Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team driver Norbert Michelisz set the second-fastest time in the decisive Q3 section of qualifying to ensure a strong position for tomorrow’s pair of races.
Both practice sessions had taken place on a wet track, which was hosting its maiden race event, but the rain had stopped in time for qualifying to leave a damp surface.
Tactically deciding to wait until the second half of Q2 to take to the circuit, the Hungarian, who lies third in the Drivers’ Championship, set a superb pace to qualify for Q3 and then secured his fourth consecutive front-row result in the single-lap shootout.
With Drivers’ Championship leader Tiago Monteiro sadly missing through injury, his stand-in driver Gabriele Tarquini faced a tough task to get up to speed without having driven the Civic WTCC for almost two years.
The Italian, the 2009 WTCC Champion, put in a sensational performance to set the fastest time in Q2, but was dealt a cruel blow with the weather as heavy rain began falling again just as he was about to start his crucial Q3 lap.
Gabriele, who expertly held a huge sideways slide near the end of his lap, still qualified an excellent fifth. He and Norbert will start the reversed-grid Opening Race sixth and ninth.
Ryo Michigami starts both races from 11th place in his Honda Racing Team JAS Civic. The Japanese driver showed top-10 pace in the wet FP1 but suffered a mechanical issue that limited his throttle response in qualifying.
Following qualifying, the seventh MAC3 session of the year was held with Honda taking second place.
Both races take place on Sunday.
Norbert Michelisz #5 : « I’m very happy to qualify on the front row because today’s been my most difficult day of the season behind the wheel. The track is very challenging and I didn’t have a great balance in the wet conditions in practice. But in the damp qualifying and on fresh tyres my confidence was massively improved and I was able to make it into Q3. I could have pushed a bit harder and maybe had pole position, but it’s crucial in Q3 to stay calm and not make a mistake. The starts of both races will be key tomorrow, but from the front row, the Main Race target is to win. »
Gabriele Tarquini #2 : « It feels great to be back in the Honda Civic WTCC after nearly two years away and with a team with which I’ve had so many great times. Going fastest in Q2 was fantastic, but it turned out to be a bad thing because it meant I was last to go in Q3 and it started to rain heavily just as I started my lap. I made a mistake at Turn 1 and pushed too hard trying to recover, so ended up in fifth. This is still a very good result and I’m in a strong position to be able to help the team and Norbi tomorrow and do the best job I can for Tiago. »
Ryo Michigami #34 : « Today was a tricky day. The track, which is brand-new, has a very slippery surface, which became very challenging in the wet conditions. I was quite pleased with the speed shown in FP1, but in qualifying I wasn’t getting the power I needed and I’m not sure why. We’ll have to investigate the data to see if there’s an issue. Tomorrow I start both races 11th and from there, there is a good opportunity to score points in both races. »
Alessandro Mariani – Team Principal : « I’m very happy with the team performance today. We didn’t look so competitive in practice, but this was because we were focusing on race set-up and we’re confident that we’ve done some very good work in this area. Qualifying was more of a reflection of our speed. I’m delighted with the job Gabriele did on his first time in our car for nearly two years. He showed fantastic speed in Q2 and was just unlucky with the weather in Q3. He starts fifth and sixth, which puts him in a great position to maximise the points potential for Honda in the Opening Race, while Norbi did a brilliant job to qualify on the front row and continue his championship fight. »
Ryuichi Furukawa – Large Project Leader WTCC Development, Honda R&D : « I’m very happy to see Norbi on the front row and Gabriele also in Q3 because we’ve come to China with some new parts and had to work very hard in FP1 and FP2 to make sure they were all working as efficiently as possible. By qualifying we were happy with the speed of the cars of Norbi and Gabriele, but unfortunately we had a mechanical issue on Ryo’s car that affected his throttle response and prevented him having a chance to qualify in the top 10. »