boost his chances of becoming world champion for a second time in succession later today*.

Armed with a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, López edged his four rivals in the sweltering shootout for the top five grid places for this afternoon’s opening race after lapping the 4.554-kilometre track in Buriram in 1m37.916s, the fastest time by a touring car around the state-of-the-art track so far.

“I want to start with congratulating all the Citroën team for doing a fantastic job again and getting five cars in Q3,” said López. “We are here because of them but it was a difficult Qualifying. In the end it was good for me but it was the first time this year that in Q2 I was out with five minutes before the end and I was a bit surprised because I had made no visible mistakes. It was the first time this weekend that we had used new tyres and it was not easy. I think the key moment was the second lap in Q2 because I saw on my dash I was four-tenths behind my best lap and I said if I don’t push now it’s over. I tried to go more – sometimes when you go more you lose everything – but I improved everything I lost in the first corner with a mistake before. I said if I don’t miss the first corner in Q3 then it could be okay but I didn’t know if the others could improve. I did a clean lap and I was surprised when I was under 1m38 seconds. I was really pleased because I could feel the pressure inside for the title decider so it’s a very important to have the pole position.”

Sébastien Loeb will join his Argentine team-mate on the front row of the grid with Yvan Muller third after the Frenchman made it out of Q1 with seconds to spare. López’s capture of five points for the DHL-presented pole position – the 13th of his career – means his margin over title rival Muller stands at 77 points ahead of the first of this afternoon’s two 14-lap races. Victory will make him provisional world champion. Ma Qing Hua was fifth quickest but will start fourth after Mehdi Bennani’s Q3 lap was deleted for a track limit infringement at Turn 8.

Campos Racing privateer Hugo Valente was sixth fastest in his Chevrolet followed by LADA’s Nicky Catsburg, ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton, Honda duo Tiago Monteiro and Norbert Michelisz, LADA’s Rob Huff and John Filippi in a Campos Chevrolet. The 21-year-old Corsican impressed with the third fastest time in Q1 but his efforts to progress into Q3 were hampered when he encountered traffic on his flying lap. Michelisz’s P10 effort means he will start race two from pole in his Zengő Civic WTCC, while the top 13 drivers were covered by 0.9s in Qualifying Q1 to underline the highly competitive nature of the WTCC.

Factory Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini and works LADA pilot Nicolas Lapierre were knocked out in Q1, technical problems prevented Tom Coronel and Stefano D’Aste from setting meaningful times in their Chevrolets, while Grégoire Demoustier and local hero Tin Sritrai were also unable to continue beyond Q1.

Lapierre complained of understeer, while Tarquini, who will start race one from the back of the grid when a five-place grid penalty for his clash with Huff in WTCC Race of China is applied, said: “After FP2 yesterday I was quite happy with the set-up but we never tested on new tyres and the car didn’t work like I expected on the new tyres,” said the 2009 WTCC champion. “I tried to react but in 20 minutes you have no time. I tried to play for 10th position [to start race two from pole] but it didn’t work.”

Rounds 21 and 22 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship take place at 16h15 and 17h20 local time respectively. With ambient temperatures set to exceed 30 degrees centigrade, two intense races are expected in Buriram with all the action shown live on television around the world.

*All results remain subject to official FIA confirmation