Qatar WTCC: Bennani takes shock pole for season finale
Mehdi Bennani has taken his first outright pole position in the WTCC at Losail, and the first for Sebastien Loeb Racing, after outperforming the two factory Citroens of Jose Maria Lopez and Yvan Muller in the one-lap shootout.
“Pechito” produced a record breaking lap in the first part of qualifying, smashing his lap record from last year by over a second with a time of 1m59.788s.
The Argentinian’s closest challenger in Qualifying 1 was the Polestar Cyan Volvo S60 of Thed Bjork, with Norbert Michelisz third fastest in the Honda Civic.
The three Chevrolets failed to make the cut in the first segment of qualifying, with Tom Coronel the fastest of the three in 13th in the ROAL Motorsport entry, qualifying ahead of James Thompson’s Munnich car, with John Filippi 15th for Campos Racing.
The two Zengo Hondas of Ferenc Ficza and Daniel Nagy followed, with Gregoire Demoustier in last place for Sebastien Loeb Racing in the Citroen C-Elysee WTCC.
With just ten minutes for the second part of qualifying around the 5.4km circuit, there was time for only one run for each driver.
The two Citroens went out first, and it was Muller this time who was faster than Lopez by just seven-thousandths of a second, but before anyone else could complete a lap the red flags were out as Lada’s Hugo Valente stopped on circuit with broken suspension.
With just five minutes left, it was a mad dash for everyone to squeeze their final lap in with no margin for error.
Muller decided his time was good enough for the top five and came back into the pits, allowing Lopez to take the honours, with the triple-champion producing a time just a fraction slower than his Q1 time.
Volvo’s Bjork, Honda’s Michelisz and the privateer Citroen of Bennani did enough to get themselves into the top five shootout, while the Hondas of Rob Huff, Tiago Monteiro were sixth and seventh fastest, with Volvo’s Robert Dahlgren eighth.
The fastest Lada was Gabriele Tarquini in ninth, who will share the front row of the reversed grid opening race with Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Tom Chilton who was tenth fastest, while the Ladas of Nicky Catsburg and Valente will occupy row six for both races.
In the top five shootout, Bennani set down a target time of 2m00.456s in his C-Elysee. Michelisz was up on the Moroccan’s time in the second sector, but the Hungarian clipped the tyre stack at Turn 13 and broke his front-left suspension, careering into the gravel trap and caused qualifying to be red flagged.
Bjork was up next, but the Swede was just less than a tenth of a second behind Bennani on his lap. Muller followed, and the retiring former champion was up in the first three sectors, before a mistake in the fourth saw him lose almost a second and narrowly missed a tyre stack, which meant he was only able to set a time good enough for fourth on the grid for his final race in the championship.
Lopez was next up and only had to replicate his Q1 and Q2 time to secure pole position for his final race, but the Argentinian failed to deliver, losing time in the final sector, allowing Bennani to score his first pole position in the championship, with SLR cars on pole position for both of this evening’s races.
Citroen unchallenged in MAC3 win
The French manufacturer won the final MAC3 of the season, after their two manufacturer rivals were unable to field cars in the final time trial event of the season after both Honda and Lada lost a car due to damage in qualifying.
Lada driver Valente’s car suffered suspension failure in Qualifying 2 and the team were unable to repair the car in time for the post-qualifying event, while Honda driver Michelisz had clipped a tyre stack in sector three in the top five shootout, also ruling Honda out of the challenge.
Having fielded the SLR trio for the first time this season, Citroen just had to record a laptime to win the MAC3, which they did setting a time of 4m13.756s.
Neil Hudson / TouringCarTimes
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