Gabriele Tarquini scored his second successive pole position at Honda dominated qualifying for round three of the World Touring Car Championship at the Slovakia Ring, with the three Civics locking out the top three spots on the grid.
After topping both of the earlier practice sessions and then posting the quickest time in the first segment of qualifying, Tarquini’s 2m10.773s on his first lap in Q2 was enough to secure pole.
Factory team-mate Tiago Monteiro took second, 0.104s behind with Norbert Michelisz only a further 12 thousandths of a second behind in his Zengo Motorsport-run car.
“This is like a dream for me with Honda Civics in first, second and third positions,” said Tarquini afterwards. “It is a very good feeling for me, Tiago and Norbert but especially for the team.
“After Marrakech we had so much work to do I honestly worried that we would not be in such a strong position here in Slovakia. But I really discovered a fantastic car this morning and after I tried a new set of tyres in Free Practice I knew we could be in with a chance of setting a good time. I saved a fresh set of Yokohama tyres for Q2 and I had a clear road so I set the time without any slipstream help. It is the best place to start the race and we really will work to make certain Honda takes the first race victory since joining the WTCC this year.”
Monteiro added: “After two very difficult events it is a miracle to be here with second fastest. My thanks to the JAS team for building a completely new racing Civic for me after the Marrakech accident. The car felt really good from the start and with the adjustments we made during the tests I was right on the pace.
“I did get some slipstream pull from Gabriele in Q2 but I got a bit greedy in the last corner and slowed just a bit but to have three Hondas leading the grid is fantastic for the whole team. I realise I am fighting against the best driver in the world but Gabriele and I are professionals and we know how important the result is for Honda.”
After a tough opening couple of weekends to the season, Michelisz was pleased with third: “For us it is a new car, a new season and therefore a new start. I am really pleased that it worked so well for qualifying and I am third fastest. My aim is to get two clean races tomorrow and I can’t wait for next week’s Hungaroring event which of course is my home track and I hope many thousands of my fans will come to the circuit to cheer us. It will be great to show how fast the Honda is there as well.”
After the three Hondas came three Chevrolets, with championship leader Yvan Muller fourth and only 0.168s off pole. His RML team-mate Tom Chilton was fifth with fellow Englishman Alex MacDowall in sixth as the top Yokohama Trophy runner.
“I think we have to be very happy, considering last year we didn’t even make it into Q2,” said the Cumbrian Bamboo Engineering driver. “Slovakia has to be one of my bogey tracks, but I did a lot of work on the simulator before coming out here to see where I could gain a little time. I made a small mistake in FP2 so we didn’t really get a good understanding of where we were. I had a good lap in Q1, which meant I could go into Q2 with a better set of tyres; it wasn’t a perfect lap but it was a safe lap and so P6 is okay.”
Reigning world champion Rob Huff was seventh fastest in his SEAT, but was handed a ten-place grid penalty for failing a ride-height check. That promotes MacDowall’s team-mate James Nash to seventh, Pepe Oriola to eighth, Tom Coronel to ninth and Mehdi Bennani to tenth.
The first qualifying segment was red-flagged early after a heavy shunt for Darryl O’Young. The BMW driver emerged unscathed but left a lot of work for the ROAL Motorsport mechanics to do to get him out for Sunday’s races.