While his team-mates struggled for pace, Yvan Muller put on a qualifying masterclass to take pole position for the first of three World Touring Car Cup races at the Ningbo International Speedpark this weekend.
The French veteran set an impressive benchmark lap time of 01:50.848, which nobody could find a way to beat. The closest driver to doing so, however, was local hero Ma Qing Hua. The Chinese driver had shown blistering pace in practice, which translated well into qualifying form. Eventually though, Ma would end up just five hundredths of a second away from clinching pole.
Behind the top two was the ever-impressive Mikel Azcona. The young Spaniard has shown all year that consistency really is the key, while certain other big names trail him by quite a distance in the points standings. Once again, Azcona put in a stellar performance to place his Cupra third on the grid.
Norbert Michelisz took a hugely important fourth place in qualifying, thus outperforming his rival for the overall championship (Esteban Guerrieri) by a decent margin. Johan Kristoffersson would round out the top five.
Next up, Aurelien Panis was sandwiched between the Lukoil-backed Hyundai duo of Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus for seventh place, while Guerrieri could do no better than ninth. However, the Argentine will serve a three-place grid penalty for a misdemeanour at the last round in Portugal, meaning that he’ll actually start the opening race from twelfth instead.
Daniel Haglof did well to round out the top ten, while typical front-runners such as Thed Bjork, Nestor Girolami and Gabriele Tarquini all struggled to put a competitive lap together. Bjork and Girolami would line up from thirteenth and eighteenth respectively, while Tarquini found himself mired down in twenty-third.