Honda claimed the first pole position of the 2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship thanks to a stunning performance in qualifying from Tiago Monteiro in Morocco.
Tiago had set the pace in opening practice and then again in the second section of qualifying. With the pressure on, he smashed the official pole position record at the Circuit Moulay el Hassan in Marrakech in 1m21.792s to take the top spot.
It was the seventh pole position for the Honda Civic WTCC and the fourth of Tiago’s career; the Portuguese driver receiving five bonus points for his World Championship campaign for his achievement.
His Castrol Honda World Touring Car team-mate Norbert Michelisz recovered well to set the pace in FP2 after missing the opening session due to a minor oil leak. After setting the pace in Q1, his Q3 lap was good enough for a strong third place on the grid.
Ryo Michigami, who becomes a full-time WTCC driver this year, made a sensational last-gasp effort in Q2 to elevate himself from 11th to ninth spot on his final lap.
Not only was this the best qualifying result ever achieved by a Japanese driver in the WTCC, it also puts Ryo on the front row for Sunday’s reversed-grid Opening Race. Norbert and Tiago start the opener from eighth and 10th respectively.
The Opening Race takes place at 1635 while the Main Race will start at 1745.
Tiago Monteiro : « This is exactly what we needed. As a team we’ve worked incredibly hard over the winter to develop the Civic. We knew that we’d made progress, but you still have to show it, in front of everyone else, to prove that the progress is real. Norbi was very fast all day, so I knew I had to set a very good laptime to get pole, but I did and this is the result. I was pretty happy with my lap and to have pole for the first Main Race of the year feels fantastic. On a street track pole position is a bigger advantage than normal because it’s so difficult to overtake, so I’m aiming to make the most of it. »
Norbert Michelisz : « Today is a tremendous team result and we have to be happy with that. Personally, I’m a little disappointed to only qualify third because Tiago showed that the car was capable of pole position. I didn’t have the confidence on my Q3 lap to push to the absolute limit, so I don’t think I could have matched Tiago’s time no matter the circumstance. I missed all of FP1 with a small issue, but I honestly don’t know if missing 45 minutes of track time made a difference. I’m confident of scoring big points tomorrow. »
Ryo Michigami : « I’m pretty pleased with the way qualifying turned out. Ninth is OK for my first time on this circuit and second for the reversed-grid race gives me an excellent opportunity to win which is my aim. I have to thank my engineer Nicola, who made a great decision to change the tyre pressures right at the end of Q2, which helped unlock an extra bit of speed and got me up into a very important P9. I think tomorrow will be a good day. »
Alessandro Mariani – Team Principal : « This is an excellent result for the team after what’s been a very demanding past few weeks to get everything ready for the start of the season. We have some brand-new upgrades on the car that didn’t run until this morning in FP1, so there were a few nerves, but this result is just fantastic and is deserved because of all the hard work by the mechanics and engineers working on this programme. »
Ryuichi Furukawa – Large Project Leader WTCC Development, Honda R&D : « I am very happy with the result today. Pole for Tiago, third for Norbi and a reversed-grid front-row for Ryo is exactly the kind of result we were aiming for. Qualifying is important especially on a street circuit but the race is what we’re here for and we will go through the plan tonight in a lot of detail to make sure our three Civics are as strong as possible in race conditions. »