Suzuka Super Formula: Yamamoto takes pole for decider
Naoki Yamamoto scored a vital pole position for Sunday's Super Formula title-decider, scoring a bonus point and edging towards championship leader Nick Cassidy in the process.
Mugen driver Yamamoto topped all three segments in qualifying on his way to his second pole of 2018, ending up with a margin of 0.284s over closest challenger Kenta Yamashita in the pole shootout.
It means Yamamoto moves within four points of Cassidy, who qualified fourth, just over half a second off the pace.
The other title protagonist, Hiroaki Ishiura, was knocked out in Q2 and will start Sunday's race from 11th on the grid.
There was drama early in Q1 as Tomoki Nojiri's Dandelion-run machine dumped oil on the circuit and then ignited in the pitlane, prompting a red flag and a delay of 14 minutes while marshals cleared the mess.
Yamamoto had already set the best time of 1m38.591s before then, which remained the best time through the session.
The 30-year-old lowered the bar to a 1m38.477s in Q2, edging out Koudai Tsukakoshi by under a tenth, and then became the only driver to dip beneath the 1m38s barrier in Q3 with a pole time of 1m37.909s.
Cassidy's Kondo Racing teammate was Yamamoto's nearest rival, falling 0.284s short of pole but beating Kazuki Nakajima (TOM'S) to a front row spot by slightly over a tenth.
Behind fourth-placed Cassidy, Tsukakoshi (Real Racing) and Ryo Hirakawa (Impul) will share the third row, followed by Kamui Kobayashi (KCMG) and Narain Karthikeyan (Nakajima Racing).
Completing the top 10 on the grid are Ishiura's Inging teammate Yuji Kunimoto and Nobuharu Matsushita (Dandelion), who along with Ishiura missed out on a spot in Q3.
Outside title contender Yuhi Sekiguchi was eliminated in Q1 after making a mistake on his hot lap, and will start 17th.
Like Impul teammate Hirakawa, Sekiguchi - who is 12 points down on Cassidy with 13 available in the race - has to win on Sunday to have any chance of winning the title.
The final race of the 2018 Super Formula season will be broadcast live on Motorsport.tv from 0505 GMT on Sunday.
Super Formula's five-way fight set to reach climax
Late-night parts run transformed Cassidy's Suzuka fortunes