In the penultimate qualifying session of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing have broken Porsche‘s streak of pole positions by taking their first in four races. It was not quite the one-two they would have been hoping for, but with the championship-leading #2 Porsche down in fourth it is definitely a helpful result for the Japanese team. Vaillante Rebellion took a step closer to the LMP2-leading #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car with LMP2 pole position. The two Rebellions have been looking strong all weekend, but new in the car Leo Roussel prevented their one-two by posting a time fast enough to claim second in class.
Aston Martin Racing pulled a fantastic LM GTE qualifying out of the bag, taking pole position in both PRO and AM. The PRO class is still as close as it has been through the practice sessions, with three different manufacturers filling the top three spots and the top five covered by just six-tenths. The pole position for Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda puts them on equal points to their AM-class championship rivals Dempsey-Proton Racing ahead of tomorrow’s endurance race.
The #7 Toyota in the hands of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez has been the car to beat all weekend. Taking pole position ahead of tomorrow’s race proved further that the trio have an edge around the Shanghai International Circuit. But it was not an easy breeze to pole. Porsche put up a good fight, giving them the advantage after the first runs had been completed, but a stellar lap from Kobayashi saw the #7 Toyota come from behind both Porsches to claim pole with a 1:42.526. This lap time put the Conway/Kobayashi average to 1:42.832, an impressive four-tenths up on the combined time of Nick Tandy and Andre Lotterer in the #1 Porsche.
The Brendon Hartley/Earl Bamber duo in the #2 had looked strong after their first run, but Bamber’s time could not quite keep the championship leading car in the fight. They finished fourth behind the #8 Toyota, six-tenths off the pace of pole sitting Conway and Kobayashi. However, the championship can still be concluded this weekend. As long as the #2 finished on the podium this weekend they will take the title before Bahrain. Irrelevant to where the #8 Toyota finishes, the only chance the Japanese team has of keeping the fight going to the last race is for the #2 Porsche to finish where it starts or not to finish at all.
Bruno Senna and Julien Canal took their LMP2 Trophy chances once step closer to victory by taking the penultimate class pole of the season. The duo are the two drivers in the car fighting with the #38 Jackie Chan crew for class victory at the end of the season. Now only nine points behind the Chinese team, it is highly likely that the competition will continue until the last round of the season at the end of the month.
The 1:49.217 lap time average from Senna and Canal gave the pair a staggering advantage over second-placed G-Drive Racing #26. The Rebellion pair had over two seconds in had to their closest rivals, taking one of the most dominate pole positions of this season. The #26 G-Drive qualifying was undertaken by debutants for the team Roussel and Nico Muller. For their first LMP2 qualifying it was an impressive performance that saw them splitting the two Rebellions in the top three. The #13, qualified by Nelson Piquet Jr and David Heinemeier Hansson, finished third, holding championship-leading Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent further away from their championship rivals as they had to settle for fourth.
After a difficult few races, Aston Martin appear to be back on form. Amid their announcement of their new 2018 challenger this week, the British teams have come to Shanghai with renewed passion for getting back at the front of the grid. Reining GT Champions Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took their first pole of the season this morning as they lead a great session for the Aston Martin runners. Holding second in class after the first runs, Thiim put in a perfect lap to beat Porsche GT Team‘s second driver Kevin Estre by seven-tenths of a second, promoting the Danish duo up to pole ahead of the German car. Estre and team mate Michael Christensen had to settle for second on the grid, two tenths off the Aston’s lap average.
Keeping with the theme of three different manufacturers in the top three of PRO this weekend, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi finished the session third, ahead of ex-championship leaders Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK. It is shaping up to be one of the best GTE Pro races of the season as all four manufacturers seem to be very evenly paced. Over the six-hours tomorrow, close wheel-to-wheel racing, some impressive overtakes and ingenious strategy is almost guaranteed. It will definitely be a class to watch.
Another close battle that will not want to be missed will be the AM fight between the #98 Aston and the #77 Porsche. After claiming pole today, the sole AM Aston trio currently reside on the same amount of points as their Porsche enemies. Whichever car comes out on top of tomorrow’s race will go into the final race of the season with a seven point advantage on the other car. Both teams will be pushing hard to take the top step of the podium.