Alain Menu has stormed to pole position at Suzuka

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.

Darryl O'Young Tiago Monteiro made the Q2 cut on Honda's works debut in the WTCC

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:

Driver Team Q2 Time YIT
1. Alain Menu SUI RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:45.232  
2. Yvan Muller FRA RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:45.539  
3. Robert Huff GBR RML Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:45.572  
4. Alex MacDowell GBR Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:46.578 Y
5. Mehdi Bennani MOR Proteam Racing BMW 320TC BMW 1:47.004 Y
6. Gabriele Tarquini ITA Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT 1:45.468  
7. Tom Coronel NED ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW 1:47.546  
8. Aleksei Dudukalo RUS Lukoil Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT no time Y
9. Pepe Oriola ESP Tuenti Racing Team SEAT León WTCC SEAT 1:47.434 Y
10. Stefano D’Aste ITA Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC BMW 1:47.263 Y
11. Tiago Monteiro POR JAS Honda Civic S2000 TC Honda 1:46.594  
12. Darryl O’Young HKG Bamboo Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Chevrolet 1:47.167 Y
  Q2 CUT-OFF: 53.740 Q1 Time  
13. Franz Engstler DEU Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC BMW 53.742 Y
14. Norbert Michelisz HUN Zengõ Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW 53.746 Y
15. Tom Boardman GBR Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT 53.847 Y
16. Fernando Monje ESP SUNRED Engineering SEAT León WTCC SEAT 53.978 Y
17. Hiroki Yoshimoto JPN Tuenti Racing SR León 1.6T Sunred 54.002 Y
18. Charles Ka-Ki Ng HKG Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320TC BMW 54.030 Y
19. James Nash* GBR Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC Ford 54.082  
20. Alberto Cerqui ITA ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC BMW 54.100 Y
21. Tom Chilton* GBR Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC Ford 54.330  
22. René Münnich DEU Special Tune Racing SEAT León WTCC SEAT 54.690 Y
23. Masaki Kano JPN Liqui Moly Engstler BMW 320si BMW 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

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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.