6H Mexico: Audi takes overall pole, RGR Sport wows home crowd

Audi Sport Team Joest clinched pole position for the World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Mexico in a thrilling qualifying session at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

The #8 Audi R18 driven by Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval held off a late challenge from the #2 Porsche Hybrid to take its first pole of the year. It was also the maiden pole for Di Grassi, Duval and Oliver Jarvis as a trio.

A 1:24.838s lap by Duval during the second half of the 20 minute session secured the result for the German manufacturer. Although Duval’s time was slower than the session best, set earlier by Andre Lotterer in the #7 Audi, it was enough to push his car’s average down to 1:25.065s.

That was 0.042 seconds quicker than the average attained by Marc Lieb and Neel Jani in the #2 Porsche, which overtook the #7 Audi during the second half of the session. Marcel Fassler, who had taken over from Lotterer, was fifth quickest of the second drivers which caused his car to drop to third.

As a result, Audi and Porsche will share the front row of the grid for Saturday’s race.

The second row will follow the same vein, with the #1 Porsche driven by world champions Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber lining up in fourth alongside the #7 Audi.

Toyota struggled to match the pace of its LMP1 rivals, with the #5 TS050 Hybrid qualifying fifth with an average time of 1:25.960s. The #6 Toyota, which had to undergo extensive repairs after crashing during Thursday’s collective test, will start one place behind.

The session was red flagged with five minutes to go when Nicolas Lapierre spun his LMP2 class Alpine-Nissan into the tyre barrier at Turn 7. Turn 12 was another hot spot for the drivers, with Pipo Derani (ESM Ligier-Nissan), Marc Lieb (#2 Porsche 919) and Andy Priaulx (#67 Ford GT) all struggling to keep their cars straight under low grip.

Senna/Gonzalez gave Ligier its first pole since the WEC’s visit to China in November 2015 (Credit: Adrenal Media)

In LMP2, Mexican driver Ricardo Gonzalez helped his RGR Sport by Morand team to an emphatic pole position on home soil.

Gonzalez’ task during the second half of the session was to uphold team-mate Bruno Senna’s early work. Senna set the fastest lap of the session with a 1:34.688s effort, which was backed up by Am driver Gonzalez who rallied to a time of 1:36.283s. That made for a table-topping 1:35.485s average and prompted jubilant scenes within the RGR Sport pit garage.

Significantly, the result ended a dominant run for G-Drive Racing’s ORECA-Nissan which had arrived in Mexico with a 100% pole position record in 2016.

Second place in qualifying went to Signatech Alpine, with Gustavo Menezes and Nicolas Lapierre scoring an average of 1:35.819s despite Lapierre’s red flag incident.

Third on the grid – and making it three different chassis manufacturers in the top three – will be the Strakka Racing Gibson-Nissan which edged ahead of the G-Drive Racing ORECA thanks to a quick final lap by Jonny Kane.

GT qualifying was dominated by Aston Martin Racing, which took pole in both the Pro and Am categories.

In Pro, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen secured the #95 car’s second consecutive pole position with an average time of 1:40.458s.

The sister car, driven first by Richie Stanaway and then by Darren Turner, led the first half of the 20 minute session but was superseded by the #95 when Thiim got behind the wheel. Turner pushed hard in the closing stages but couldn’t drag the #97 car’s average down any further, ultimately falling 0.142 seconds short of pole.

Third on Saturday’s grid will be the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Gianmaria Bruni, which qualified with an average time of 1:41.034s.

Sharing the second row will be the Proton Competition Porsche shared by Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz, with the sister Ferrari rounding out the top five.

The Ford GTs will start sixth and seventh respectively, with Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla qualifying the #66 car ahead of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67. A scary moment for Priaulx on his in-lap didn’t help the team’s cause, as the British driver skirted the outside tyre barrier at Turn 12 before rotating in front of the circuit perimeter wall.

In GTE-Am, Aston Martin took a dominant pole position with Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana delivering a top result for the third time in 2016. The pair’s average time of 1:42.437s was more than enough to pace the field, with the second placed Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche finishing four tenths of a second back.

Porsche also ended the session third and fourth as Gulf Racing edged ahead of KCMG. Completing the top five was the Larbre Competition Corvette, with the championship-leading AF Corse Ferrari qualifying last.

The 6 Hours of Mexico, round five of the 2016 World Endurance Championship, gets underway on Saturday, September 3 at 13:30 local time.