Tiago Monteiro and KCMG led a sensational all-Honda one-two-three in Suzuka qualifying as he claimed his first WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup pole position in Japan.
The Portuguese driver, who made an emotional comeback from injury at Honda’s home circuit last year, marked the one-year anniversary of his return with an incredible performance in his Civic Type R TCR.
Finding increasing speed in an ultra-wet first qualifying session, the Vila Real race winner claimed the top spot by just over a tenth of a second from fellow Honda Racing driver Esteban Guerrieri to take the team’s second pole of 2019 and Honda’s fifth.
In damp conditions in the later session, he showed yet more of his earlier form as the Portuguese ace put his car second for Sunday’s third race and ninth on Race Two’s partially-reversed grid.
Team-mate Attila Tassi had just set the fourth-best time of the opening session when he spun off at Turn 2. For bringing out the red flags, his best time, which would have been enough for a top-five spot, was deleted and he starts 24th instead.
He made amends in the later session to put himself 11th on the starting grid for each of Sunday’s race.
Wildcard entrant Jim Ka To, racing a third KCMG car, adapted superbly to the conditions, despite having never driven on WTCR’s Yokohama wet tyres.
He qualified 21st in both sessions; impressively missing a spot in Q2 by less than two tenths of a second in the latter session.
ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Esteban Guerrieri, who lies second in the championship, enjoyed a strong day as he maximised the handling of the Civic Type R TCR in the wet opening session to qualify second for Saturday’s race.
After running off the track at the final corner during Q2 later on and clipping the tyre barrier, he was indebted to the sensational work of the Münnich mechanics, who repaired
His car in just minutes, which enabled him to rejoin the track with 90 seconds remaining.
A stunning lap promoted him from 12th to third, putting him into Q3 and allowing him to qualify fourth; a result that means the gap between Esteban and the series leader has been cut from 15 points at the start of the day to just nine.
Team-mate Bebu Girolami was equally fast in the wet conditions to complete the all-Honda sweep of the top three positions.
Unfortunately for the Argentinian, however, a technical issue at the end of Q2 prevented him from taking to the track when conditions were at their best and meant he could not improve on 11th place for both of Sunday’s races.
Worse still, the issue means that his engine will need to be changed overnight; putting him to the back of the grid for Race One.
One race takes place tomorrow with a double-header on Sunday.