Alain Menu has led Chevrolet to its third successive World Touring Car Championship Manufacturers’ Championship crown after heading a 1-2-3-4 for the carmaker in qualifying for this weekend’s championship round at Suzuka.
After being quickest in both of today’s practice sessions, the Swiss driver ensured he would claim back-to-back pole positions at Suzuka’s short East Circuit in a session where it was the only manufacturer to have all of its cars make it into the shootout for Race 1 pole position.
Menu’s team-mate and defending championship Yvan Muller starts alongside him on the front row for tomorrow’s opening race. His main championship rival Rob Huff starts from third place in the sister RML Chevrolet, while Alex MacDowell made it an all-British second row by bagging the fourth-fastest time to finish as the fastest Independent Trophy qualifier in his Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet on his first-ever visit to the circuit.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Gabriele Tarquini who emerged as the nearest challenger to the Chevrolets, with the Italian qualifying sixth-quickest in his SEAT.
Instead, that honour went to Independent Trophy runner Mehdi Bennani, who produced a stunning effort in his Proteam BMW to finish Q2 as the fifth-quickest driver and the fastest non-Chevrolet runner.
The remaining top-ten qualifiers – who will have their grid positions reversed for Sunday’s second race – were Tom Coronel, Aleksei Dudukalo, Pepe Oriola and Stefano D’Aste. D’Aste will have his third reverse-grid pole position of the season, and will be hoping to use it as a launching pad to claim his second race win of the season.
Tiago Monteiro and Darryl O’Young were two runners heading into this event having made the switch to different machinery since the last round at Sonoma.
O’Young had rejoined his former employer, Bamboo Engineering, and managed to get his Chevrolet Cruze into the final phase of qualifying, only to see his efforts compromised by a spin at Turn 8.
Monteiro was very much a part of the limelight at Suzuka as the front-man for Honda’s first-ever works-supported entry in the WTCC. After showing steady improvement over the two practice sessions, the Portuguese driver made it into Q2 with a last-minute effort, much to the delight of the entire Honda assembly in the pit lane. He narrowly went on to miss out on claiming the Race 2 reverse-grid pole position.
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Japan Q1 & Q2 Session Times:
|1.||Alain Menu||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:45.232|
|2.||Yvan Muller||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:45.539|
|3.||Robert Huff||RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:45.572|
|4.||Alex MacDowell||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:46.578||Y|
|5.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing BMW 320TC||1:47.004||Y|
|6.||Gabriele Tarquini||Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:45.468|
|7.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||1:47.546|
|8.||Aleksei Dudukalo||Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC||no time||Y|
|9.||Pepe Oriola||Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC||1:47.434||Y|
|10.||Stefano D’Aste||Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC||1:47.263||Y|
|11.||Tiago Monteiro||JAS Honda Civic S2000 TC||1:46.594|
|12.||Darryl O’Young||Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T||1:47.167||Y|
|Q2 CUT-OFF: 53.740||Q1 Time|
|13.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||53.742||Y|
|14.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport BMW 320TC||53.746||Y|
|15.||Tom Boardman||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||53.847||Y|
|16.||Fernando Monje||SUNRED Engineering SEAT León WTCC||53.978||Y|
|17.||Hiroki Yoshimoto||Tuenti Racing SR León 1.6T||54.002||Y|
|18.||Charles Ka-Ki Ng||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC||54.030||Y|
|19.||James Nash*||Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC||54.082|
|20.||Alberto Cerqui||ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC||54.100||Y|
|21.||Tom Chilton*||Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC||54.330|
|22.||René Münnich||Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC||54.690||Y|
|23.||Masaki Kano||Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320si||55.013||Y|
The starting order for Race 1 is determined by the qualifying results indicated above, unless states otherwise. The ten-fastest drivers – as indicated by their Q2 fastest times – start in reverse starting order for Race 2, unless stated otherwise. (‘Y’ denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy entered driver).
* Denotes Race 1 grid penalty will be imposed for unauthorised engine change