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Aurélien Comte and Kevin Ceccon were on super-fast form in qualifying at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan today, taking the Suzuka DHL Pole Position for Race 1 and 3 respectively.

 For both drivers it was their first taste of the famous Japanese Grand Prix venue and the first time they had captured top spot on the grid in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO, which is building up to a thrilling title showdown with just two events remaining.
Comte and Ceccon join six other drivers in qualifying on pole in the WTCR, while their respective customer car brands – PEUGEOT and Alfa Romeo – join Audi, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen in qualifying at the front.
Pepe Oriola (Team OSCARO by Campos Racing) was P10 in the all-important Qualifying Q2 phase of Second Qualifying, which earns the Cupra driver pole for the reverse-grid Race 2.
Ceccon was second to Comte in First Qualifying with Honda-powered drivers Esteban Guerrieri and Yann Ehrlacher third and fourth fastest for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport at the Japanese make’s home track. Championship leader Gabriele Tarquini completed the top five times with title rival and fellow Hyundai driver Yvan Muller one place behind.
Tarquini improved his chances of title glory by going second quickest behind Ceccon in Second Qualifying with Comte third, Ehrlacher fourth, Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR) fifth and Aurélien Panis equalling his career-best sixth. 
First Qualifying recap: Comte is big in Japan
Aurélien Comte claimed his first DHL Pole Position in the opening qualifying session. The DG Sport Compétition driver set a best lap of 2m11.536s in his PEUGEOT 308TCR, which was good enough to knock Kevin Ceccon’s rapid Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR from the top spot. “My first pole in WTCR, it’s fantastic for the team,” said Comte. “I am very happy.”
Ceccon had been on the pace in Free Practice 2, only to hit a tyre stack and damage his Alfa’s front-right suspension. Following quick repairs from Team Mulsanne, he was once again on strong form and leapt to the top of the times after 11 minutes of the session. But Comte bettered his mark with 10 minutes to go.
ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport pair Esteban Guerrieri and Yann Ehrlacher were third and fourth fastest in their Honda Civic Type R TCRs, while Hyundai rivals Gabriele Tarquini and Yvan Muller were fifth and sixth quickest for BRC Racing Team and YMR respectively. Once again the times were tight around the 5.8-kilometre circuit, with less than a second separating the top 15.
Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani was next up in his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, ahead of the second BRC Hyundai of Norbert Michelisz. Jean-Karl Vernay, who was struggling for pace in his Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team RS 3 LMS, put in a big effort to go ninth best, while Comte’s team-mate Mato Homola – who had been fastest in Free Practice 1 – completed the top 10.
Frédéric Vervisch was the first of the Comtoyou Audis in P11, ahead of the fastest Cupra TCR of Pepe Oriola. Comtoyou’s Aurélien Panis and Nathanaël Berthon were next, while Briton Rob Huff languished in a disappointing P15. But at least he was ahead of YMR title contender Thed Björk, who could manage no better than P17 fastest in his Hyundai.
Tiago Monteiro was P20 in his first WTCR OSCARO qualifying session in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda, as he continued his remarkable comeback from injury, with Vernay’s team-mate Gordon Shedden – a race winner last time out – in P22.
Second Qualifying: Ceccon shines with shootout blast
Kevin Ceccon grabbed a sensational first DHL Pole Position for himself and the Team Mulsanne outfit. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR driver advanced to the Q3 segment for the first time by virtue of setting the fastest time in Q2, but showed no signs of inexperience on his shootout run as he romped to pole ahead of BRC Racing Team's Gabriele Tarquini.
DG Sport Compétition driver Aurélien Comte, who claimed the DHL Pole Position for Race 1, ended up third, ahead of the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR of Yann Ehrlacher and Sébastien Loeb Racing's Mehdi Bennani.
“It’s something incredible for me and for the team," said Ceccon. "It’s the first pole position for me in the world championship. It’s a great day for everyone. “I was sure I could do a bit better than Q2 but you know, you have to do and it’s not always easy to improve. But it was an amazing lap and I’m really happy for the job we did.”
Tarquini was fastest in the 20-minute Q1 session, ahead Ceccon, Ehrlacher, Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR racer Rob Huff and the YMR Hyundai i30 N TCR of Yvan Muller. Comte advanced in his PEUGEOT 308TCR, while title outsider Pepe Oriola and Bennani also made the cut. Title contender Thed Björk struggled and was the biggest name to drop out in Q1. A late effort from Ceccon - who did not have a time on the board until the final minute - bumped Björk down to P13, and a red flag left the Swede no time to respond in his YMR Hyundai i30 N TCR.
Tiago Monteiro continued to impress on his comeback weekend and was P16 in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda Civic Type R TCR, while Jean-Karl Vernay was frustrated to drop out in his Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team RS 3 LMS. ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver Timo Scheider and Comtoyou Racing's Nathanaël Berthon were P18 and P19 but within a second of Tarquini's fastest Q1 time, highlighting the competitiveness of the order.
Ceccon set the pace in the shorter Q2 session ahead of Comte and Tarquini, with Ehrlacher and Bennani the final two drivers to advance to the pole shootout.
Aurélien Panis was sixth, missing out on a place in the shootout by two tenths in his Comtoyou Racing Audi RS 3 LMS, ahead of the second BRC Hyundai i30 N TCR of Norber Michelisz. Denis Dupont (Audi Sport Team Comtoyou) was eighth, ahead of Huff and Oriola - who will start the reverse-grid Race 2 from first place.
Muller and Esteban Guerrieri clashed on their opening out-laps and returned to the pits. While both were able to set times before the end of the session, neither made the top 10 - despite Guerrieri matching Oriola's earlier time in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda.
Bennani was the first to attempt his timed lap in the Q3 shootout session, setting a 2m13.608s, but that effort was quickly beaten by Ehrlacher, who recorded a 2m11.746s.
Tarquini was next up and shot to the top of the times, besting Ehrlacher's time by three tenths of a second. He looked set to be challenged by Comte, but the Frenchman had a sideways moment at Spoon Curve and ended up 0.194s short of Tarquini's effort.
That left only Ceccon to run, and the Italian duly delivered on his Q2 promise by setting the fastest time of the weekend so far - a 2m10.742s - to beat WTCR OSCARO points leader Tarquini to pole.
Race 1 of WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan takes place on Saturday at 14h05 local time.
WTCR drivers form guard of honour as Monteiro returns after 415 days of fighting
Tiago Monteiro is back competing again after 415 days of fighting to recover from serious head and neck injuries sustained in a testing crash in Spain. In emotional scenes at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan this morning, drivers from the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO formed a guard of honour in the Suzuka pit lane. They then watched Monteiro take to the Suzuka track for Free Practice 1 before following the Portuguese on to the 5.807-kilometre circuit. Speaking over live intercom, the Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda driver said: "This is a very emotional time, to come back after 14 months. I am trying to focus on practice, but there are a lot of emotions, so many. I've got tears in my eyes. I've had an unbelievable reception from everyone in the WTCR Eurosport family. I've been dreaming about this for so long and now we are here. That is why I am in love with this sport and this championship."  Monteiro’s first flying lap was a 2m16.453s although the ex-grand prix racer insisted before the travelling to Japan that performance was secondary to reacclimatising to the rigours of World Touring Car racing. François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCR promoter, said: “This was a very emotional moment not just for Tiago but for everyone at Honda and the entire WTCR family. We are so happy he’s back where he belongs on track in a racing car.”
Race 1 grid penalties for leading drivers
Thed Björk, Yann Ehrlacher, Esteban Guerrieri, Norbert Michelisz, Timo Scheider and Gabriele Tarquini will start Race 1 at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan three places further back than where they qualified after they were penalised by event officials. They were deemed to have driven unnecessarily slowly in the closing stages of qualifying, presumably to obtain more favourable track position, which created a potentially dangerous situation. Because no driver was considered more at fault than the other, they were all docked three places for Saturday’s opening counter.
Click here to find out where to watch the WTCR OSCARO race action from Suzuka.