Gabriele Tarquini claimed his first World Touring Car Championship pole position for almost two years at Monza's opening round of the 2012 season
The 50-year-old Italian edged out the pre-race favourite Chevrolets to go fastest in both Q1 and Q2 of the series' new-look qualifying format, as he made the most of his SEAT's new engine.
"To be honest, I didn't expect this," said Tarquini. "It is hard to know how we will go over a race distance. In Q1 I wasn't pushing too hard as it wasn't so important, and then in Q2 I have to thank Tom Coronel who gave me a good tow for half a lap. I was pushing more in the corners, but I am lucky I was able to get the tow."
Defending world champion Yvan Muller, in the leading Chevrolet, will join Tarquini on the front row of Sunday's race one grid. The Frenchman finished just 0.059 seconds shy of pole in qualifying two, and felt perhaps there had been time to make up in the Parabolica.
Muller's remaining Chevrolet team-mates Rob Huff and Alain Menu will form the second row of race one's grid, ahead of the similar Cruze of guesting Scandinavian series ace Rickard Rydell.
ROAL's Tom Coronel completed the top six, and had the honour of ending the afternoon as top BMW runner.
Pepe Oriola impressed in his SUNRED SEAT. The young Spaniard completed minimal pre-season testing, but ended the afternoon seventh fastest to claim the Independents' Trophy pole.
The WTCC has adjusted its qualifying format for 2012, with the top 10 of the 12 cars that progress to Q2 reversed to set the race two grid - rather than the previous practice of reversing the Q1 top 10. Zengo BMW driver Norbert Michelisz took the crucial 10th in Q2 to earn race two pole, ahead of Tarquini's team-mate Aleksei Dudukalo.
Muller had a scare in the opening session when he narrowly avoided being bumped from the 12 fastest runners. The three-time world champion languished in 13th with just three minutes left on the clocks, but excellent teamwork from the Chevrolet trio - operating in a train to tow each other - helped Muller make the cut.
Q1 was red flagged with just under two minutes remaining when Alberto Cerqui spun backwards at the Parabolica and beached the rear wheels of his ROAL BMW in the gravel.
On the restart, most drivers remained in the pitlane, as there was insufficient time to complete a hot lap before the chequered flag. The red flag fell at an inopportune time for the Arena Fords cars, neither of which made the Q2 cut on their debut.
Race one grid:Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Gabriele Tarquini Lukoil SEAT 1m57.915s 2. Yvan Muller Chevrolet 1m57.974s + 0.059s 3. Rob Huff Chevrolet 1m58.106s + 0.191s 4. Alain Menu Chevrolet 1m58.200s + 0.285s 5. Rickard Rydell Chevrolet Sweden 1m58.319s + 0.404s 6. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW 1m58.389s + 0.474s 7. Pepe Oriola SUNRED SEAT 1m58.412s + 0.497s 8. Alex MacDowall bamboo Chevrolet 1m58.507s + 0.592s 9. Aleksei Dudukalo Lukoil SEAT 1m58.649s + 0.734s 10. Norbert Michelisz Zengo BMW 1m58.652s + 0.737s 11. Stefano D'Aste Wiechers BMW 1m58.931s + 1.016s 12. Gabor Weber Zengo BMW 1m59.348s + 1.433s 13. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW 1m59.435s Q1 14. James Nash Arena Ford 1m59.563s Q1 15. Tom Chilton Arena Ford 1m59.723s Q1 16. Tiago Monteiro SUNRED SEAT 1m59.743s Q1 17. Alberto Cerqui ROAL BMW 1m59.841s Q1 18. Pasquale di Sabatino bamboo Chevrolet 1m59.891s Q1 19. Charles Ng Engstler BMW 1m59.949s Q1 20. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW 2m00.300s Q1 21. Andrea Barlesi SUNRED SEAT 2m00.394s Q1 22. Isaac Tutumlu Proteam BMW 2m01.333s Q1 23. Darryl O'Young Special Tuning SEAT Race two grid:Pos Driver Team/Car 1. Norbert Michelisz Zengo BMW 2. Aleksei Dudukalo Lukoil SEAT 3. Alex MacDowall bamboo Chevrolet 4. Pepe Oriola SUNRED SEAT 5. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW 6. Rickard Rydell Chevrolet Sweden 7. Alain Menu Chevrolet 8. Rob Huff Chevrolet 9. Yvan Muller Chevrolet 10. Gabriele Tarquini Lukoil SEAT 11. Stefano D'Aste Wiechers BMW 12. Gabor Weber Zengo BMW 13. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW 14. James Nash Arena Ford 15. Tom Chilton Arena Ford 16. Tiago Monteiro SUNRED SEAT 17. Alberto Cerqui ROAL BMW 18. Pasquale di Sabatino bamboo Chevrolet 19. Charles Ng Engstler BMW 20. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW 21. Andrea Barlesi SUNRED SEAT 22. Isaac Tutumlu Proteam BMW 23. Darryl O'Young Special Tuning SEAT Race one grid = Q2 top 12, Q1 from 13th Race two grid = Q2 top 10 reversed, Q2 11th/12th, Q1 from 13th
Volvo gave the World Touring Car Championship a major boost when it announced it would enter the series, but its ambitions don't stop there. JACK COZENS examines its programme, the S60 and what its arrival means for the WTCC
The 2012 World Touring Car champion says he never had the money to race cars. Yet 2015 is his 11th season in the WTCC. He talks STUART CODLING through his journey from motorsport fan to paid professional - for little more than £100,000