Yvan Muller led a Chevrolet Cruze 1-2-3 at Donington Park, the three RML drivers making the most of the conditions as the rain stayed away for much of the World Touring Car Championship Race of the UK qualifying session.
There had been a momentary scare at the start of the first part of qualifying, when the rain returned to a drying track which had just welcomed the slick-shod WTCC field. Most drivers opted for a short run, braving the rain to run a handful of laps before coming into the pits.
The pause in the pitlane, while the rain was still falling, gave the teams a choice. Return to the track on slicks, or change to wets and hope the rain stayed. The majority opted for a new set of slick tyres, Gabriele Tarquini the notable exception, taking treaded Yokahamas on all four corners of his SUNRED Leon.
The wet tyre gamble did not pay off. Through parts of the track remained treacherous – Coppice in particular – the rest of the 4km track dried out, leaving Tarquini no option but to pit once more to fall into line with the rest of the field on slick tyres.
The charge on new slicks was led by the fleet of BMW privateers. Javier Villa was the first man out, and though he discovered the dangers of Coppice, locking up and sliding wide at the right hander, his run to fifth fastest at the point demonstrated the benefits of slick tyres.
Franz Engstler and Tom Coronel followed Villa's lead and into the second part of qualifying. Colin Turkington, back on form after a vibration kept him out of much of the second practice session, sat on provisional pole on several occasions as the order changed with every car that crossed the line. The Ulsterman's time in P1 was ended by the return of the works Cruzes with two minutes of the first part of qualifying left. Muller put the no.1 car on provisional pole before another flurry of times shuffled the order.
Tarquini – now on slick rubber – clocked the second best lap at the time, but still found himself pushed down to eleventh at the checkered flag, such was the speed the track was giving up extra grip lap-on-lap. Another casualty of the first part of qualifying was Robert Dahlgren. The Polestar Volvo driver had the man most likely to challenge the Chevrolets on the strength of his testing and practice pace ended the session well down the order, one of few drivers not to improve on his final flying lap.
Muller regained the top spot, heading his two RML stablemates with Darryl O'Young putting a fourth Chevrolet in the top ten.
With the rain staying away the second part of qualifying was a more straight forward affair. The three works Chevrolets led the top ten from the pitlane and set the first flying laps, Muller setting the fastest time as Rob Huff broke step with his teammates, losing time when he ran wide at Goddards on his first flying lap.
The Briton, who had led both the morning practice sessions bounced back to take provisional pole, before Muller retook the lead in the closing moment having survived a lurid slide, hanging a wheel into the Coppice gravel on his out lap. Alain Menu slotted into third to seal the domination with Tiago Monteiro – one of only two Leons to make it to qualifying 2, along with Michel Nykjaer, the best of the rest in fourth.
Muller summed up the sesson, complete with English weather he said could produce four seasons in a single day; “For sure it was not an easy session with the first session and the situation we had to slow down and not knowing how much attacking to do that was very complicated and why at the end I didn't want to take the risk but I went a bit faster than the plan, just in case.”
“On my out lap at turn eight,” Muller said, “I wanted to know how good or how bad the grip was because it was wet. I wanted to appreciate the grip but I went a bit too fast. It was not easy conditions because I cooled down my tyres and got a lot of dirt on my tyres. I had only one kilometre to clean my tyres and to refocus on my lap.”
Muller's final pole time – 1:38.470 was over ten seconds faster than the best of the practice laps and two seconds better than his own qualifying one marker.
Colin Turkington led the Yokahama Trophy contenders in fifth. Darryl O'Young was sixth fastest, having been as high as second in his Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet before the works examples emerged for their later runs, still he finished the session a little more than second off pole.
Engstler, Coronel, Villa and Nykjaer completed the top ten, Coronel having already taken tenth in the qualifying one times, and so pole for the second of tomorrow's races.