Norbert Michelisz claimed his first pole position driving a Honda in the World Touring Car Championship at the Japanese marque’s home circuit of Suzuka.
The Zengo Motorsport driver clinched top spot with his first lap in the Q2 session, with big names Yvan Muller and Gabriele Tarquini going on to make mistakes in their attempts to match him and finishing up fourth and eighth respectively.
“I don’t know what to say,” declared the Hungarian star afterwards. “My car was brilliant and after my first lap in Q2, I did not know if it was good enough for pole position, but I was sure it was good enough for a very good result. I’m very happy, because this is the most important event for Honda and the pole means a lot for everybody who is involved in the programme.
“During today’s free practice I realized that Suzuka is a circuit where overdriving is punishing. You should avoid to push on the limit at every corner to achieve a perfect lap. I drove smoothly, avoiding to make mistakes that may cost six or seven positions.
“I am quite confident for tomorrow, because our car is better on the race distance than in qualifying. I already had a number of podium finishes this year, now I really want to win a race and therefore I will attack from the beginning.”
Alex MacDowall claimed his best ever qualifying result in the WTCC in second place, 0.125 seconds away from Michelisz in his Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet.
“We have worked very much on the set up with my engineer, and the car has improved a lot since Friday’s test,” explained the Cumbrian. “Now it’s pretty good and I proved this by qualifying in P2 and fastest of the Chevrolet cars. My lap was not perfect, but very close to it.
“I am quite optimistic for tomorrow, because the car is also competitive on the race distance despite the compensation weight. I want to take it easy at the start to save my tyres, and then wait for the right moment for fighting with Norbert, as I also want to claim my first victory tomorrow.”
Tom Chilton, a first-time pole-sitter and race winner last time out in Sonoma, was third in his RML Chevrolet, outqualifying his more illustrious team-mate Muller for the second round in succession.
The second Bamboo driver James Nash was narrowly outpaced by Muller in the fight for fourth. Tiago Monteiro was the best of the factory-entered Hondas in sixth ahead of Pepe Oriola and Tarquini. The BMWs of Tom Coronel and Mehdi Bennani completed the top ten with the Moroccan claiming the race two pole position for the second consecutive event.
British racers Rob Huff and James Thompson will start both races from 11th and 12th respectively. Takuya Izawa, piloting a third factory Honda for their home round, could only manage 15th, two spots ahead of fellow Japanese driver Hiroki Yoshimoto. Former GP2 driver Yoshimoto has replaced Michel Nykjaer in the Nika Racing Chevrolet after the Dane was forced out by a lack of budget despite lying third in the overall standings and top of the Yokohama Trophy.
Local regulars Masaki Kano and Yukinori Taniguchi were 21st and 24th driving the BMWs usually raced by Franz Engstler and Fredy Barth respectively.