Motegi WTCC: Michelisz beats Catsburg to take pole
Honda driver Norbert Michelisz stormed to pole position for Sunday's main WTCC race in Japan at a wet Motegi.
Michelisz offered the factory Honda team some respite after its exclusion from the previous round of the championship with his third pole position of the season 0.370 seconds from Volvo's Nicky Catsburg.
The pair had looked favourites for top spot in an exclusive Honda-Volvo pole position shootout session at the end of qualifying; Catsburg topped the opening two sessions, albeit once Michelisz had abandoned any further runs after his initial efforts in both Q1 and Q2 proved enough to seal his passage to the next stage.
Michelisz was more than half a second up on Nestor Girolami's previous benchmark time through the first sector of his shootout lap and gained further ground in sectors two or three.
Although he forfeited more than half a second in the final sector, Michelisz still completed his lap 0.934 seconds clear of the chasing pack - which proved enough to clinch pole after Catsburg's relative struggles through the opening couple of sectors of his run.
Catsburg went fastest of all through the final sector in his Volvo, but it was not enough to displace Michelisz who claimed the additional five points for pole position.
Catsburg was a comfortable second in the end, more than half a second clear of teammate Girolami
Making a stand-in appearance for the Honda outfit in place of the absent Tiago Monteiro, Esteban Guerrieri qualified fourth.
Ryo Michigami - on his first appearance in the third part of qualifying in the WTCC - was fifth in the third works Honda.
Girolami's place in the final part of qualifying came at the expense of teammate and championship leader Thed Bjork.
Bjork had held the crucial fifth place after the 10 minutes of Q2 had elapsed and even improved to fourth, but was bumped back by improvements from Argentinian pair Guerrieri and Girolami and will start the main race from sixth.
It also means Bjork scores no bonus points, awarded to those who qualify in the top five.
Mehdi Bennani qualified seventh in his Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen, with the RC Motorsport Lada of Yann Ehrlacher separating the Moroccan from team-mate Tom Chilton.
Kevin Gleason will start the opening reversed-grid race from pole in his Lada after pipping the Zengo Motorsport Honda of Daniel Nagy for 10th in the second part of qualifying by 0.005s.
Rob Huff was the shock casualty from the first segment of qualifying, managing only the 13th fastest time in Q1.
Munnich Motorsport driver Huff had dragged his Citroen up to ninth within the final five minutes of the session, but he was soon bumped down to 14th by a raft of improvements.
Although Huff found time on his final run, Nagy's earlier effort to leap to 10th meant Huff was the fastest man eliminated from Q1 with a best time of 2m11.879s, a full 2.357s away from the session best.
Motegi WTCC: Michelisz tops wet first practice
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