Huan Ying Lai Shanghai! In the local language that’s a warm welcome to Shanghai. For the eighth and final round of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship we are based at the Shanghai International Circuit which has hosted F1’s Chinese Grand Prix each year since the track was built in 2004.
FREE PRACTICE 1
In warm and brightening conditions, the 28 cars entered for the 6 Hours of Shanghai took to the track this morning for the first 90-minute free practice session in preparation for Sunday’s race.
Audi’s Allan McNish showed early on that he meant business by setting the fastest time of the session in the No.2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro. His time of 1:52.219 was 0.146 seconds ahead of Nicolas Lapierre’s best in the No.7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid, the Japanese entrant edging out the No.1 Audi by just 0.006 of a second.
Danny Watts in the No.21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX 03a led the way in the LMP1 Privateer category, putting to good use his experience of the Shanghai International Circuit. His time of 1:53.279 was four tenths of a second ahead of the sister HPD of JRM, while the LMP1 Private Teams title holders Rebellion Racing trailed Strakka by 1.3 seconds in this opening session.
The battle has already started in the closely-fought LMP2 class. The ADR-Delta team, which has added Switzerland’s Mathias Beche to its driver line up for the 6 Hours of Shanghai, topped the time sheets with a best lap of 1:56.227. The British team, which fields the No.25 Oreca 03 Nissan is lying second in the class standings, equal with Pecom Racing’s No.49 Oreca-Nissan which finished third in this session. Between them was the No.31 Lotus Lola Coupé of Mirco Schultis – the team being joined this weekend by Jan Charouz in the No.32 entry as Vitantonio Liuzzi is otherwise engaged on The Superstars Series duty.
In LMGTE Pro the No.77 Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche of Marc Lieb followed on from its impressive performance in Japan, leading the way for the small but very competitive manufacturer-led class. The German driver set a best time of 2:06.834 ahead of Gianmaria Bruni in the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia by just three hundredths of a second, while the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage was third in class. The second AF Corse Ferrari, No.71, of Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta only got on track for the final quarter of the session after being delayed by a gearbox problem.
Nic Jönsson’s Krohn Racing Ferrari 458 Italia set the benchmark in the LMGTE Am category. His time of 2:08.345 was a full half a second faster than Rui Aguas’s in the No.61 AF Corse-Waltrip Ferrari, the Italian-American entry benefitting from Marco Cioci’s experience this weekend as Michael Waltrip has TV commitments in the USA. Class points leaders, Larbre Compétition, were third fastest (the No.70 Corvette ZR1) in the session.
FREE PRACTICE 2
Both the ambient temperature and humidity have risen today but the bright sunshine at the start of Free Practice 2 was a welcome change from yesterday’s overcast skies and intermittent rain. Good weather is forecast for the remainder of the weekend here in Shanghai. As the mercury rose, so the times dropped on the track in all classes, with Toyota taking the initiative from Audi at the head of the time sheets.
It was Toyota Racing’s Alex Wurz – one of 11 drivers present who have driven on the Shanghai International Circuit either in a Grand Prix or in an A1 Grand Prix event – who set a blistering pace this afternoon. The Austrian’s time of 1:50.573 in the No.7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid was 1.2 seconds ahead of the No.2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Allan McNish, an improvement by a similar margin on this morning’s best overall lap of the 5.45km track. Benoît Tréluyer was third fastest in the LMP1 category with a time of 1:52.093, set in the No.1 Audi.
Neel Jani in the No.12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota also made a significant improvement over this morning, and his time of 1:52.576 was within spitting distance of the factory-entered teams. The HPD ARX-03 twins of JRM and Strakka Racing were both one second and 1.2 seconds behind Rebellion respectively. Just 3.5 seconds separated the eight cars in the LMP1 category.
Despite the car suffering from an early session spin and excursion off track, while in the hands of Kevin Weeda, James Rossiter recovered in a spectacular way and put the No.32 Lotus Lola-Coupé ahead of the LMP2 field. The British driver’s best lap of 1:55.290 was 1.1 seconds faster than the second placed No.25 ADR-Delta Oreca-Nissan, Australian John Martin having set the mark for the British team. Third in LMP2 was the No.24 OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan entry of Jacques Nicolet-Matthieu Lahaye –Olivier Pla steering that car this weekend, as they have done all year.
In LM GTE Pro, Darren Turner’s No.97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE was the car to beat this afternoon, with a best lap of 2:05.678. His time was just one tenth of a second ahead of the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Giancarlo Fisichella and three tenths in front of Richard Lietz’s No.77 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche. The battle between these three marques continues to be as unpredictable and exciting as ever.
Marco Cioci put his considerable Ferrari 458 experience to good use in the No.61 AF Corse-Waltrip entry, setting the fastest time in the LM GTE Am class. His lap of 2:06.471 was almost a second quicker than Pedro Lamy’s best lap in the No.50 Larbre Compétition Corvette C6.R with the No.88 Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche snapping at the heels of the American muscle car.
With jet lag hitting many up and down the pit lane, an early night is in order so drivers and teams will be ready for Free Practice 3 tomorrow at 0915 hours (local time).
Alex Wurz, nr7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid
“The first session this morning was slightly tricky. We had to adjust quite a bit on the car but actually that worked out very nicely for the long run. I found a very good rhythm and I was also quite lucky with traffic to be honest. On paper this track should be quite good in terms of traffic but in reality off line is so dusty that it is pretty bad, so it will be interesting in the race. The track surface itself evolved quite a bit from the first laps this morning, but that was as expected. It’s still early in the weekend; I am quite pleased but there are some places where we can optimise the car so there is still work to do.”