Spectators around the Silverstone circuit this afternoon saw one of the most exciting qualifying sessions of the season. The battle raged at all levels. The rain that had disrupted the start of qualifying in LMGTE, also spiced-up the prototype qualifying session with a gradually drying track.
In LMP1 Nicolas Lapierre was the first to set the reference time with the Toyota TS030 No.7 of Toyota Racing, before being dislodged by Allan McNish and Audi R18 Ultra No.2. The French driver came back with a lap 2.7 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer. With a drying track, the leading driver changed every time an LMP1 prototype crossed the finish line.
First Neel Jani in Lola-Toyota No.12 of Rebellion Racing and then Danny Watts in the Strakka HPD-Honda No.21 followed by Andrea Belicchi in Lola-Toyota No.13 of Rebellion Racing found themselves at the top of the timing screen until Allan McNish recorded a seemingly unbeatable time of 1:43.673, but this was not counting on Benedict Tréluyer, pole position man for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, who positioned the Audi R18 e-tron quattro in the first place of the grid by a hundredth of a second. Nicolas Lapierre could not improve his time and finished third in 1:44.411.
It was Danny Watts who made the best time of LMP1 private teams with a lap of 1:46.160 and, despite a spin in the last corner at the beginning of the session, in a place where the track was still wet. He beat both Lola-Toyotas of Rebellion Racing, Neel Jani getting the better of Andrea Belicchi by only 27 hundredths.
LMP2 was the scene of an epic battle between former team-mates at Peugeot Sport Nicolas Minassian (Zytek-Nissan Jota No. 38) and Stéphane Sarrazin (HPD-Honda No.44 of Starworks Motorsports). The two French drivers gave their best, but could not resist, young Alex Brundle on his home track, despite their experience. The young Briton, son of Martin Brundle was exceptional and completed a lap in 1:49.964, 0.33s ahead of Stéphane Sarrazin. John Martin and the Oreca-Nissan No.25 of ADR-Delta took the third position on the grid, just ahead of Nicolas Minassian.
The LMGTE qualifying session started on a wet track after a downpour that disrupted the first race of Formula Renault 3.5. After a difficult session, Richard Lietz and Porsche 911 RSR No.77 of Team Felbermayr-Proton surprised everyone by setting the pole time in the last lap, on a gradually drying circuit.
With a time of 2:09.564, the Austrian was the only driver in LMGTE Pro to drop below the 2:10. He crossed the finish line a few seconds before the chequered flag, which allowed him to take a last lap while his rivals were in their final lap. At that time, the British driver James Walker at the wheel of the Ferrari F458 Italia No. 66 JMW Motorsport held the pole time of 2:10.018, which was snatched away at the last second.
The king of pole positions Gimmi Bruni could do nothing to stop his competitors with the Ferrari F458 Italia No.51 of AF Corse, and had to settle for third place, almost a second behind the Porsche factory driver. Fourth place on the grid will not be occupied by an LMGTE Pro car, but one of LMGTE Am. Stuart Hall, Pescarolo Team driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, set the pole time for his class with the Aston Martin V8 Vantage No.98 of Aston Martin Racing with a time of 2:12.965.
The Porsche 911 RSR No.88 of Team Felbermayr-Proton in the hands of Paolo Ruberti, was also among competitors of LMGTE Pro: This is definitely a very good day for the German team. The Ferrari F458 Italia No.61 of AF Corse, could not repeat its performance free practice sessions, Marco Cioci falling to third place.
The qualifying session was exciting, which bodes well for the race which will start tomorrow (Sunday) August 26th at noon local time.
The session was breathless from beginning to end and the differences between competitors tight in all classes. The drivers now have an appointment tomorrow (Sunday) for a 20 minute warm-up at 8:55 before the race which will start at noon local time. A race that should keep all its promises!
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAY……
Benoit Treluyer – 1st Overall LMP1
nr1 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro
“Early in the session it was maybe a little more difficult as it was raining and I had no references in those conditions, I didn’t know if I could put my tyres on the kerbs or whatever. I was learning in the first few laps, following Allan because I know he knows the track well. When we put the new slick tyres on in the last few moments, I said okay I have to do all I can do.
“It was pretty cool driving in the car in those conditions, dancing with the car, and I had absolutely no idea where I was. I got some traffic but I never gave up and tried to be fair to others. We aren’t the only ones on the track and you try not to ruin the lap of the others because otherwise they come back to you. You have to manage all those things. I am very happy because this morning wasn’t very good and we didn’t find the right set up. I was a bit depressed after this morning’s session because I didn’t find the grip on my tyres but finally I could set up a good time.”
Q: Do you think the four-wheel drive etro quattro system played a role in the wet as seen at Spa?
“Here it was pretty dry at the end, the track wasn’t that bad. Of course, the e-tron quattro is good in those conditions because you feel more confident in some corners when the power comes in the front. I started a bit later with my new tyres so maybe that helps. When we check the data maybe we will find out.
“The race is 6 hours and there is much traffic and anything can happen. Of course it’s better to start on pole to escape problems and it means you are not slow; your car is working well. I know the Toyota is quick and both Allan and Tom are quick here so I hope it’s going to be a hard battle for us because it’s more fun and there will be more spectators.”
Alex Brundle – 8th overall / 1st in LMP2
nr42 Greaves Motorsport Zytek Z11SN-Nissan
“I spent a fair amount of time circulating slowly after the chequered flag waiting for the call from my engineer to say if we were on pole. I remember him saying there was one more car to cross the line, John Martin in the ADR who was on pole at Le Mans, so I wasn’t celebrating yet. To get the call from the team to say we were on pole was fantastic. My first sportscar pole and in such a big race! It’s a magic moment and I want to thank Nissan so much for this opportunity to come and show myself in a sportscar and long may it continue.”
Nicolas Lapierre – 3rd Overall LMP1
Nr7 Toyota Racing Toyota TS030 – Hybrid
“The performance is getting better all the time. We were struggling a little bit yesterday afternoon and this morning but now it seems we are on the right track and we’ve found some pace. The car is very good on tyres, we are setting very consistent times and we improved the lap time towards the end of the session, which is a very good sign for tomorrow.
“We are running some new parts and a new aero package; a lot of things have happened since Le Mans and I think the car should be reliable for the six hours. If we manage to go through to the end of the race without any technical difficulties and we have a good strategy I think we wont be far from the highest spot of the podium.
“I’ve heard it will be dry for the race tomorrow and I hope it will be dry as we haven’t tested this aero package in wet conditions, so it will be easier if the weather stays dry for the race tomorrow.”
Danny Watts – 4th overall LMP1
Nr21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX 03a – Honda
“First of all I’m very pleased to be on Privateer Pole Position, that was the main goal. It was a fraught 20-minute session with some parts of the track really dry and other parts really damp. Actually it dried very, very quickly, so I spent half the session on intermediates and then pitted for slicks. There was a little bit of traffic, but it was fine. I had a little spin on the inters at the last corner, but apart from that it went really well.
“As far as the weather goes I don’t think we mind if it’s wet or dry because Jonny (Kane) was fast in the wet at Spa, we’ve been very competitive in the dry here and in the damp the car felt good, so I think we can cope with whatever gets thrown at us tomorrow.”
Karun Chandhok – 7th overall LMP1
nr23 JRM HPD ARX 03a-Honda
Today we were even closer to the front of the field and there was only a hair’s breadth between ourselves, Strakka and Rebellion. This is a big step forward over the previous races where we have been a lot further back. We could have gone even faster – I did a 1:46.4 yesterday and I was up on my first two sectors, but traffic in the last corner cost me some time. Although qualifying for a six hour race isn’t the be-all and end-all, it would have been nice to show our true form. All the same we can be relatively satisfied with today, particularly given we missed the earlier session. It’s pretty hopeful for tomorrow.
Thomas Holzer – 21st Overall / 14th in LMP2
nr31 Lotus Lola B12/80 Coupe-Lotus
“It was difficult for me today under these conditions. The setup of the car was okay, but I have never driven in the wet. But I learnt a lot today and there is a lot of potential to have a good result tomorrow.”
James Rossiter – 14th Overall / 7th in LMP2
nr32 Lotus Lola B12/80 Coupe-Lotus
“I am happy with today’s qualifying result. The gap to the cars in front is not so big considering we lost 90 minutes track time yesterday. The track dried up during the qualifying session which made it also difficult to drive. I am confident that we can have a good race because the car feels good. I am looking forward to start my home race tomorrow.”
Richard Lietz – LMGTE Pro Pole Position
nr77 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 911 RSR (997)
“At the beginning the engineer gave me the drying wet tyres; we thought it was going to be dry at the end but we didn’t expect it to be so dry we could use slicks. At the end we had a lot of oversteer with the rain tyres but it was a good lap so I said we had to try the slicks. Obviously it was the right time to do it. We got onto the last lap by one or two seconds so had an extra lap when it was drying out. Of course the little bit of traffic we had in the mid sector doesn’t matter so much if the track improves. I’m very happy for the team because of this last lap and pole position and it’s a good start after Le Mans which was disappointing for us.
Q: What about the balance between Porsche and the Ferraris?
“I think on one lap with new tyres we are closer than at the beginning of the year but anyway it looks as though they can do the race with one stop less than us. Even if we have the same lap time it’s going to be difficult because they can save one extra stop. I think if they want to save a stop they can but they have more cars than us so maybe will try different strategies. “
Stuart Hall – LMGTE Pro Am Pole Position
nr98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8
“It was very difficult towards the end to judge. You wanted to save everything you’ve got for the last lap. Fortunately we made the call to come in for slicks at the right time, with about seven minutes to go and came in; the guys did a fantastic job. First lap I went off and then the lap came together. I’m really pleased for everyone at Aston Martin Racing and at Gulf Racing because it’s a joint effort this weekend. We’ve had a fairly difficult year in Blancpain and in the ELMS so coming here, and getting pole, is fantastic but it’s a long way to go tomorrow.
“It’s difficult to say if we can challenge the established GTE-Am runners but we’ve been up there in all the sessions. There are some very good Am drivers but we’ve got to run our own race and can’t get suckered into different things. There’s traditionally going to be a lot of attrition so we can’t make any mistakes. If we do everything right we can challenge.”
Gianmaria Bruni – LMGTE Pro
Nr51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia
“It was good qualifying session, unfortunately I only managed to do two timed laps with slick tyres, but it was OK. We don’t have the option on the tyres, we don’t have intermediates, which in these conditions would’ve been better, but it is looking good for the race tomorrow and I am looking forward to it.
“The Porsche is good in these conditions and, for sure, they will also be strong in the race, but we have a very good car, a consistent car and I’m very happy looking towards the race tomorrow, I just hope it will be dry as in dry conditions we are looking very strong.”
Michele Rugolo – LMGTE Am
nr57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 Italia
“Qualifying was a nightmare. These are the worst conditions, where you don’t know which tire to chose. We started with rain tires, more or less like everybody. The only car with slick tires was the JMW Ferrari. We changed tires with 10 minutes to go and I think it was the right decision. The track was pretty much okay in the first part. In the last part the track was still really, really wet. It was very difficult to understand where you could push, and where you had to cruise for position. In my best lap, I think I lost more than one second in a corner because I had to avoid two cars. With at least one second, we could have been P3, but that’s okay.
Everything is pretty good. I think since yesterday Tracy has done a very good improvement. His lap time is ok. We just need to find that extra second for him and a little bit more consistency and then he will be very competitive. Many cars are, more or less, the same. I think maybe Nic is a bit better now so I believe this is a good weapon we can use during the race. The race is very long and the weather is unpredictable. We don’t know what to do on the strategy point-of-view. We will see tomorrow. I think 90% of the decision will be made on the weather conditions.”
RESULT – Top 10
1 1 Audi Sport Team Joest M. Fässler / A. Lotterer / B. Tréluyer Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 M 1:43.663
2 2 Audi Sport Team Joest T. Kristensen / A. McNish Audi R18 ultra LMP1 M 1:43.673
3 7 Toyota Racing A. Wurz / N. Lapierre / K. Nakajima Toyota TS030 – Hybrid LMP1 M 1:44.411
4 21 Strakka Racing N. Leventis / D. Watts / J. Kane HPD ARX 03a – Honda LMP1 M 1:46.160
5 12 Rebellion Racing N. Prost / N. Jani Lola B12/60 Coupé – Toyota LMP1 M 1:46.207
6 13 Rebellion Racing A. Belicchi / H. Primat Lola B12/60 Coupé – Toyota LMP1 M 1:46.234
7 22 JRM D. Brabham / K. Chandhok / P. Dumbreck HPD ARX 03a – Honda LMP1 M 1:46.758
8 42 Greaves Motorsport L. Ordoñez / M. Brundle / A. Brundle Zytek Z11SN – Nissan LMP2 D 1:49.964
9 44 Starworks Motorsports V. Potolicchio / R. Dalziel / S. Sarrazin HPD ARX 03b – Honda LMP2 D 1:49.997
10 25 ADR-Delta J. Martin / J. Charouz / T. Graves Oreca 03 – Nissan LMP2 D 1:50.129
23 77 Team Felbermayr-Proton M. Lieb / R. Lietz Porsche 911 RSR (997) LMGTE Pro M 2:09.564
24 66 JMW Motorsport J. Walker / J. Cocker Ferrari F458 Italia LMGTE Pro D 2:10.018
25 51 AF Corse G. Fisichella / G. Bruni Ferrari F458 Italia LMGTE Pro M 2:10.481
26 98 Aston Martin Racing R. Goethe / S. Hall Aston Martin Vantage V8 LMGTE Am M 2:12.525
27 88 Team Felbermayr-Proton C. Ried / G. Roda / P. Ruberti Porsche 911 RSR (997) LMGTE Am M 2:12.965
28 97 Aston Martin Racing A. Fernandez / S. Mücke / D. Turner Aston Martin Vantage V8 LMGTE Pro M 2:14.150
29 71 AF Corse A. Bertolini / O. Beretta Ferrari F458 Italia LMGTE Pro M 2:15.153
30 61 AF Corse-Waltrip P. Perazzini / M. Cioci / M. Griffin Ferrari F458 Italia LMGTE Am M 2:15.491
31 57 Krohn Racing T. Krohn / N. Jönsson / M. Rugolo Ferrari F458 Italia LMGTE Am M 2:15.608
32 55 JWA-Avila J. Camathias / M. Palttala / P. Daniels Porsche 911 RSR (997) LMGTE Am P 2:16.466
33 99 Aston Martin Racing J. Adam / A. Howard / P. White Aston Martin Vantage V8 LMGTE Am M 2:16.717
34 50 Larbre Competition P. Bornhauser / J. Canal / F. Rees Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1 LMGTE Am M 2:16.907
35 70 Larbre Competition J. Belloc / C. Bourret / P. Gibon Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1 LMGTE Am M 2:17.261