Jose Maria Lopez will begin the defence of his World Touring Car Championship title on pole position at the season opener in Argentina, while his Citroen Racing team locked out the first two rows of the grid.

In an utterly dominant display the defending champion notched up a hugely impressive lap of 1m 45.461s, over 1.2 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Yvan Muller who took P2.

Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb took P3, three tenths off Muller, which repeats the final order of the 2014 drivers' standings in WTCC. Loeb had looked strong all day and was fancied to be Lopez's nearest challenger but a mistake on the final section of the Termas de Rios Hondo track.

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Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua completed the Citroen 1-2-3-4 with a hot lap two-tenths off Loeb, while sole Honda driver in Q3 Tiago Monteiro trailed in fifth.

Mehdi Bennani took the early initiative and led the early stages of Q1 by a slender margin over Loeb as the rest of the top 11 runners were separated by less than a second. Huff stole the top time in Q1 with his final run of 1m 46.878s, nearly two-tenths up on the Moroccan as the bottom six cars were eliminated from qualifying.

Hugo Valente unfortunately missed qualifying and will start last in tomorrow's racedue to a big crash towards the end of Free Practice Two, meaning his Campos Racing WTCC car was unable to make Q1.

Bennani, on his first quick lap in Q2, then spun and binned his Sebastien Loeb Racing car into the gravel which brought up a red flag before anyone had set a competitive time. The spin ruled him out after earlier looking like an outside shout of a pole contender.

James Thompson and Robert Huff both exited in P2 but Thompson in the all-new LADA Vesta TC1 will start from pole in race two tomorrow on the reversed grid.

Ma Quin Hua then set the fastest lap of the weekend on the restart, notching up a 1m 45.808s to sit P1 at the end of Q2.

But as the five frontrunners entered Q3 it was Muller who charged to the front early on with Loeb second and Monteiro third. However, local hero Lopez then set himself up for his first run and blew the field away by 1.2 seconds.

Lopez will start race one on pole position before the reverse grid - swapping the top 10 qualifiers - for race two.