ALAIN MENU of Switzerland pipped his closest contenders on the last lap at Sonoma to garner the pole for Sundays World Touring Car Challenge Series races. His lap was 1:45.232/85.71 mph/137.93 kph in No.8 Chevrolet. It was a very exciting session, which saw the top spot change almost as fast as each car took the checkered flag. There were at least four changes on the last lap.
GABRIELE TARQUINI of Italy was second, driving No.3 SEAT Leon WTCC, followed by current points leader YVAN MULLER of France in No.1 Chevrolet and his teammate, ROBERT HUFF of Great Britain in No.2 Chevrolet. Fifth was NORBERT MICHELISZ of Hungary/No.5 Zengo Motorsport. Michelisz was the top Yokohama Trophy qualifying driver and leads the standings for privateer/independent drivers. Muller is going for his third straight WTCC Championship, and fourth in five years
Saturday’s wine country weather for WTCC Qualifying was hot with a listless breeze – 82 degrees F/28 C. That was quite a change from morning practices, at 57F/14C in P1 and 71F/22C in P2.
WTCC qualifying is run in two segments – everyone in Q1 and the top 12 in Q2. But, it’s considered one session. ALEKSEI DUDUKALO of Russia missed Q2. In Q1, he beached his No.4 Lukoil Racing Team SEAT Leon WTCC up the hill between Turns One and Two in Q1. Dudukalo required assistance to get restarted. WTCC rules decree if you can’t restart under your own power, you are through for the rest of the session. So – Dudukalo missed Q2.
In Q1, Muller was fastest, followed by teammate Huff, Tarquini, Menu and TIEGO MONTEIRO/No.3 Lukoil Racing Team SEAT Leon WTCC.
The two WTCC Sprint races are run differently. Race One has a rolling start and the pole position starts on the left – inside at Sonoma. Race Two has a standing start, and the pole car starts on the right – outside. That grid has the top ten Q2 starting in reverse order, meaning the Race 2 pole driver will be STEFANO D’ASTE of Italy in No.26 Weichers-Sport BMW 320 TC.
Menu was not happy with having to start Race One on the left.
This was Menu’s fourth pole this season. He characterized it as his last gasp pole. Menu admitted to making a mistake in Turn Four, which did not make him happy. The team changed his car a tiny bit for Q2.
Muller said he was not surprised Menu got pole position. “We know the Chevrolets have been quick everywhere. This course is quite challenging. I like it.”
Menu was effusive, as were all the drivers, about the Sonoma circuit. He said “The course was fantastic, and my lap was clean. With so many cars going off in all the races, the track was dirty. but, it (the change) worked.”
“Track conditions change quickly as temperatures change, making setup a bit difficult. Conditions didn’t change much between the two qualifying sessions, but did change between practice and qualifying. A dirty track around a blind corner can be tricky.
“There are overtaking opportunities, maybe up to three places where it’s possible. It’s easier to make a mistake on this track than tracks in Europe.”
Tarquini was the second fastest qualifier. He said “I made a mistake with my engineer. We made changes before the last two laps, and I destroyed my tires. Tire wear is very hard. My mistake. My car was very good. Sonoma is an exciting track – fantastic. Starting second won’t be a disadvantage here. Turn Two is good, but I prefer Turn Three. It’s a good fight to survive in that corner on every lap.
“Chevrolet is the car to beat.
“After watching everyone yesterday, I thought this track is for young drivers. But, after seeing today’s qualifying performance, that’s not true.” Tarquini is the second oldest driver in the series, and Menu is third.
Tarquini predicted surprises in Sunday’s races.
The Americans have a saying that Age and Treachery will triumph over Youth and Good Looks. Stay tuned.
Muller said “I race harder to keep in front of (teammate) Huff, who’s second in the standings. This is not the moment to play any games. I have to push.
“My second try in Q2 didn’t work. Starting third is better than fourth, but I have the car …. my mistake in turn nine cost me. We’ll be tough. Tires will be absolutely a factor. We’re having more wear than expected, so I’ll have to be gentle on tires.”
Michelisz, current privateer points leader, – first in the Yokohama Trophy for privateers – to be 1.326 seconds off the pole is not good. I need to be first in the independents.” His closest competitor is ALEX MACDOWALL of Great Britain/No.11 bamboo-engineering Chevrolet, who qualified sixth. “Maybe I don’t try to take too many risks to fight with Alex.”
A couple of cars drove off in Turn Five including TOM CORONEL, again, in his No.15 ROAL Motorsport BMW 320 TC.
The WTCC sprint races start at 1:35 pm local time. They will be televised, tape delay on SPEED. Check your local listings.