Toyota Racing locked out the front row of the grid for the Six Hours of Silverstone with a dominant display in the new format qualifying session for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
In the new scheme, designed to keep as many cars on the track throughout the session after many teams only ran a handful of laps in qualifying last season, the starting order is decided by the average time of four flying laps, with the two best laps from two drivers in each car counting towards the final average. And with pole position swapping between the Toyota’s between the first and second half of the session the new format proved pivotal.
Nicolas Lapierre and Anthony Davidson were first into the #7 and #8 Toyotas respectively as the LMP1 and LMP2 session began under a short rain shower that briefly left the supposedly faster cars struggling to beat the times set by the GTE cars, who had already completed their running in a separate session in the dry.
However, the effects of the rain proved short-lived. After slower opening flying laps in the high 1:50s both Davidson and Lapierre had their times down to 1:50 as both completed a third lap to take advantage of the rapidly improving conditions.
Lapierre set the best lap of the two Toyota men – 1:50.103 – but a slower second best lap meant that it was Davidson who held the provisional pole as the tow TS030 Hybrids pitted together, Alex Wurz climbing into the #7, Sebastien Buemi into the #8. As lap times continued to fall it was to be the difference between the two that was to decide the starting order, Wurz’s two laps a 1:43.281 and 45.009, Buemi unable to break the 1:48 barrier, he and Davidson eventually combining for a four lap average of 1:49.995, nearly two seconds slower than the pole marker of 1:48.021.
Buemi’s relatively slow laps helped Tom Kristensen recoup some of the gap to the Toyotas after Loic Duval had completed the first two laps in the #2 with an average five seconds slower than the #8 Toyota. Benoit Treluyer, first out in the #1 Audi, struggled even more, complaining of a problem with the traction control in the greasy conditions. The issue led to him posting two laps of 2:02, allowing the #12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota, qualified by Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani, to split the two e-tron quattros by taking fourth overall and with it the honour of best privateer. Their only rival for that honour – Strakka Racing – were the only team not on the grid not to complete four laps after being delayed when Danny Watts spun on the approach to Maggotts.
Antonio Pizzonia and James Walker combined to give the #25 Delta–ADR ORECA-Nissan pole in LMP2 by a comfortable margin. They were helped to the near 2.5 second advantage by being the only LMP2 team not to have a lap above two minutes in the session. Though Pizzonia was the best man in the first half of the session, Walker was only the fourth fastest man in the second part as their Delta–ADR/G-Drive Racing teammates and the #24 and #35 OAK Racing Morgans made up ground, British drivers Alex Brundle and Martin Plowman aboard the Morgans while Mike Conway was the fastest man in class in the #25 Delta-ADR/G-Drive entry.
However, his exploits would only be good enough for third in class, sandwiched between the OAK Racing duo. With the change in conditions between LMGTE and LMP qualifying only those four LMP2 cars were credited with an average faster than the best of the GT cars.
Aston Martin Racing dominated both the LMGTE Pro and Am classes with Vantages first and second in both categories.
AMR stalwarts Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke edged out Pedro Lamy and Fred Makowiecki in the Pro ranks with a gap of 0.206 seconds between the #97 and #99 despite Lamy posting the best lap in the class.
Five of the six cars in the Pro class ended the session with averages less than a second apart, only the Kamui Kobayashi and Toni Vilander crewed AF Corse Ferrari further adrift.
Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell–Walter gave the #96 Am Vantage pole in that class, their average putting them amongst the Pro teams, just behind the pair of 2013-spec Vantages. Only four tenths behind on averages, but four places in the tightly packed LMGTE ranks was the Danish-manned #95. Third in class, nearly a second slower on averages, was the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
The first round of the 2013 WEC season is scheduled to begin at 12 noon on April 14. theCheckeredFlag will have live blog coverage of the entire race.