Andy Priaulx claimed his first World Touring Car Championship pole position since 2006 in qualifying at Okayama in Macau. His teammate Augusto Farfus was second to complete a front-row lockout for BMW Team RBM.
This achievement took place in controversial circumstances though, after the team switched to running a sequential gearbox to benefit from a reduction in ballast. The two factory BMWs adopted the six-speed Xtrac system rather than the traditional 5-speed H-pattern box, allowing them to gain a 30kg reduction in weight. Running a sequential box leads to a 30kg increase in the car's base weight, which is why the BMWs have not previously opted to use it. However, the WTCC's compensation weight system, designed to level the playing field between the different cars on the grid, leads to a difference of 60kg in ballast between those running the sequential box and those that are not.
Team Engstler driver Andrei Romanov has been running a sequential gearbox in his BMW 320si all season, meaning that his lap times are used as the benchmark for determining the ballast applied to the car. With the Russian driver having been 2.6 seconds off the pacesetting Chevrolet Cruze over the past three events, a BMW 320si running a sequential gearbox currently receives ballast of -20kg. With the manual RBM BMWs receiving +40kg, running a sequential gearbox allows them to run 60kg lighter in terms of ballast, making a net gain of -30kg when the base weight penalty is applied.
This controversy follows the events at Brands Hatch, where BMW Team RBM were blocked from switching to an older specification of 320si used by independent drivers in an attempt to have less ballast. Chevrolet have announced their intention to appeal the decision over the sequential gearbox.
Colin Turkington, who benefits from -20kg of ballast in his WSR BMW (as it is considered to be an old model compared to that run by RBM), was surprisingly fastest in the first part of qualifying. Norbert Michelisz had initially gone quickest, but was replaced at the top of the timesheets by the BMWs of Farfus and Priaulx. Turkington went quickest in the final minutes. Also making it through to Q2 were the three Chevrolets, Gabriele Tarquini, debutant Michael Rossi and independent BMW driver Franz Engstler, who had also switched to running the sequential gearbox.
Amongst those missing out on Q2 were the SEATs of Tiago Monteiro, Michel Nykjaer, Fredy Barth and Tom Coronel. The quartet will line up in 11th, 12th, 16th and 17th respectively. Volvo driver Robert Dahlgren qualified 14th.
Wiechers-Sport pairing Mehdi Bennani and Masataka Yanagida originally qualified 23rd and 25th, but had their times disallowed after the team downloaded from the car's data loggers when they were in parc ferme conditions at the end of Q1.
Priaulx set a pole position time of 1:36.972, 0.436 seconds quicker than teammate Farfus. Rob Huff qualified third, as the best of the Chevrolets. Turkington ended up fourth, ahead of Michelisz and Tarquini. Alain Menu was seventh, while championship leader Yvan Muller could only manage eighth. Rossi was ninth, with Engstler tenth.