Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz claimed a sensational pole position for Honda in Motegi, outperforming championship leader Jose Maria Lopez in the one-lap shootout.
Doing so, Michelisz claimed the first pole position for a manufacturer other than Citroen since Beijing in October last year.
In the first part of qualifying, it was Citroen’s Lopez who finished the session fastest ahead of team-mate Ma Qing Hua.
With the top 12 going through to Q2, Lopez’s best time of 1:55.929 saw him escape the drop zone and knockout Lada’s Rob Huff. Huff found more time but would only go 12th fastest, knocking out the Craft-Bamboo Chevrolet of Grégoire Demoustier.
Huff was now at risk from any further improvements from the bottom five, and that improvement came from Lada team-mate Nicky Catsburg, who went sixth fastest and dropped Huff out of the top 12, to join Demoustier, ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel, Campos Racing’s Luca Filippi and Munnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste as drivers who didn’t head into Q2.
With just ten minutes and a two-minute lap, Q2 was mostly a one-run affair. Lopez opted to abort his first run, so it was Hua who led initially for Citroen ahead of Sebastien Loeb.
Zengo Honda’s Michelisz was third quickest while Honda waited to send out their two drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini, with Monteiro targeting the reverse top ten grid due to his engine change penalty.
Lopez went fourth fastest on his second attempt while Michelisz found time to go fastest of all and ensure he made the top five shoot-out.
Tarquini’s time saw him only go sixth fastest, despite having led every practice session, while Monteiro set the eighth fastest time, therefore secured third for the reverse grid, both sandwiching the Citroen of Yvan Muller, who also missed the shootout.
Lada’s Nicky Catsburg was 10th fastest, therefore secured pole position for race two, with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton ninth quickest and he will share the front row with him.
Last was the top five shootout, with Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani going first in the Citroen C-Elysee.
The Moroccan’s benchmark was beaten by Lopez, whose time was faster than both of his Citroen team-mates Loeb and Hua, with the latter slower than Bennani’s time by two-tenths of a second.
Zengo’s Michelisz was Honda’s last chance at redemption in qualifying, with the Hungarian slightly down on Lopez’s time in the first sector, but he pulled back time in the final three sectors to grab his first pole position since Suzuka in 2013, just eight-hundredths of a second faster than the Citroen driver.
The first race takes place at 14:15 local time on Sunday.
Neil Hudson / TouringCarTimes