Endurance Racing

Alonso and Nakajima claim pole for Toyota, Porsche keep Fords at bay in GTE

Photo: WEC/Marius Hecker/AdrenalMedia.com

At an orange blossom-scented Sebring, darkness has fallen at the starting order has been set for the World Endurance Championship. Toyota will start on overall pole, while Porsche claimed both GTE pole positions.

Two twenty minute qualifying sessions determined who would start where on the grid for the WEC’s 1000 Miles of Sebring. The GTE cars hit the track first, followed half an hour later by the LMP machines. Sebring is a long track, so teams were pushed for time to run two drivers in just twenty minutes, meaning the pressure was well and truly on.

Super Sebring Shootout sees Porsche on top following disrupted session

It was an eventful session for the GTE cars, as Alex Lynn in the #97 threw down the Pro gauntlet early in the session with a 1:57.306, but of course, WEC qualifying times are an average of the fastest laptimes from two of the team’s drivers. The teams were already up against it in terms of turning around two drivers in just twenty minutes, but the session was halted during the second half as the red flag was thrown due to the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari having a significant incident heading towards turn seven. Luis Perez-Companc was reported as okay, but that’s the last thing the team will have wanted before the race. The delay and restart clearly lit a fire under the drivers as the timing screen could barely keep up with cars trading the top spot, but in the end, it was a combined effort from Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen that put the #92 Porsche 911 RSR on GTE Pro pole position. The pair put in an average time of 1:57.500, just 0.115 clear of the 1:57.615 average set by Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford.

Some interesting points to note from the GTE Pro field: Antonio Garcia set the overall fastest time during the session with a blistering 1:57.257 from the invitational entered Corvette C7.R, and despite Alex Lynn’s early efforts, the #97 Aston Martin finished bottom of the heap with Maxime Martin managing just a 2.12.190 – the Vantage will start 19th of 20 GTE cars.

In GTE Am, Team Project 1’s Jorg Bergmeister set the fastest time of the first set of drivers, thanks to a 1:58.878 lap, but it wasn’t quite enough to seal the deal as Matt Campbell and Christian Reid in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche set a combined time of 1:59.790. Third quickest in the Am class was the #98 Aston Martin in the hands of Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy – a good result for the team considering the mishap that saw the #98 in the wall during FP3.

No surprises as Toyota claim pole, Jackie Chan DC Racing fastest in LMP2

Fernando Alonso and Mike Conway were Toyota’s starting combatants as the two Japanese cars began their fight for pole position. Alonso handed the car to Kazuki Nakajima having set a 1:40.124 (potentially shattering Sebring’s 33-year-old outright lap speed record), nine tenths faster than Conway’s best time in the #7. A trip off the track from Jose Maria Lopez hampered the #7’s chances to climb the order and for a while, it looked as though the car would start at the back of the LMP1 field. A 1:40.544 put in by Lopez at the end of the session put the Toyota back in its proper place at the sharp end of the field, but it wasn’t enough to beat the force that was Alonso and Nakajima.

As for best of the rest, Rebellion looked strong right from the off as both cars set times in the 1:42s compared to the 1:43s from the SMP Racing cars, their closest rivals. Mathias Beche and Thomas Laurent both set 1:42.6 second times, but Beche just edged out his teammate to put the #1 provisionally ahead of the #3. Following the driver swap, however, it all started to change as Egor Orudzhev broke into the 1:41s in the #17 SMP Racing machine – enough to drag the BR1 into third fastest. Brendan Hartley and Mikhail Aleshin in the second SMP Racing entry wound up fifth fastest, splitting the two Rebellions who will start tomorrow’s race in fourth and sixth. Dragonspeed will start in seventh, being the only LMP1 car seemingly unable to break out of the 1:44s.

Jackie Chan DC Racing put in some early flyers thanks to Stephane Richelmi and Will Stevens in the #38 and #37 respectively, and some solid laptimes from both cars’ second drivers solidified their position at the top, giving the Chinese team a lockout at the front of LMP2. Third fastest went the way of Signatech Alpine Matmut, finishing with an average just over three tenths slower than the #37.

Dragonspeed, Larbre Competition and TDS Racing will start fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, and Racing Team Nederland will begin at the back of the LMP2 field. Though the Dutch team did allow Nyck de Vries to set one of their qualifying times, a smart move to give him as much nighttime running as possible seeing as this is reportedly his first time driving in the dark!

The next time the cars hit the track will be for the main event itself – the 1000 Miles of Sebring kicks off tomorrow at 16.00 local time.

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