Double World Touring Car champion Jose Maria Lopez secured pole for Sunday's main race at Paul Ricard with a scintillating lap of the Le Castellet circuit
Lopez set a best time of 1m28.950s - the fastest lap of the weekend - in the final shootout session to secure pole in his Citroen C-Elysee, despite dropping time in the first sector of his lap.
In securing the five points for pole, the Argentinian also maintains his record of never being headed in the world championship since he joined Citroen in 2014.
Honda's Tiago Monteiro impressed to split Lopez and the second Citroen C-Elysee of Yvan Muller with a fine performance throughout the hour.
Monteiro squeezed into the third part of qualifying with an improvement on the final lap of Q2, and made the most of that opportunity to secure a spot on the front row of the main race grid - his time eventually 0.263s off Lopez.
Muller had been faster than team-mate Lopez in the second part of qualifying and set the fastest first sector of all on his shootout lap, but lost time in sectors two and three and was forced to settle for third.
Tom Coronel was another standout performer in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze, securing fourth after making it through to Q3.
The Dutchman's brake pedal stuck on his flying lap but he was able to trigger the timing beam on his return to the pitlane, and will start ahead of Lada's Nicky Catsburg who did not leave the pits.
Thed Bjork was close to achieving a place in the top five shootout on Polestar and Volvo's return to the WTCC, but was ultimately forced to settle for sixth on the grid for Sunday's main race.
Bjork's final lap in Q2 had nudged him back into the top five, having initially been displaced by Catsburg, but an improvement from Monteiro denied the Swede.
He will instead occupy places on the third row of both of Sunday's grids, starting the main race ahead of Norbert Michelisz and Mehdi Bennani.
Rob Huff will start Sunday's opening race of the season from pole, after finishing 10th in the second segment of qualifying.
The Briton complained that his Honda Civic was loose at the rear but, after challenges from the Lada duo of Hugo Valente and Gabriele Tarquini faded, Huff was able to hang on to 10th which, under new rules for 2016, hands him first on the grid for Sunday's opening round of the season.
Tom Chilton was the biggest casualty in Q1, falling short in a three-way battle between himself, Valente and Michelisz.
Valente had started the final set of laps outside of the top 12, but dragged his Lada Vesta ahead of Chilton.
The Briton was able to improve his time but not his position on his run, which allowed Michelisz to sneak between the pair into the final Q2 slot.
Chilton's SLR team-mate Gregoire Demoustier was also eliminated, as were Campos Racing's John Filippi, Rene Munnich and Zengo's Ferenc Ficza - the Zengo Motorsport driver continuing to rack up mileage.
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