Although still not dry, the weather conditions had brightened up for the second World Touring Car Cup qualifying session at Suzuka. Unlike the earlier round of qualifying, this event would consist of two knock-out rounds and then a final five-car shoot-out to decide the starting order for races two and three.
In the first knock-out round, only the top twelve out of twenty nine cars would progress. Usually, one or two high-profile names tend to fall by the wayside due to the competitive nature of the championship, and today was no exception. Yvan Muller was knocked out in seventeenth, while Frederic Vervisch – who was very competitive in the previous sessions – was down in eighteenth.
In fact, not a single Audi would progress despite showing really strong pace earlier in the weekend. Andy Priaulx meanwhile, was the quickest driver of all in his Lynk & Co.
Moving onto the second phase of qualifying, there were now two things to keep an eye on. First of all, the top five in this round would go on to battle for pole position, but whoever finished in tenth place would secure pole position for the reversed-grid Race Two.
Andy Priaulx continued his stunning form and was fastest once again. Tiago Monteiro and Esteban Guerrieri ended the session in second and third, despite a heavy brush with the barriers for the latter.
Johan Kristoffersson ended up in fourth for Volkswagen, while Mikel Azcona was the final driver to make it into the top five shoot-out for pole position in race three.
As for the reversed grid aspect of qualifying, Norbert Michelisz was tenth fastest, handing him pole position for race two. He’ll be joined on the front row of that grid by Rob Huff, who was ninth fastest.
Kristoffersson was the first driver to set his time in the one-lap shoot-out for pole. The Swede was hugely impressive as his lap time of 59.627 seconds was the fastest of anyone during any session all weekend.
Mikel Azcona was next up, but despite a faster first sector, the young Spaniard ended up four tenths of a second off the pace.
Esteban Guerrieri then took to the circuit, but never really looked like challenging for pole. In the end, Guerrieri would go slower than Azcona.
Race one pole-sitter Tiago Monteiro was the penultimate driver to set his lap time. He ran Kristoffersson close, but in the end, had to settle for second place.
That left just one more driver. Andy Priaulx had been the quickest man throughout qualifying, and after sector one was just two thousandths of a second behind the ultimate pace. Through sector two, he was the fastest of all, so it would all come down to the final few corners to decide who would claim pole position.
And indeed, the front row of the grid was in his hands, but at the final corner Priaulx dropped a wheel onto the grass which dragged him wide. In the end, it was heartbreak for the former World Champion, who would instead have to settle for fifth after losing over a second to his rivals on the very last bend.
That meant that Johan Kristoffersson would be on pole position for race three, with Tiago Monteiro joining him at the head of the field.