WTCC Japan: Jose Maria Lopez leads Citroen front row for main race

Citroen's Jose Maria Lopez clinched a commanding pole for the main World Touring Car Championship race in Japan ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller

WTCC Japan: Jose Maria Lopez leads Citroen front row for main race

Lopez was fastest in the first two parts of qualifying at Motegi in his C-Elysee and went into the final Q3 shootout session favourite to secure the main race pole.

The Argentinian, who has a mathematical chance of clinching a third-straight championship crown this weekend, was the last man to take to the track in the shootout and duly blitzed the previous best time with a 1m55.602s lap to secure his 20th pole in the WTCC.

Muller's previous benchmark was 0.807s down on his team-mate's time, the Frenchman instead settling for second, with the independent Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen of Mehdi Bennani securing third.

Tiago Monteiro was the only non-Citroen to make the final shootout and will start from fourth, having lost time relative to Bennani in the final sector of his lap.

Bennani's SLR team-mate Tom Chilton snuck into the shootout after a late improvement in the second part of qualifying, and will start the main race from fifth.

Chilton was one of the few to attempt a second run in Q2 and, along with Monteiro, was rewarded by booking a spot in the third part of qualifying, bumping out Polestar stand-in Nestor Girolami, who topped Saturday's earlier practice sessions.

Nick Catsburg was best of the Ladas in seventh ahead of the second Polestar Volvo S60 of Thed Bjork and Honda's Rob Huff.

2015 Motegi main race polesitter Norbert Michelisz will start the 2016 opening, reversed grid race from pole after he qualified 10th, 0.214s slower than team-mate Huff.

Munnich Motorsport's James Thompson was 11th from the third independent SLR C-Elysee of Gregoire Demoustier.

Frenchman Demoustier bettered his Q1 time late on in the first session to push a second Lada into the drop zone after the chequered flag, with Hugo Valente the unlucky 13th man ahead of team-mate Gabriele Tarquini, both falling victim of a host of late improvements as they tumbled down the order.

Ryo Michigami, driving a fourth works Honda Civic in a guest outing at his home round, qualified 15th ahead of his first race in the WTCC, having sat as high as third for much of the session.

He will line up alongside the Campos Racing Chevrolet of John Filippi, who was 16th, with Zengo drivers Ferenc Ficza and Daniel Nagy and ROAL Motorsport's Tom Coronel - whose Chevrolet Cruze was fitted with a new engine - completing the grid.

Citroen grabbed a fifth win in the MAC3 time trial after qualifying, with Lopez, Muller and SLR nominee Chilton comfortably beating the evenly-matched Honda and Lada teams.

Running last, the Citroen train went through every split up on its rivals' previous best time, and crossed the line with a combined two-lap time of 3m59.494s.

That was just over a second faster than the second-placed Honda crew could manage, with Michelisz completing its run in 4m00.539s to edge Lada for second by 0.427s.

RACE ONE GRID

Pos Driver Team Car
1 Norbert Michelisz Honda Racing Team JAS Honda
2 Rob Huff Honda Racing Team JAS Honda
3 Thed Bjork Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo
4 Nicky Catsburg LADA Sport Lada
5 Nestor Girolami Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo
6 Tom Chilton Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen
7 Tiago Monteiro Honda Racing Team JAS Honda
8 Mehdi Bennani Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen
9 Yvan Muller Citroen Racing Citroen
10 Jose Maria Lopez Citroen Racing Citroen
11 James Thompson Munnich Motorsport Chevrolet
12 Gregoire Demoustier Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen
13 Hugo Valente LADA Sport Lada
14 Gabriele Tarquini LADA Sport Lada
15 Ryo Michigami Honda Racing Team JAS Honda
16 John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet
17 Ferenc Ficza Zengo Motorsport Honda
18 Daniel Nagy Zengo Motorsport Honda
19 Tom Coronel ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet

RACE TWO GRID

Pos Driver Team Car Time Gap
1 Jose Maria Lopez Citroen Racing Citroen 1m55.602s -
2 Yvan Muller Citroen Racing Citroen 1m56.409s 0.807s
3 Mehdi Bennani Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 1m56.535s 0.933s
4 Tiago Monteiro Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 1m56.602s 1.000s
5 Tom Chilton Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 1m56.877s 1.275s
6 Nestor Girolami Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo 1m56.916s -
7 Nicky Catsburg LADA Sport Lada 1m57.088s -
8 Thed Bjork Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo 1m57.142s -
9 Rob Huff Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 1m57.251s -
10 Norbert Michelisz Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 1m57.465s -
11 James Thompson Munnich Motorsport Chevrolet 1m57.930s -
12 Gregoire Demoustier Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 1m58.028s -
13 Hugo Valente LADA Sport Lada 1m57.825s -
14 Gabriele Tarquini LADA Sport Lada 1m57.908s -
15 Ryo Michigami Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 1m57.971s -
16 John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet 1m58.119s -
17 Ferenc Ficza Zengo Motorsport Honda 1m58.885s -
18 Daniel Nagy Zengo Motorsport Honda 1m59.000s -
19 Tom Coronel ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet 2m01.233s -

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