Audi Sport Team Joest pipped its LMP1 rivals to take pole position for the Japanese round of the World Endurance Championship in a brilliant qualifying session.
All three manufacturers – Audi, Porsche and Toyota – were in contention at Fuji Speedway, but after 20 minutes of close fought action it was the #8 Audi R18 which secured pole.
Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval finished up with an average time of 1:23.570s, out-gunning the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard by just 0.025 seconds.
Di Grassi and Duval will share their car with Oliver Jarvis during Sunday’s six hour race.
The result means Audi now has five pole positions to its name in the 2016 World Endurance Championship.
Duval sealed the top spot when he posted a 1:23.286s lap during the second set of runs.
That gave Webber a clear target in the chasing Porsche, but the Australian could only manage a 1:23.665s best – resulting in a two-driver average of 1:23.595s – which was enough to preserve the Audi’s lead.
However, Webber’s flying lap did ensure Porsche eclipsed the average times set by both Toyota TS050s, despite Stephane Sarrazin nailing the fastest lap of the day at 1:23.239s.
Toyota will line up on the second row of the grid for its home race, with the TS050s showing considerably more pace than they displayed earlier in the season.
Fifth on the grid will go to the #7 Audi R18 driven by Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer.
Treluyer briefly held provisional pole during the first set of runs, but his 1:24.001s time was cut back by Toyota’s Kazuki Nakajima and then Di Grassi. Andre Lotterer then posted a sub 1m 24s lap to improve the duo’s average to 1:23.856s.
Rounding out the top six was the championship leading Porsche qualified by Neel Jani and Marc Lieb, which at an early stage held second place but dropped back as the session progressed. Still, the car’s average of 1:24.134s was only half a second shy of the overall pace, creating an extremely close top six.
Quickest in LMP1 Privateer was the Rebellion Racing R-One driven by Alexandre Imperatori and Dominik Kraihamer.
In LMP2, G-Drive Racing claimed its fifth pole position of 2016 with Roman Rusinov and guest driver Will Stevens behind the wheel of the #26 ORECA-Nissan.
Stevens kicked things off with a 1:31.332s marker which was the quickest of the opening runs, before Rusinov stepped in and produced a 1:32.064. That gave an average time of 1:31.698s, just two tenths of a second better than the Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes.
Third place went to the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissan piloted by Sean Gelael and Antonio Giovinazzi, 0.247 seconds off the pace.
Sporting a new Jagonya Ayam KFC livery, the two WEC débutants impressed in their first qualifying session. The pair will join ex-Formula One driver Giedo van der Garde during Sunday’s race.
British outfit Strakka Racing was on course to claim third with its open-cockpit Gibson-Nissan, but a spin for Jonny Kane on his final tour left him unable to improve as Gelael moved ESM ahead.
Completing the top five in LMP2 was the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan started by Filipe Albuquerque and finished by the team’s owner Ricardo Gonzalez.
The GTE-Pro category was also close, but only between the two teams running turbocharged cars.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing beat AF Corse Ferrari to claim its first ever WEC pole position and a front-row lockout of the grid.
Stefan Muecke and Olivier Pla combined to set an average time of 1:37.681s which was enough to edge out the sister car driven by Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell by 0.044 seconds.
The two Ferrari 488s will follow suit on the second row of the grid, with the #71 car of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon qualifying ahead of the #51 driven by Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado.
Aston Martin Racing prop up the third row after the British marque struggled to exert the same pace that saw it win the three most recent WEC events.
An air restrictor penalty and a rear gurney addition as per the championship’s Balance of Performance rules meant the Astons were slower than usual.
Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen finished fifth in the #95 car, just under half a second behind the pole sitting Ford, while Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway wound up a further three tenths back.
Porsche bookended the class, with its Proton-run 911 RSR coming in over a second off the pace.
In GTE-Am, Aston Martin’s Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana took their fourth pole position of the year with an average time of 1:39.490s.
The WEC 6 Hours of Fuji will get underway tomorrow (Sunday, October 16) at 03:00 UK time.