José María López takes pole in thrilling Suzuka shootout

José María López took pole position at Suzuka after an incredibly closely-fought shootout. The Argentinian came home ahead of Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller by a mere 0.051s, with Sébastien Loeb completing a 1-2-3 for the French manufacturer.

The first section of the session was disrupted by a red flag as TC2 driver Felipe De Souza beached his BMW in the gravel at Turn 8. Yvan Muller led the session ahead of his Argentinian team-mate, with Tom Chilton setting an impressive third in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet. Sébastien Loeb came fourth ahead of Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, while Gianni Morbidelli confirmed his strong form in Japan by setting the sixth fastest laptime. Tom Coronel was seventh in his Chevrolet RML Cruze, with Dusan Borkovic ahead of Honda’s Tiago Monteiro and Campos Racing team-mate Hugo Valente. Norbert Michelisz and Mehdi Bennani made sure all four Honda Civics progressed to Q2, as a last-gasp lap from the Hungarian allowed him into the next segment of the session.

Q2 saw Muller, López, Loeb, Chilton and Valente progress to the final shootout, while Norbert Michelisz and Gianni Morbidelli missed out on the final segment. Tom Coronel came eighth, leaving Dusan Borkovic and Gabriele Tarquini in ninth and tenth respectively, meaning they will start from the front row in Race 2. Tiago Monteiro and Mehdi Bennani came 11th and 12th respectively. Loeb had a particularly tough time getting through to Q3 as the Frenchman tried to use Monteiro’s slipstream, but as Bennani slid in front of him he had to back off and was forced to do one more lap to make it to the top five.

The final shootout saw Chilton beat Valente in the Chevrolet battle, but the show was dominated by the Citroën drivers as all three drivers had very similar times in both sector 1 and 2, leaving the crowd breathless as José María López managed to beat team-mate Sébastien Loeb by just over a tenth and Yvan Muller lost out on the Argentinian by a mere 75 thousandths.

López collects 5 more points with this pole position, increasing his advantage over Muller to 94 points with just 105 left up for grabs, meaning a fourth place in Race 1 will be enough to secure the championship.

The first race is scheduled for 14.30 local time and will last 11 laps.