Johan Kristoffersson has taken his first FIA World Touring Car Cup pole position by topping the final qualifying shootout at the Race of Japan this afternoon.
In doing so, the Volkswagen-powered Sébastien Loeb Racing driver denied Honda a qualifying sweep at its home track, with Race 1 provisional pole-winner Tiago Monteiro (KCMG) coming closest to toppling Kristoffersson in the Q3 one-lap shootout. Andy Priaulx (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) emerged as the other star of the three-part session by topping Qualifying Q1 and Q2 before an error at the final corner dropped him back to fifth behind Mikel Azcona (PWR Racing Cupra) in third and fourth-placed Esteban Guerrieri (Münnich Motorsport Honda).
Kristoffersson, the double FIA World Rallycross champion, judged the conditions perfectly, making a daring call to fit slick, dry-weather Yokohama tyres to the front of his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR and wet-weather treaded Yokohama covers to the rear to power his way to top spot on the 2.243-kilometre Suzuka Circuit East Course.
“It was very tricky conditions,” said Kristoffersson. “We tried some slick tyres in Q1 and left them on since then and tried to keep some temperature in them. It was nice to be able to have a free lap and string it together in the end.”
Second-fastest Monteiro added: “It was very close. You’ve got to try everything, and I tried. I’ll just have to do a better start. We’re strong here, and I liked it in the dry. So far, it’s been a fantastic day.”
Priaulx leads the way, as Muller falls at the first hurdle
In the 20-minute Q1 session, the conditions were much improved from the day’s earlier First Qualifying, but times weren’t improving as much as might have been expected, and in the mixed conditions, it was Priaulx who was revelling, with the triple-FIA World Touring Car champion leading the way with a time of 1:00.627.
With just under five minutes to go, Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon bumped Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Motorsport driver Rob Huff out of the all-important top 12, but Huff was able to scrape back in at the expense of fellow Volkswagen driver Benjamin Leuchter, just as the red flags came out with eight seconds to go, when BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team driver Augusto Farfus slid off into the barriers, with the session not restarting.
Title contender Esteban Guerrieri was therefore safely through to Q2, with the Münnich Motorsport Honda driver having set the second fastest time, while WTCR points leader Norbert Michelisz was also through in his BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR. But it was another tough qualifying for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co driver Yvan Muller.
The Frenchman’s 03 TCR had been repaired by his Swedish team following his high-impact accident in First Qualifying, but without the chance to set his final lap, the four-time champion is set to start P17 for Sunday’s races.
Guerrieri hits the wall, while Priaulx powers on
Q2 started off with a bang, as title contender Esteban Guerrieri ran wide at the final corner on his sighting lap and damaged the front-left of his Honda Civic Type R TCR and had to head straight back into the pits for emergency repairs.
Meanwhile, Andy Priaulx again shone in the slightly improving conditions, with the Lynk & Co 03 TCR driver the first to go under one minute in qualifying with a time of 59.974s.
Also showing good pace was First Qualifying pacesetter Tiago Monteiro, who was comfortably in the top five, while Johan Kristoffersson put his Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR safely into Q2, being one of the first drivers to add Yokohama slick tyres to the mix, running them on the front of the car, with the Yokohama wet tyres on the rear.
Guerrieri made it back out with a hastily repaired Honda and got himself into Q3, setting the third fastest time at the end of the session, while Priaulx improved his time again to a 59.864s.
The last driver to join the top five was PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona, with Cyan Racing Lynk & Co’s Thed Björk just missing the cut.
Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon was next followed by the BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse i30 N TCR of Gabriele Tarquini, with the Volkswagen of Rob Huff and the Hyundai of Norbert Michelisz completing the top 10, with the Hungarian title leader therefore securing pole for the partially reversed Race 2 on Sunday morning.
Heartache for Priaulx as Kristoffersson slickly takes over
With the conditions still improving, the drivers mostly opted to run as late as they could in the final stage of qualifying, but heading out first paid off for Johan Kristoffersson, whose benchmark time of 59.627s, the fastest of the weekend, proved impossible to beat.
Following him out on track was Mikel Azcona, and though the Spaniard was faster than the Swede in the first sector, he lost time in the second sector and then slid his CUPRA TCR in the final corner, dropping to almost half a second behind the 30-year-old at the line.
It was former title leader Esteban Guerrieri who was out next, with the Argentinian driving a duct-taped Civic Type R TCR around the course, but the Argentinian was struggling on his wet tyres, losing time in each sector and was 0.565s away from Kristoffersson when he completed his lap. Nevertheless, fourth best time hands him two points and cuts Norbert Michelisz’s lead to nine.
Monteiro didn’t have the same problem in his KCMG Honda, however. The Portuguese was up on Kristoffersson’s time in the first sector, but slid back over Sectors 2 and 3 to be just 0.153 seconds behind at the line.
Andy Priaulx had opted to run last, and the 45-year-old was flying, two-thousandths faster than Kristoffersson in the first sector, and eked out another few hundredths in the second sector, but the Guernsey resident ran just a little too wide in the final sector, running off into the dirt and losing over a second, and would slip to fifth in the final ranking.
|2019 FIA WTCR Race of Japan – Races 2 & 3 Qualifying Results|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Johan Kristoffersson||SLR Volkswagen||59.627|
|2.||Tiago Monteiro||KCMG||59.780||+ 0.153|
|3.||Mikel Azcona||PWR Racing||1:00.104||+ 0.477|
|4.||Esteban Guerrieri||Münnich Motorsport||1:00.192||+ 0.565|
|5.||Andy Priaulx||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||1:01.023||+ 1.396|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|6.||Thed Björk||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||1:00.280||+ 0.416|
|7.||Kevin Ceccon||Team Mulsanne||1:00.353||+ 0.489|
|8.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||1:00.367||+ 0.503|
|9.||Rob Huff||SLR VW Motorsport||1:00.467||+ 0.603|
|10.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse||1:00.481||+ 0.617|
|11.||Attila Tassi||KCMG||1:00.783||+ 0.919|
|12.||Néstor Girolami||Münnich Motorsport||1:00.994||+ 1.130|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|13.||Benjamin Leuchter||SLR Volkswagen||1:00.763||+ 0.537|
|14.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||1:00.810||+ 0.584|
|15.||Ryuichiro Tomita||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||1:00.815||+ 0.589|
|16.||Yann Ehrlacher||Cyan Performance Lynk & Co||1:00.862||+ 0.636|
|17.||Yvan Muller||Cyan Racing Lynk & Co||1:00.870||+ 0.644|
|18.||Frédéric Vervisch||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||1:00.874||+ 0.648|
|19.||Nicky Catsburg||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||1:00.894||+ 0.668|
|20.||Mehdi Bennani||SLR VW Motorsport||1:00.902||+ 0.676|
|21.||Jim Ka To||KCMG||1:00.982||+ 0.756|
|22.||Ritomo Miyata||Audi Team Hitotsuyama||1:00.982||+ 0.756|
|23.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Mulsanne||1:01.032||+ 0.806|
|25.||Daniel Haglöf||PWR Racing||1:01.045||+ 0.819|
|26.||Niels Langeveld||Comtoyou Team Audi Sport||1:01.149||+ 0.923|
|27.||Gordon Shedden||Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport||1:01.346||+ 1.120|
|24.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||1:01.392||+ 1.166|
|28.||Augusto Farfus||BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team||1:01.864||+ 1.638|
|Outside 105%||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|EXC.||Tom Coronel||Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing||excluded|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 59.864 posted by Andy Priaulx.
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:00.226 posted by Andy Priaulx.
- The fastest five qualifiers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- Tom Coronel was excluded from qualifying for a refueling safety breach during Qualifying.
Images and text via FIA WTCR Media