It looked like pole position was in the hands of Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber as the chequered flag fell on LMP qualifying for the 6 Hours of COTA, but a last lap dash from Nick Tandy saw the #1 Porsche leading the one-two for the sixth round of the World Endurance Championship. Signatech Alpine repeated their impressive performance from the 6 Hours of Mexico as they took a second impressive pole position of this season in LMP2. AF Corse was the car on form in qualifying, and Sam Bird with Davide Rigon put the #71 at the front of the class. Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana continued the form that had been showing all weekend to take their fifth pole position of the season.
Toyota Gazoo Racing were ‘mystified’ that, once again, they were off the pace and unable to challenge the two Porsches for the front row of the grid. That left the battle of pole position between team mates. Neel Jani and Bernhard were up first, and it was advantage Jani as he set a 1:44.656. Tandy was able to produce a nearly identical lap time, but had the lap deleted due to track limit abuse. With the need to pit for fuel and a messy first lap out on fresh tyres, it looked like pole was going to the championship leaders.
But Tandy did manage to improve on his first lap time to give the #1 car a 1:44.741 average, two tenths up on the average set by the #2 car and clinched their second pole position of the season. Toyota had to settle for third and fourth on the grid, with the #8 1.6 seconds off the pace of the leading car.
Just as they did at the last race in Mexico, Signatech Alpine #36 took pole position ahead of the rest of the LMP2 field. The class has seen a different fastest driver throughout the weekend’s practice sessions, so it was very difficult to predict who would top the class. But it was not the easiest pole position to take. Andre Negrao left all the work to his team mate as he placed the car seventh after the first round of laps, having made ‘three mistakes’ throughout his lap. Nicolas Lapierre then had it all to do, and true to his style and skills of racing, set a phenomenal lap that shot the car to provisional pole by four tenths.
Taking second on the grid is #13 Vaillante Rebellion, with Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson setting the combined lap time. Beche had been second behind the #31 Rebellion after the first drivers set their lap times, but Hansson was able to go fastest than #31’s second driver Julien Canal by four tenths, giving them the advantage.
For the first time this race weekend, the championship leading #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car made an appearance in the top three, and it was at the best time of the weekend. The top three were covered by seven tenths at the end of the session, showing that the pace between the cars is still close and should be a tight battle throughout the six hours of racing around the Circuit of the Americas.
The latter stage of the championship seems to be suiting the AF Corse cars better as Bird and Rigon claimed their second consecutive pole positions and third of the season. Using one set of tyres, the #71 crew managed to set a provisional pole position that was boosted by the second lap time to claim an easy pole position. They held a two tenth advantage over second placed #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car at the end of the session.
Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell were looking for that extra pole position point to help extend their championship lead, but they could not go fastest than the Ferrari duo. They qualified second ahead of the Aston Martin Racing #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen. Thiim’s time was fastest than that set by the Ford drivers, but the average of both Sorensen and his lap times did not give them enough to steal second on the grid.
With the top three composed of three different manufacturers, the second AF Corse settled for fourth. With Porsche GT Team down the Pro grid, it is looking good this weekend for the #67 Ford’s championship lead.
Lamy and Dalla Lana reminded the grid why they were a great line up for qualifying as they took pole position once again this season. They had a 1.2 second advantage over second placed #54 Spirit of Race. #61 Clearwater Racing finished off the top three, hinting that the Ferrari is strong around this circuit.
With such a strong performance so far this weekend, it looks like the #99 Aston Martin could top the time sheet of every session this race event. If they did, it would be highly beneficial to their championship campaign and could see them back on top of the leader board when the grid heads off to Fiji.