Audi debutant Lucas Di Grassi led the way for the Ingolstadt manufacturer in qualifying for the Six Hours of Sao Paulo, putting the #2 R18 ultra second on the grid for the race at Interlagos. Alex Wurz took pole for rivals Toyota.
Preferred for the task of driving the car in the 20-minute session over co-drivers Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen Di Grassi confidently outpaced double and current 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer, qualifying the #1 plated Audi R18 e-tron Quattro hybrid.
“With grid positions two and three we’ve got a very good starting base for the race. Our focus is on the race and we’re hoping to be able to put everything on track accordingly,” explained Dieter Gass, Audi’s head of racing commitments. “We were particularly pleased with Lucas Di Grassi, who’s driving for us for the first time. He gelled well with the team and was given the opportunity to contest the qualifying session right away. In doing so, he showed a brilliant performance.”
Though following the German on track the Brazilian, only scheduled to drive for Audi at his home event, took the provisional pole early.
From an initial flying lap of 1:23.324 Di Grassi improved further to 23.147 before Lotterer, who admitted being too conservative on his early laps set his own best lap of 1:23.332, though to do so he had to run longer than Di Grassi, running outside of the optimal window for the Michelin tyres.
“It was a bit disappointing for me personally because I started off too slowly,” said Lotterer. “That’s why I wasn’t able to precisely take advantage of the best performance of the tires. In the beginning, there was more potential. But I don’t know if it would have been enough to beat Toyota. But maybe we would have been in front of our sister car.”
Di Grassi assessed the session; “that was a fantastic qualifying session for me. It was my first qualifying in endurance racing and my first one with Audi. I’m very happy with the result. We gave our best but our focus was on preparing for the race. We’re in a strong position to have a nice battle on Saturday. I’m very relaxed.”
Only once both Audi had returned to the pits did Wurz take the Toyota to pole position, forcing the German squad to surrender a World Endurance Championship pole position for the first time this season.
However, with six hours around the short – 4.3km – Interlagos track to come in the fifth round of the WEC the true relative strengths of two manufacturers have still be compared.