Pre-season favourites Porsche emerged from Audi’s shadow in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the pair of 919 Hybrid locking out the front row for the first race of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
Their credentials to take pole position were established in the earliest laps of the session when Mark Webber set a 1:39.908 on first flying lap aboard the #17 Porsche Team entry. With the WEC grid – this year – decided by an average of the fastest laps of two drivers in each car Webber’s lap was the job only done, with Brendon Hartley tasked with protecting the advantage the Australian had built up.
With a second set of fresh Michelins on the car Hartley did more than protect pole. He outpaced Webber, setting the best lap of the session (1:39.534) to help secure pole position by just over six tenths of a second over the sister car.
Webber explained the decision to use two sets of tyres; “with the mixed conditions in P3 we weren’t exactly sure how it would unfold so we made the decision to spread the load on the tyres. We did minimum laps also which worked out OK. There was a chance we would do two, just because of the green conditions and getting used to it again going cold onto the track after the wet P3 but we managed to get lucky and both of our laps were good enough so we’ve saved the boots for tomorrow.”
Timo Bernhard completes the pole sitting crew.
Neel Jani was the first man in the #18 machine, but he needed three flying laps – to Webber’s one – to secure the second fastest time during the first half of the session.
His lap of 1:39.974 was only fractionally slower than Webber’s but was, more importantly, two tenths faster than Lucas di Grassi’s best effort in the #8 Audi before he handed over driving duties to Oliver Jarvis while Jani gave way for Romain Dumas. A very slow first flyer for Dumas briefly provided a potential spanner in the Porsche works team’s session, but his next lap lifted the car back into second, though with both Jarvis and Kazuki Nakajima in the #1 Toyota improving he needed to call upon some of the buffer earned by Jani.
The #7 Audi, qualified by Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler was fifth fastest, though the team took the unusual step of putting Lotterer back in the car in an effort to improve their position. He did improve his best lap, and so the car’s all important average lap time, but it did little other than move them further clear of the #2 Toyota squad.
The LMP2 qualifying provided a fine to and fro fight, swayed by the different tactics employed by the teams as to when they sent out – as required – their silver (or lower) graded driver during the session. The G-Drive Racing teams who had provided the benchmark in the class in all the practice sessions put out the lower graded drivers first, Julien Canal in the #26 and Ricardo Gonzalez in the sister car, the #28.
Signatech Alpine, meanwhile, opted to keep back their silver driver, putting Paul-Loup Chatin out to start the session, a move which gave them provisional pole half way through the 20 minute session. For second half of the session fortune swung the other way. While Vincent Capillaire piloted the Alpine the G-Drive Ligiers were turned over to Sam Bird and Luis Derani. Predictably, both were faster than their co-drivers, Derani setting a 1:47.090 to secure pole position by six hundredths over their team car.
“It’s really good to be debuting in WEC with a pole,” said Derani. “We weren’t expecting it to be honest, we were just here to get the best we could. The competition within our team is really strong and the difference between first and second is really tight but there’s no way better to start a season than that. We led all the practice sessions and now P1 in qualifying. Hopefully we can keep it like that.”
KCMG followed the same strategy as G-Drive, keeping back their higher graded driver – Nick Tandy – until the second half of the session. Following Matthew Howson into the car Tandy set his best time on his very last lap, moving the ORECA 05 coupe into third ahead of the Signatech squad.
The LMGTE session – run before the Prototypes – was dominated by Aston Martin Racing.
Like in LMP1 it was an early lap that paved the way for polesitters in both the Pro and Am classes. In the upper tier it was Nicki Thiim, part of the all-Danish crew promoted from the Am ranks over the winter, who set the early pace. His 1:59.861 made him the only GT driver to lap beneath the two minute marker. He then passed the car over to single-seater convert Marco Sorensen who, though his best lap was just the other side of 120 seconds did enough to keep the #95 team – completed by Christoffer Nygaard – on pole position.
Their strongest opposition came from the other Aston Martin teams, Fernando Rees’ 2:00.019 – the best lap of the second half of the session – helping lift the #99 Vantage V8 into second. Darren Turner completed the Aston domination, he and Stefan Mucke combining to take third on the grid. The Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen was fourth fastest, their average lap time just seven tenths slower than Thiim and Sorensen’s.
“It was a good qualifying,” said Sorensen. “I was struggling a little bit yesterday in practice so I’m actually really happy that we made it and I did a decent time in qualifying. We’ll have to see how it goes in the race but I’m sure that we’re looking quite good.”
Pedro Lamy was – unsurprisingly – the class of the Am class, setting up pole position for the #98 team of he, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda.
After a best lap of 2:00.956 Lamy pitted with Dalla Lana taking the controls for the second half of the session. Despite the stint being, as he explained it, his first fresh tyre, low fuel run in two years he still set the second best of the closing minutes, beaten only by Paolo Ruberti’s lap for Larbre Competition which lifted their Corvette C7 to second in class ahead of the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche that had occupied the slot before the driver changes thanks to Khaled Al-Qubaisi.
The 6 Hours of Silverstone is scheduled to begin at noon, Sunday April 12.