Norbert Michelisz claims first pole of the year for Honda in Japan

Zengő Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz claimed a sensational pole position for Honda in Motegi, outperforming championship leader José María López in the one-lap shootout to claim the first pole position for a manufacturer other than Citroën since Beijing in October last year.

In the first part of qualifying, it was Citroën’s José María López who finished the session fastest ahead of team-mate Ma Qing Hua.

With the top 12 going through to Q2, López’s best time of 1:55.929 saw him escape the drop zone and knockout Lada’s Rob Huff. Huff found more time but would only go 12th fastest, knocking out the Craft-Bamboo Chevrolet of Grégoire Demoustier.

Huff was now at risk from any further improvers from the bottom five, and that improvement came from Lada team-mate Nicky Catsburg, who went sixth fastest and dropped Huff out of the top 12, to hoin Demoustier, ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel, Campos Racing’s Luca Filippi and Münnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste as drivers who didn’t head into Q2.

With just ten minutes and a two minute lap, Q2 was mostly a one-run affair. José María López opted to abort his first run, so it was Ma Qing Hua who led initially for Citroën ahead of Sébastien Loeb. Zengö Honda’s Norbert Michelisz was third quickest, while Honda waited to send out their two drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini, with Monteiro targeting the reverse top ten grid due to his engine change penalty.

López went fourth fastest on his second attempt, while Michelisz found time to go fastest of all and ensure he made the top five shoot-out.

Tarquini’s time saw him only go sixth fastest, despite having led every practice session, while Monteiro set the eighth fastest time and therefore secured third for the reverse grid, both sandwiching the Citroën of Yvan Muller, who also missed the shootout. Lada’s Nicky Catsburg was tenth fastest and therefore secures pole position for race two, with ROAL Motosport’s Tom Chilton ninth quickest and he will therefore share the front row with him.

Last was the top five shootout, with Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani going first in the Citroën C-Elysée. The Moroccan’s benchmark was beaten by José María López, whose time was faster than both of his Citroën team-mates Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua, with the latter slower than Bennani’s time by two-tenths of a second.

Zengő’s Norbert Michelisz was Honda’s last chance at redemption in qualifying, with the Hungarian slightly down on López’s time in the first sector, but he pulled back time in the final three sectors to grab his first pole position since Suzuka in 2013, just eight-hundredths of a second faster than the Citroën driver.

The first race takes place at 14:15 JST on Sunday.