José María López has inched closer to claiming a hat-trick of World Touring Car Championship titles after securing pole position at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
The Argentine claimed his sixth pole position of the 2016 season, leading a dominant Citroën 1-2-3 in the final reckoning. His closest championship rival, Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, qualified fourth-fastest.
After being quickest in both preliminary stages of qualifying, López was last out on track in the five-car one-lap shootout for pole position and ran purple sectors throughout his flying lap to secure the twentieth pole position of his WTCC career.
The result gave him another five points to his championship tally. He simply needs to outscore Monteiro by 10 points and his teammate Yvan Muller by 15 points over the remainder of the weekend to ensure himself a third World Championship title before he bows out of the series to join the FIA Formula E Championship.
Muller finished at López’s closest challenger in qualifying, but such was the reigning champion’s dominance in qualifying that the French veteran was still over eight-tenths of a second off the pace. The privateer Citroën of Sébastien Loeb Racing driver Mehdi Bennani was third-fastest, two spots ahead of teammate Tom Chilton.
Monteiro was the sole Honda to make it through to Q3 at the carmaker’s home event. His teammates Rob Huff and Norbert Michelisz opted to abandon a shot at Q3 and abandoned their second runs in Q2 after securing ninth and tenth places, which guaranteed they would start from the front row of Sunday’s opening reversed-grid race.
Series returnee Néstor Girolami had looked promising in his first outing for Polestar Cyan Racing after clocking the fastest times in both of the preceding free practice sessions. The Argentine’s pace came by dint of a fresh allocation of tyres, but he was unable to repeat his form in qualifying and had to settle for the sixth-fastest time.
In what was a solid session for the Swedish outfit after a run of uncompetitive showings of late, Thed Björk also made the top-ten and qualified eighth-fastest, which translates to third on the grid for Sunday’s opening race.
Nicky Catsburg was the sole LADA driver to qualify inside the top ten in what was another disappointing showing for the Russian factory team. This time is was a bungled strategy call that damaged their prospects, with the team electing to keep both Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente in the pits in order to save tyres. Late improvements by privateer runners James Thompson and Grégoire Demoustier proved enough to knock both Tarquini and Valente out at the first hurdle.
Honda newcomer Ryo Michigami qualified fifteenth-fastest in his one-off hit-out on home soil, while Argentina podium-winner Tom Coronel will start from the back of the grid for both races after being unable to set a representative time in qualifying after his ROAL Motorsport team elected to fit a new engine to his Chevrolet RML Cruze.
|2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Japan – Qualifying Results|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||1:55.602|
|2.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||1:56.409|
|3.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:56.535||IND|
|4.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:56.602|
|5.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:56.877||IND|
|6.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:56.916|
|7.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:57.088|
|8.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||1:57.142|
|9.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:57.251|
|10.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:57.465|
|11.||James Thompson||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:57.930||IND|
|12.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||1:58.028||IND|
|13.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:57.825|
|14.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||1:57.908|
|15.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:57.971|
|16.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:58.119||IND|
|17.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:58.885||IND|
|18.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:59.000||IND|
|19.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:01.233||IND|
Image via FIA WTCC Media