Yvan Muller has taken pole position for the first European round of the World Touring Car Championship season after pacing a wet qualifying session at Valencia.

The SEAT Sport driver made the most of the conditions to nullify any disadvantage the Leon TDi was expected to have around the Spanish circuit following changes to the diesel regulations made by the touring car bureau and was the only person during the session to dip below the 1min 59secs marker.

Indeed, the Frenchman's second quickest lap during the session was also quicker than anyone else on track and he eventually ended up more than half a second clear of team-mate Gabriele Tarquini.

"I tried to be very fast in my first attempt because looking at the sky it was obvious that the track conditions were going to get worse so I made a fast time right away," Muller reflected. "It would be good for us if it rains during the race, since it would be much easier for us to defend our expectations."

Unlike Muller, Tarquini left it till late in the session to post his quickest time which was enough to edge out the Chevrolet of Alain Menu - the man who had led the way during Friday testing ahead of the Valencian weekend.

However, the Swiss star was left with nothing at the end of the day when all his times were disallowed for failing the ride height test and he will start from the back of the grid as a result.

"I did the best I could given the weather conditions," he said. "It was very tricky under braking as I kept locking up the rears. I couldn't play with the brake balance as that would have meant I'd probably lock up the fronts and go off. On quite a few occasions I started to slide and only just managed to get the car back.

"Then after the session my car failed the ride height test on one point of the front splitter, but I don't know whether this is due me riding the kerbs in a few corners or whether it is related to the new kind of rain tyres we still have to get used to. Needless to say this will affect my championship ambitions, but at the same time I will most likely have a very light car at the next race in Pau, which is still one of my favourites."

Menu's exclusion from the times means Chevrolet team-mate Rob Huff will now start third ahead of the home favourite Jordi Gene in the third of the diesel Leons. Then comes a train of BMW drivers, with defending champion Andy Priaulx having qualified ahead of Schnitzer pairing Jorg Muller and August Farfus as well as Alex Zanardi, who had looked set to qualify closer to the front before slipping back late in the session.

"This qualifying session was very close," Priaulx said. "I think most of us had at least one off during the 30 minutes. I'm very happy with fifth place. I hope we can get a good result from there and feel positive for both races. It was the first test of the new wet tyres and it went well."

Nicola Larini will start ninth in the third Lacetti while Rickard Rydell, the current series leader, was left bitterly disappointed with tenth place. Behind him meanwhile, James Thompson will start eleventh for his first race in the N.Technology Honda Accord.

"Obviously it's the first time in the rain with the car and we were just getting quicker each lap," he said before news of Menu being excluded filtered through. ""If we had more time we could have worked on the set-up of the car and gone quicker. In a way it's disappointing to be twelfth [before the exclusion] because now we have some experience in the wet we could have gone a lot faster."

Of the Independent runners, Stefano D'Aste was quickest from Sergio Hernandez and Pierre-Yves Corthals, while four cars failed to qualify inside the maximum qualifying time in the tricky conditions.


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