Gabriele Tarquini gave Honda its first pole position in the World Touring Car Championship in qualifying in Marrakech, beating the Chevrolets of James Nash and Yvan Muller.
After the Italian’s Civic had lacked pace two weeks ago in Monza as Muller dominated, Tarquini was able to post the fastest time in qualifying in Morocco.
“I’m very happy, though a little bit surprised, because the characteristics of this track are similar to Monza’s,” said the veteran. “This result means that the team have done a fantastic job between the two events; they changed something in the engine and this helped us to fill the gap with the Chevrolet cars.
“We improved in top speed that was our main problem in Monza. The car feels good at braking and jumping over the kerbs. It’s a fantastic car and very easy to drive on this track. On top of this I managed to use the group of the Chevrolet cars to benefit from a good slipstreaming. Tomorrow‘s races will be the first ones for me with the Civic on the dry track. In the winter test I was surprised by how good was the car in race simulation. And after today’s pole position I feel very optimistic.”
Nash made up for a challenging first weekend in the Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet in Monza to claim his and the team’s best ever qualifying result, just 0.048 seconds slower than Tarquini.
“Last year I have been dreaming to sit in a car that would allow me to achieve such results,” he said. “Obviously today I feel very happy to be the fastest of the Chevrolet drivers in qualifying, having beaten some of these super-good drivers.
“I was only half-a-tenth slower than Gabriele, but I think that on this kind of street tracks it’s very easy to lose a bit here and there. In my second run I wanted to beat Gabriele’s time and maybe I braked a little bit too late somewhere. And that was the end of it. Tomorrow I will be definitely focusing on fighting for the overall victory.”
After topping both practice sessions, Muller was expected to continue his unbeaten start to 2013 in his RML Chevrolet. His qualifying effort was hampered by encountering the slower SEAT of Fernando Monje.
“This is the kind of track where you have to switch off the brain and jumps over the kerbs,” said Muller. “I’m maybe too old for that… For sure this is not my favourite circuit. But even so my lap time could have been better.
“Unfortunately Monje stayed on the racing line while coming out of the pit and this cost me some times on my best lap. But tomorrow is another story. I will try to be cautious at the start and then wait for some opportunities to make a move. Though the championship has just started; it’s too early to take risks and my priority will be to claim a podium result.”
The five Chevrolets filled the five spots behind Tarquini’s Honda. Michel Nykjaer was fourth for Nika Racing, ahead of Muller’s teammate Tom Chilton, who was going quicker than Tarquini before he too was held up by Monje. Alex MacDowall was sixth in Bamboo’s second Cruze.
The top ten was completed by four SEATs. World champion Rob Huff was the best of them in seventh, ahead of his All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport teammate Marc Basseng. Pepe Oriola took ninth, while Monje was tenth.
The Campos Racing driver only had to put a time on the board in Q2 to clinch the reverse grid pole position for race two, as both James Thompson and Tom Coronel were unable to take part in the final segment despite making the cut.
Lada driver Thompson made contact with a wall near the end of Q1, before Coronel misjudged his braking point at a chicane and rammed into the sister ROAL Motorsport BMW of Darryl O’Young, damaging both cars and consigning the latter to 13th place.
Tarquini’s teammate Tiago Monteiro was also forced out in Q1 after he put his Honda in a wall, bringing out the red flags. He finished up 14th.