Jose Maria Lopez took pole position for the first race of the World Touring Car Championship round at Suzuka, in which he will clinch the title if he finishes in the top four.
Beating his rival Yvan Muller by 0.075 seconds for his sixth pole position of the season extends Lopez’s points advantage to 94. With 80 points available in the final three races, Lopez just needs to score 11 to put his crown beyond doubt.
“It was definitely one of the tightest qualifying sessions of the season, but eventually it went well for me, although it was tough,” said Lopez. “Sector 1 was the one posing me most problems, but when I heard on the radio that I had done quite a good time, I started pushing and thinking I might have a chance.
“Tomorrow is going to be another day, I don’t want to think about it much. So far, I have worked as usual throughout the weekend and that is what I will do tomorrow as well.”
Sebastien Loeb completed a top-three lockout for the Citroen team. Tom Chilton was best of the rest in fourth in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet ahead of the similar Campos Racing entry of Hugo Valente.
Norbert Michelisz was the best of the Hondas on the Japanese make’s home circuit in sixth, followed by three more Chevrolets driven by Gianni Morbidelli, Tom Coronel and Dusan Borkovic.
The factory Castrol Honda team didn’t have the best of sessions on home turf, with Gabriele Tarquini beating team-mate Tiago Monteiro to P10 and the reverse grid pole position for race two.