Jose Maria Lopez got the defence of his World Touring Car Championship title of to a perfect start by claiming pole position for his home event in Argentina with a dominant margin over his Citroen team-mates.
Lopez’s effort in the Q3 shoot-out at a hot Termas de Rio Hondo was a commanding 1.240 seconds quicker than that of four-time champion Yvan Muller, as the French marque commenced their second WTCC campaign by locking out the top four places on the grid.
“It doesn’t matter how you finish the year, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same the year after,” said Lopez. “But it’s the track I know the most and the one I can give my 100 per cent. It was difficult, very hot and we didn’t have too much time to work on the car because of the rain yesterday. So it’s very important to start like this.
“Winning tomorrow would mean the world to me.”
Sebastien Loeb will start third on the grid after taking to some off-roading on his Q3 lap, while Ma Qing Hua had an impressive start to his first full WTCC campaign in the fourth Citroen, having been quickest in Q2.
Honda driver Tiago Monteiro was the non-Citroen that occupied the final slot in the final part of qualifying, but was over two seconds slower than Lopez and will start fifth.
Tom Chilton missed out on a Q3 place in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet but was the leading Yokohama Trophy driver in sixth, ahead of the second factory Honda of Gabriele Tarquini.
Stefano D’Aste had a strong return to the WTCC after a year away by taking eighth on the grid in this year’s sole Munnich Motorsport-entered Chevrolet, in front of Tom Coronel‘s ROAL version.
Rob Huff had impressed by topping Q1 in the brand new Lada Vesta, but the 2012 champion developed a misfire in Q2, leaving him 11th on the grid for both races. Team-mate and fellow Briton James Thompson took tenth, securing race two pole position for the Vesta’s debut.
An off hampered Mehdi Bennani‘s first qualifying session in a Citroen, leaving the Sebastien Loeb Racing entry 12th on the grid.
The Moroccan’s replacement in the Proteam Honda Dusan Borkovic was the first of those eliminated after Q1 in 13th place, together with French Chevrolet drivers John Filippi and Gregoire Demousiter of Campos and the returning Craft Bamboo squad respectively.
Rickard Rydell had a tough return to the WTCC in his Nika-prepared Honda as the slowest of those to set a time in Q1. He will still start ahead of fellow Civic driver Norbert Michelisz, who lost a wheel, and Hugo Valente, who was ruled out of qualifying by a fiery crash in free practice caused by a brake failure in his Campos Chevrolet, but looks set to race.