José María López has moved one step closer to claiming the FIA World Touring Car Championship crown at his first attempt by claiming pole position in an exciting shootout at the Suzuka Grand Prix Circuit.

The Argentine driver led yet another Citroën 1-2-3 lockout in Q3, edging out teammates Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb with one one-lap effort in the final qualifying heat.

The opening segment of qualifying saw the red flags out early, with TC2T-class driver Felipe de Souza predictably swapping ends in his Engstler BMW and beaching it in the gravel at Turn 8.

Once the session got going again, it was Muller who led the way in his Citroën C-Elysée from López, while Tom Chilton popped in an impressive lap to finish third-fastest in his ROAL RML Chevrolet as he continues his strong end to his season. All four Hondas made it through into Q2 at their home event, leaving the three LADAs and René Münnich as the four TC1 runners to be given an early bath.

The second phase of the session saw Muller, López, Loeb, Chilton and Hugo Valente make it into the top-five shootout for pole, with Valente bumping Norbert Michelisz and Gianni Morbidelli out of the running. Loeb only just scraped through, having to pump out an extra lap after being forced to back out of a quick tour where he was slipstreaming Tiago Monteiro.

Three-time Japan race-winner Tom Coronel was eighth-fastest in the ROAL RML Chevrolet, leaving Dušan Borković and Gabriele Tarquini ninth- and tenth-fastest, giving the pair a front row start for Sunday’s second race.

The final session saw Chilton with the Chevrolet Cruze battle with Valente, but it was predictably dominated by the all-conquering Citroëns. With all three posting similar S1 and S2 times, it was down to who was the bravest through the final sector of the lap.

In the end, Loeb made a slight mistake at the final corner, while López held out, lapping just 75 thousandths of a second quicker than Muller in the final reckoning. Having grabbed one more championship point than the Frenchman in qualifying, López simply needs a fourth-placed finish in Race 1 to claim the Drivers’ Championship title for himself.

Sunday’s first 11-lap race kicks off at 14:30 local time (GMT +9), with Race 2 following at 15:40.


2014 FIA WTCC Race of Japan – Final Qualifying:

Q3 Qualifiers Team Time Class
1. José María López Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen 2:05.439 TC1
2. Yvan Muller Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen 2:05.514 TC1
3. Sébastien Loeb Total Citroën Racing C-Elysée Citroen 2:05.590 TC1
4. Tom Chilton ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:06.321 TC1
5. Hugo Valente Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:06.703 TC1
Q2 Qualifiers Team Time Class
6. Norbert Michelisz Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC Honda 2:06.865 TC1
7. Gianni Morbidelli Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:06.906 TC1
8. Tom Coronel nl ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:06.993 TC1
9. Dušan Borković Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:07.132 TC1
10. Gabriele Tarquini Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC Honda 2:07.305 TC1
11. Tiago Monteiro Castrol Honda Racing Team Civic WTCC Honda 2:07.715 TC1
12. Mehdi Bennani Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC Honda 2:08.140 TC1
Q1 Qualifiers Team Time Class
13. Rob Huff LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 2:08.241 TC1
14. James Thompson LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 2:08.677 TC1
15. Mikhail Kozlovskiy LADA Sport Granta Sport 1.6T LADA 2:09.472 TC1
16. René Münnich Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze Chevrolet 2:10.014 TC1
17. Franz Engstler Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC BMW 2:13.585 TC2
18. John Filippi Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT
2:13.892 TC2
19. Felipe de Souza Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW E90 320TC BMW 2:16.951 TC2
Outside 107% Team Time Class
DNQ. William Lok Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT
no time TC2

Image via FIA WTCC Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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