Gabriele Tarquini followed up his success two weeks ago in Morocco by taking his second pole position of the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship season for Honda at the Slovakia Ring on Saturday. That meant Tarquini gave the Japanese manufacturer their first back-to-back pole in the championship in the process.
Tarquini's pole came at the climax of a two-part qualifying session that had started with a lengthy red-flag for a heavy crash involving ROAL Motorsport's Darryl O'Young at turn 9 just five minutes in.
Tarquini's impressive performance merely confirmed the formidable form of the Honda marque in Slovakia: the Castrol JAS Honda Racing cars of Tarquini and team mate Tiago Monteiro, who were joined in Slovakia by fellow Honda Civic driver Norbert Michelisz in the Zengo Motorsports entry, had proved untouchable and dominated the qualifying session to lock-out the first three positions on the grid.
The trio were never really under attack from their rival manufacturers Chevrolet, SEAT or LADA. Tarquini's best time of 2:10.773 was enough to hold off the charge from his team mate Monteiro by just over a tenth, with Michelisz nipping at the heels of the Castrol-sponsored cars just a hundredth of a second further adrift.
The pace of the Hondas throughout the earlier practice sessions and into qualifying had been something of a head-scratcher for the rest of the teams on Saturday. The RML Chevrolet pair of Yvan Muller and Tom Chilton were the best of the rest and not too far adrift in in fourth and fifth respectively, but they never amounted a serious threat to the Civic cars' grip on the top thee grid positions.
A trio of Brits took sixth, seventh and eighth places on the Slovakia Ring grid: Alex MacDowall took top Independent honours in sixth from 2012 champion and top SEAT Rob Huff, forcing James Nash to have to settle for eighth after getting held up in traffic on his last flying lap in Q2. However, Huff's #1 car subsequently failed a ride height inspection after the session and as a result he will take a ten-place grid penalty for Sunday's race meaning he will start from 17th place.
Rounding out the top ten were the fast young Spaniard Pepe Oriola in his tuenti Racing SEAT, and the 'Flying Dutchman' Tom Coronel, whose lighter ROAL Motorsport BMW will see him take tenth position for the first race on Sunday and then pole for the second under the reverse grid format rules.
Mehdi Bennani took eleventh place for ProTeam BMW, in an uneventful but more effective qualifying than that of Michel Nykjaer who had two trips the Slovakia gravel on his way to clinching twelfth spot, making the NIKA Racing driver the lowest Chevrolet qualifier of the day.
Marc Basseng missed the cut for Q1 by two tenths of a second and had to settle for a hopefully not-unlucky 13th position for Sunday's first race, with Swiss racer Freddy Barth just 0.007s behind him despite his now-usual spin during the early stages of Q1.
LADA's James Thompson - both the driver and the team being new to the Slovakia Ring this year - ended up in 15th, with Thompson admitting afterward that "We've got a lot to think about tonight."
Stefano D'Aste in his own run PB Motorsport BMW ended up in 16th, with Charles Ng in 17th; Fernando Monje had a trouble free run to an unspectacular 18th just ahead of the German duo, René Münnich and Franz Engstler in their own team cars. Relative newcomer, Mikael Kozlovskiy was still getting to grips with a LADA World touring car and the demands of a new circuit and he took 21st place on the grid with the slowest completed laptime of the afternoon.
Two drivers failed to complete a flying lap in qualifying and will start form the back - if they can get their cars in a fit state to compete, that is.
Rapidly earning himself the title of 'Unluckiest touring car racer of 2013' is Tom Boardman, who only just managed to repair his car in time for this weekend after his monster crash at Marrakech three weeks ago. That had involved fitting a brand new engine into his SEAT León WTCC but the shiny new engine gave out on him him in FP2, and another expensive replacement had similarly short-lived success when Boardman suffered a misfire just minutes into qualifying on his first tour of the circuit, leaving him with no laptime recorded.
But at least that was a gentle exit from the session by comparison with ROAL Motorsport's Darryl O'Young, whose own qualifying effort came to a crunching halt in the barriers on his first flying lap attempt just five minutes into Q1. The BMW 320 ran wide at turn 9 and did extensive damage to the right hand side of the car, which forced the session to be red-flagged for nearly half an hour while the wrecked car was loaded onto a hauler, the barrier repaired and the debris picked up from the crash site.
Following his hit, O'Young was required to make a routine precautionary visit to the circuit medical centre. He was quickly released and will be okay to race on Sunday - assuming that the same can be said for his race car and that the BMW can be put back together again overnight in time to make it for the start the race.
"The car suffered from extensive damage at the back," said the team's anxious technical director, Pietro Speronello. "We have to check how much the roll cage and shells have been twisted. But of course we will try to repair it in time for tomorrow's races."by Dexter FieldingFull qualifying times available
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