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