– RML team-mates Chilton & Muller line up 3rd & 4th for Suzuka’s opening race
– Suzuka’s East circuit proves tricky for most with several off-track excursions affecting the top flight
– Chilton’s qualifying points promotes him to 4th in the Drivers standings
– Muller laments his first non-appearance in the top three qualifiers, but vows to fight back from 4th
SUZUKA [Japan] – Saturday 21 September: RML team-mates Tom Chilton and Yvan Muller have qualified 3rd and 4th respectively ahead of tomorrow’s first race of the FIA World Touring Car Championship on Suzuka’s shorter East circuit.
With strong pace showing throughout the practice sessions the Wellingborough-based (UK) outfit had targeted a front-row lockout for championship leader Yvan Muller and Tom Chilton, but as the Chevrolet vs. Honda theme continued into this afternoon’s qualifying session, Zengo’s Norbert Michelisz would edge ahead in the privately-entered Honda Civic to seal his first pole position of the year on home soil for the Japanese marque.
Early advantage had looked to favour the RML pairing with Chilton the quickest from the box in Q1, followed by Muller before Michelisz leapt to the top of the timesheets in Q2 – the first to break under the 53s lap time.
An uncharacteristic error from Muller would hamper the Frenchman’s chance of responding to Michelisz’s flying lap as he recovered from a Turn 1 slide on his final run.
Off-track incidents dominated the order with several others falling prey to the challenges of the technical track, including nearest championship rival, Gabriele Tarquini – subsequently unable to better his position of eighth.
In the Aon-backed Cruze Tom Chilton fought to maintain his front-row position but a late surge from MacDowall secured his front row slot, demoting Chilton to third.
Lining up 3rd and 4th for tomorrow’s first race, Chilton and Muller have it all to play for in a quartet of RML-built Cruzes.
Tom Chilton: “I had struggled a bit at through yesterday’s test and today’s practices – it’s very different in the Cruze compared to my running last year. Yvan has helped me a lot, and finally I followed his set up choices for qualifying. Now I’m over the moon to be third, because I did not expect such a result. Qualifying is so important here, not least because it is a tough track for overtaking but also third position is worth three points, which has helped me to climb to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship (whereas in Sonoma I was joint fourth with Nash). Now my goal is to score more points in both races tomorrow.”
Yvan Muller: “That was a tough session which didn’t go to plan. I got a good first lap – pace was good and the car was handling well but I knew I needed to improve with the Honda’s looking strong out there. Unfortunately I just didn’t get my second lap together and I ran into a deep slide at Turn 1 which ruined my chance of progressing. And that was it. So I start from 4th o the grid with some work to do. It’s frustrating because we had a good chance for pole today and because that’s the first time all year that I have qualified outside of the top three. But now I’ll discuss strategy with my engineer and we’ll of course give the race our best shot tomorrow. On the positive note I have collected another couple of points towards the championship from this position.”