Scott Dixon denied Will Power pole position for the IZOD IndyCar Series' Motegi round, but Power will still start seven places ahead of title rival Dario Franchitti, who could only manage ninth.
The result is only the second time all year that Penske driver Power has been beaten to pole on a road course, with Dixon (Ganassi) having already been the man who ended his pole streak at Mid-Ohio last month.
"To be honest, I was up on my quick lap from Q1 by two- or three-tenths of a second, but then I kept losing it in the last section here in Turns 12, 13 and 14," said Dixon, who won the 2009 race on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval from the pole in 2009. "It was a bit frustrating but we just got it. We're on the pole and that's what counts. It feels very special to be on the pole for the last race here at Motegi."
Power hung back early in the Firestone Fast Six session, letting his rivals fight for provisional pole. Ganassi's Graham Rahal was fastest initially, with first a 1m38.6055s then a 1m38.5946s.
Dixon beat him with a 1m38.4027s just as Power finally started a quick lap. But the Australian's 1m38.4194s fell short, and he could not improve on his final shot, while Dixon edged further out of reach with a 1m38.3918s to guarantee his pole. Rahal remained third.
All three Penske drivers made it to the final segment. Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves will line up fourth and sixth, sandwiching Newman/Haas' impressive rookie James Hinchcliffe.
Franchitti's ninth place was his worst qualifying result on a road course since Long Beach in April 2010, although he was little more than a tenth of a second away from the sixth position required to make it into the pole shootout.
"Dario starting ninth is good for us, although a lot can happen in a race," said Power, who will make his ninth front-row start of the season. "We always try to put ourselves in the position to stay out of trouble and give us the best chance of winning. For me, it was pretty good through every single sector and I just made a mistake. I'm sure Scott was the same. We're all pushing for the quickest lap and at the end it was really close so front row is pretty good."
Franchitti also admitted to an error that kept him out of the Fast Six: "I couldn't put a lap together and left it until the last one and made a mistake in Turn 3," he said. "Then (James) Jakes went off in Turn 9 in front of me, covering the track in dirt. It was a combination of those two things we missed the tenth and a half we were needing."
The points leader will start behind an all-rookie fourth row, as Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) and Jakes (Coyne) delivered by far the best qualifying performances of their short IndyCar careers so far.
While Jakes made it through, his teammate Sebastien Bourdais was bumped out of the top 12 cut-off by Marco Andretti after a mistake on his final lap. Andretti, who would qualify 10th, was the only member of his Andretti Autosport team to make it beyond the group stages, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway and Danica Patrick ending up 17th, 20th and 23rd, respectively.
Another surprise from the early rounds was that Newman/Haas' Oriol Servia, who had been second in final practice, was only eighth in group two after going off the road on his best lap. He starts 16th.
Returnee Hideki Mutoh was unable to replicate his promising practice form for AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports so starts 22nd, while Tony Kanaan's off-the-pace weekend continued in the third KV car and he was slowest of all in group one.
The best of the KV drivers was Takuma Sato, who delivered 11th place for his home fans. He shares row six with a local driver of sorts, as Formula Nippon star Joao Paulo de Oliveira (ABOVE) continued to impress on his IndyCar debut for Conquest by making it to the top 12 session.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m38.3918s
2. Will Power Penske 1m38.4194s + 0.0276s
3. Graham Rahal Ganassi 1m38.5946s + 0.2028s
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m38.7082s + 0.3164s
5. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 1m38.9226s + 0.5308s
6. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m38.9743s + 0.5825s
7. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 1m38.7911s Part 2
8. James Jakes Dale Coyne 1m38.8198s Part 2
9. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m38.8738s Part 2
10. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m38.9058s Part 2
11. Takuma Sato KV 1m38.9194s Part 2
12. Joao Paulo de Oliveira Conquest 1m39.0009s Part 2
13. EJ Viso KV 1m38.9562s Group 1
14. Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne 1m38.7495s Group 2
15. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 1m39.0409s Group 1
16. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 1m38.7719s Group 2
17. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m39.0750s Group 1
18. Giorgio Pantano Dreyer & Reinbold 1m38.8588s Group 2
19. JR Hildebrand Panther 1m39.2650s Group 1
20. Mike Conway Andretti 1m38.9371s Group 2
21. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 1m39.4724s Group 1
22. Hideki Mutoh AFS/Sam Schmidt 1m38.9407s Group 2
23. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m39.4789s Group 1
24. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m39.3269s Group 2
25. Tony Kanaan KV 1m39.5004s Group 1
26. Simona de Silvestro HVM 1m39.3440s Group 2