Norbert Michelisz will start from pole position for the Main Race of the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s Race of Japan. The Hungarian driver claimed his eighth pole position after setting the pace in the final one-lap shootout.
With the Twin Ring Motegi circuit hit by constant rain thanks to a typhoon off the coast of Japan, qualifying would come down to who could master the damp conditions.
The factory Hondas had proven to be the pacesetters in the earlier practice sessions, but in qualifying the Civics were given a serious challenge by the Polestar Cyan Racing Volvos. Nicky Catsburg set the fastest time in his S60 TC1 in Q1, which featured a number of surprise results.
Two notable wet-weather specialists were both sent packing at the end of Q1. Rob Huff was surprisingly off the pace in his Münnich Motorsport Citroën and was bumped out of Q2 contention by privateer Honda driver Dániel Nagy who broke through to the second phase of qualifying for the first time in his career.
Also sent packing was Tom Coronel, a crowd favourite second only to local driver Ryo Michigami, who qualified his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet one spot behind Huff.
Catsburg again set the pace in Q2, finishing ahead of Michelisz on the timesheets. All three factory Hondas made Q3 for the first time this season, with Michigami third-quickest ahead of Esteban Guerrieri who was making a stand-in appearance for Tiago Monteiro. A late flying lap from Catsburg’s teammate Néstor Girolami helped him scrape into Q3 at the expense of the third Volvo of championship leader Thed Björk.
With Björk unable to compete for bonus championship points on offer in Q3, the Swede was sixth-fastest ahead of the fastest Citroën runner Mehdi Bennani. RC Motorsport driver Yann Ehrlacher put his LADA Vesta eighth-fastest, and in a solid day for the Franco-Russian team his teammate Kevin Gleason qualified tenth-fastest to claim the reversed-grid pole for the Opening Race. The pair sandwiched Tom Chilton’s Citroën, who was ninth-fastest.
The top-five shootout in Q3 saw Girolami out on track first, with the Argentine posting a solid benchmark time of 2:09.824 that Guerrieri and Michigami were unable to beat.
Michelisz, however, proved unstoppable and lapped the 4.8-kilometre circuit almost a second quicker to claim provisional pole. Last out on track, Catsburg was half a second down on Michelisz in the opening sector and could only claw back two-tenths of a second over the remainder of his lap.
With the weekend’s schedule condensed thanks to the nearby typhoon, the field will grid up later today for the 11-lap Opening Race at 14:15 local time (GMT +9), followed shortly after by the 13-lap Main Race at 15:30.
|2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Japan – Final Qualifying Results|
|1.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||2:08.890|
|2.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||2:09.260|
|3.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||2:09.824|
|4.||Esteban Guerrieri||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||2:10.091|
|5.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||2:10.465|
|6.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||2:09.550|
|7.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||2:09.627||IND|
|8.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||2:10.059||IND|
|9.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||2:10.271||IND|
|10.||Kevin Gleason||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||2:10.599||IND|
|11.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||2:10.604||IND|
|12.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||2:10.981||IND|
|13.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||2:11.879||IND|
|14.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:11.944||IND|
|15.||Kris Richard||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||2:13.462||IND|
|16.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||2:14.234||IND|
|17.||Filipe de Souza||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||2:15.938||IND|
* Post-Qualifying Penalties:
- Ryo Michigami – who provisionally qualified fifth-fastest – will start the Opening Race from the back of the grid due to an unscheduled engine change.
Image via FIA WTCC Media