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José María López edges closer to title with fifth pole of the year

José María López edged closer to claiming the World Touring Car Championship title at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, as López dominated Q3 with a time eight tenths faster than Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller.

Having failed to top either of Saturday morning’s free practice sessions, López ended up being the form man throughout qualifying, after initially setting the pace in Q1 with a lap of 1:56.759.

The Argentine then went even faster in Q2, before shaving three tenths of his time in the all-important Q3 to easily take his 20th career pole position ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller.

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Muller was a huge 0.807 seconds behind in Q3, with the result giving López a 120-point lead in the drivers’ championship courtesy of the five additional points he gains for pole.

Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani made it three Citroëns at the front of the field in third, whilst Honda’s Tiago Monteiro gave the Japanese marque something to cheer about at their home race by putting his Civic in fourth, despite carrying the same 80 kg of compensation weight as the pace-setting C-Elysées.

The second SLR Citroën of Tom Chilton also made it into Q3 and will start from fifth for the Main Race, after posting a time 1.275 seconds off the pace.

Argentine Néstor Girolami, who had dominated practice earlier in the day, just missed out on getting through to Q3 by just over one tenth, putting his Polestar Volvo in sixth on the grid for his first race with the team.

Nicky Catsburg was the leading LADA driver in seventh, as the Russian manufacturer only got one of its Vesta WTCC cars through to Q2. Thed Björk in the second Polestar Volvo qualified in eighth, just three tenths slower than his team-mate.

Honda duo Rob Huff and Norbert Michelisz completed the top ten in ninth and tenth respectively, which gives them a front-row starting position for the reverse-grid Opening Race, handing Honda the chance to potentially claim victory on home soil on Sunday.

Münnich Motorsport’s James Thompson was 11th on his sixth outing with the team this year, ahead of the third SLR car of Grégoire Demoustier in 12th.

LADA duo Hugo Valente, who became a father for the first time recently, and Gabriele Tarquini qualified in 13th and 14th respectively, just over a second slower than the pace in Q1.

Local driver Ryo Michigami, competing in a fourth works Honda this weekend, had looked like possibly going through to Q2 before the Japanese driver was pipped near the end of Q1 and forced to settle for 15th for both races.


Citroën, who once again employed Tom Chilton as their third representative, took the quickest Q3 time with a result of 3:59.494, a huge 1.045 seconds faster than Honda, who came in second.

LADA continued to be the third-fastest manufacturer in Japan, with the Russian marque’s trio a further four tenths of a second back, marking the fourth consecutive time that LADA have come third in the MAC3 contest.

Sunday’s Opening Race takes place at 14:35 local time (06:35 BST, 07:35 CEST), with the Main Race following at 15:50 local time (07:50 BST, 08:50 CEST).

Top ten times

1 37 José María LÓPEZ Citroën Total WTCC Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:55.602
2 68 Yvan MULLER Citroën Total WTCC Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:56.409 0.807
3 25 Mehdi BENNANI Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:56.535 0.933
4 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 3 1:56.602 1.000
5 3 Tom CHILTON Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:56.877 1.275
The following times are from Q2
6 81 Néstor GIROLAMI Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 WTCC 3 1:56.916 0.982
7 10 Nicky CATSBURG LADA Sport Rosneft LADA Vesta WTCC 5 1:57.088 1.154
8 62 Thed BJÖRK Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 WTCC 3 1:57.142 1.208
9 12 Rob HUFF Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 3 1:57.251 1.317
10 5 Norbert MICHELISZ Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 4 1:57.465 1.531

Complete session results

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