Tiago Monteiro’s celebrations at clinching pole position for the opening World Touring Car Cup race at Suzuka proved short-lived. The KCMG Honda driver was among a huge list of drivers issued with grid penalties for driving too slowly, with wet conditions and an ultra-short lap contributing to plenty of drama and no less than four red flag interruptions.

In the end pole position was awarded to Monteiro’s Honda stablemate Esteban Guerrieri, who qualified second-fastest in his Münnich Motorsport Honda. The Argentine driver – currently second in the Drivers’ Championship standings – crucially qualified well in front of his fellow title rivals Norbert Michelisz (P14) and Yvan Muller (P26), setting himself up to potentially reclaim the points lead by Saturday afternoon.

Guerrieri should have been joined on the front row by teammate Néstor Girolami, however his countryman will start Race 1 from the back of the grid for an unscheduled engine change.

With torrential rain lashing the Suzuka circuit, the simple act of staying on track and out of each other’s way proved a challenge for the entire field. With 29 cars all jostling for position on the 2.2-kilometre East Course layout, the organisers should – with the benefit of hindsight – have opted to split the field into two groups to reduce the risk of traffic.

By the time those at the front of the queue started their first timed laps, they were almost immediately coming upon those at the tail of the field who were backing off trying to get some clear space. This created several near-miss situations early on, while a host of drivers in addition to Monteiro would later earn themselves grid penalties for driving too slowly and impeding their rivals.

The 30-minute session’s first red flag was triggered by PWR Racing’s Daniel Haglöf, who beached his Cupra in the gravel trap. The Swede looked a likely contender to qualify inside the top-ten, but by triggered a stoppage he was stripped of his fastest lap time.

Almost immediately after the session was resumed, it was double trouble for the team with Haglöf’s teammate Mikel Azcona getting hit by fellow Cupra runner Tom Coronel (Comtoyou DHL Team) after the Dutch veteran aquaplaned on standing water. The contact put both drivers out of the session.

Just over three minutes after the second restart, the session was stopped for a third time. Yvan Muller proved he is human after all by spearing his Lynk & Co into the barriers at almost unabated speed on the approach to Turn 1. The French driver had just posted the third-fastest lap time of the session, but with his car suffering significant front-end damage he appears at risk from even participating in Friday’s second qualifying session that will determine the grid order for Sunday’s two races.

Conditions appeared to ease during the stoppage, which allowed Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) and then Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Team Audi Sport) to each move to the top of the timesheets before Monteiro claimed top spot with the first sub-60-second lap time.

Tiago Monteiro, KCMG Honda Civic Type R TCR - 2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan

Provisional pole-winner Tiago Monteiro was one of several drivers to be hit with a grid penalty for driving too slowly during qualifying.

Just seconds later, Monteiro’s teammate Attila Tassi brought out the fourth and final red flag of the session when he went off and hit the wall.

With four minutes left on the clock, there was one final scramble to post a flying lap. Several drivers managed to improve on their best time, but none was able to topple Monteiro’s effort with the ex-F1 driver heading a provisional Honda 1-2-3.

Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Niels Langeveld was the best non-Honda runner in fourth-fastest, ahead of teammate Frédéric Vervisch and BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s Gabriele Tarquini.

Japanese wildcard entrant Ritomo Miyata was a brilliant seventh for Audi Team Hitotsuyama, ahead of Thed Björk in his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR. Priaulx ended up ninth with SLR Volkswagen’s Johan Kristoffersson completing the top ten.


2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan – Race 1 Qualifying Results
Driver Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Tiago Monteiro KCMG 59.713
2. Esteban Guerrieri Münnich Motorsport 59.841 + 0.128
3. Néstor Girolami Münnich Motorsport 59.967 + 0.254
4. Niels Langeveld Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:00.039 + 0.326
5. Frédéric Vervisch be Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 1:00.146 + 0.433
6. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:00.201 + 0.488
7. Ritomo Miyata be Audi Team Hitotsuyama 1:00.204 + 0.491
8. Thed Björk Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:00.281 + 0.568
9. Andy Priaulx Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:00.293 + 0.580
10. Johan Kristoffersson SLR Volkswagen 1:00.335 + 0.622
11. Benjamin Leuchter be SLR Volkswagen 1:00.336 + 0.623
12. Jean-Karl Vernay Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:00.412 + 0.699
13. Kevin Ceccon Team Mulsanne 1:00.470 + 0.757
14. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 1:00.504 + 0.791
15. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 1:00.546 + 0.833
16. Ryuichiro Tomita be Audi Team Hitotsuyama 1:00.628 + 0.915
17. Nicky Catsburg BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:00.652 + 0.939
18. Ma Qing Hua Team Mulsanne 1:00.713 + 1.000
19. Rob Huff SLR VW Motorsport 1:00.726 + 1.013
20. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1:00.774 + 1.061
21. Gordon Shedden Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 1:01.084 + 1.371
22. Augusto Farfus BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 1:01.086 + 1.373
23. Attila Tassi KCMG 1:01.102 + 1.389
24. Mehdi Bennani SLR VW Motorsport 1:01.279 + 1.566
25. Mikel Azcona PWR Racing 1:02.096 + 2.383
26. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 1:02.688 + 2.975
Outside 105% Team / Entry Time Gap
DNQ. Daniel Haglöf PWR Racing 1:03.185 + 3.472
DNQ. Jim Ka To KCMG no time
EXC. Tom Coronel Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing excluded

Championship Points:

  • The fastest five qualifiers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Tiago Monteiro will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Qualifying.
  • Néstor Girolami will start Race 1 from the back of the grid due to an unscheduled engine change.
  • Tiago Monteiro will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Qualifying.
  • Gabriele Tarquini will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Free Practice 2.
  • Norbert Michelisz will serve a six-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Free Practice 2 and Qualifying.
  • Nicky Catsburg will serve a ten-place grid penalty for earning his third driving reprimand of the season.
  • Aurélien Panis will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Qualifying.
  • Augusto Farfus will serve a six-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Free Practice 2 and Qualifying.
  • Mehdi Bennani will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Qualifying.
  • Daniel Häglof will serve a three-place grid penalty for “driving unnecessarily slowly” during Free Practice 2.
  • Jim Ka To had all of his Qualifying lap times cancelled for missing a weighbridge check.
  • Tom Coronel was excluded from qualifying for a refueling safety breach during Qualifying.

Images via FIA WTCR 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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