Jose Maria Lopez came another step closer to completing the job of securing the 2014 World Touring Car Championship in qualifying at Suzuka.
The Argentinean edged out his Citroen team-mate Yvan Muller to take pole position in a tight Q3 shootout.
Lopez's sixth pole position of the season extends his lead in the drivers' standings over Muller to 94 points, and the triple TC2000 champion is likely to be crowned champion this weekend.
Reigning WTCC champion Muller had set the pace in Q2, and carried a 0.107-second advantage over Lopez after the first two sectors of his decisive Q3 lap.
At the chequered flag Muller fell 0.075s short of Lopez's 2m05.439s lap. The three factory Citroens were covered by just over a tenth as Sebastien Loeb claimed a fighting third.
"It was not as easy," said Lopez. "I thought I would be quicker in Q1 and Q2. I knew I had bad tyres from Shanghai and was confident that I could improve, but as at Spa earlier in the year my team-mates Yvan and Seb also improved.
"After sector one I thought it wouldn't be enough, but after my engineer David told me that Yvan had done the same time. I knew the rest of my lap was good so I thought then that I had a chance."
Muller was relieved to offer such a strong challenge to Lopez after struggling with his car on Friday.
"We worked in the area of the front axle," said Muller. "I was very worried about the car, so I am very happy we came back from that. In Q3 I turned the car a bit too much in Turn 15, but I had been told the other drivers' laptimes so I knew that I had to push."
Behind the dominant Citroen trio, Tom Chilton survived a nervy, wide, negotiation of 130R to take fourth place for ROAL Motorsport.
Fellow Chevrolet Cruze runner Hugo Valente secured fifth place ahead of Zengo racer Norbert Michelisz in the highest-placed Honda.
On the Japanese manufacturer's home track, 2009 WTCC champion Gabriele Tarquini picked up the reversed-grid pole position in the factory car courtesy of qualifying tenth in Q2.
The Hondas sandwich a trio of Chevrolets led by Hungaroring winner Gianni Morbidelli and sometime Japanese Formula 3 and Formula Nippon champion Tom Coronel.
Lopez admitted to butterflies ahead of Sunday's penultimate round of the season, but maintained that he will approach the race as any other.
"Sometimes just thinking about the title makes my leg shake," said Lopez.
"If things happen as normal, and God does what he wants, I should be champion tomorrow, but you never know in motor racing and I have also heard that we could have some rain on the way."
|1||Jose Maria Lopez||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||2m05.439s||-|
|2||Yvan Muller||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||2m05.514s||0.075s|
|3||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||2m05.590s||0.151s|
|4||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet||2m06.321s||0.882s|
|5||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing||Chevrolet||2m06.703s||1.264s|
|6||Norbert Michelisz||Zengo Motorsport||Honda||2m06.865s||1.426s|
|7||Gianni Morbidelli||All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport||Chevrolet||2m06.906s||1.467s|
|8||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet||2m06.993s||1.554s|
|9||Dusan Borkovic||NIS Petrol by Campos Racing||Chevrolet||2m07.132s||1.693s|
|10||Gabriele Tarquini||Castrol Honda WTC Team||Honda||2m07.305s||1.866s|
|11||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTC Team||Honda||2m07.715s||2.276s|
|12||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing||Honda||2m08.140s||2.701s|
|13||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil||Lada||2m08.241s||-|
|14||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil||Lada||2m08.677s||-|
|15||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil||Lada||2m09.472s||-|
|16||Rene Munnich||All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport||Chevrolet||2m10.014s||-|
|17||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW||2m13.585s||-|
|18||John Filippi||Campos Racing||SEAT||2m13.892s||-|
|19||Filipe Souza||Liqui Moly Team Engstler||BMW||2m16.951s||-|
|20||Henry Kwong||Campos Racing||SEAT||-||-|
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