Toyota Gazoo Racing have taken first blood ahead of the 2017 6 Hours of Shanghai this weekend, with Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez topping the timing sheet. Vaillante Rebellion have come out on top of the first 90-minutes of practice in LMP2, leaving their championship rivals and home team Jackie Chan DC Racing out of the top three. Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK had a boost of confidence as Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke surged to the top of the Pro timing board fr the first outing around the Chinese track. But whilst Ferrari struggled to find pace in Pro, they took the fastest lap in Am with Miguel Molina behind the wheel of the #54 Spirit of Race.
Conway was on the pace early on in the hour-and-a-half first practice session, and his original 1:47.182 was too quick for any of the other LMP1 cars to catch. However, in terms of trying to stop Porsche from getting the championship this weekend, the good news for the Japanese team ended there. Porsche took second and third on the timing board, with the #1 crew beating the championship-fighting #2 team by just two tenths of a second. The car needed to prevent Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber from taking the title with a race in hand finished fourth, three-tenths slower than the second Porsche.
It was not the best start to the weekend for championship-leading and home favourites in the #38 Jackie Chan car. They were unable to finish the practice session any higher than fifth in class a second off the pace of the leading Rebellion. With the #31 Rebellion just ten points behind the #38 in the chase for the 2017 LMP2 Trophy, Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent need to score as many points as possible and preferably in front of the #31.
But the glory fell to the other Rebellion as Mathias Beche put the #13 on top of the class with a 1:52.533. It was a brilliant start to the weekend for G-Drive Racing, who have two new drivers in the cockpit this weekend, who managed to claim second on the timing board, six-tenths down on Beche’s time. Both Leo Roussel and Nico Muller are new in the #26 machine this weekend, with Muller standing in from absent Alex Lynn and Roussel taking a promotion from European Le Mans Series after being crowned champion and filling in for Pierre Thiriet who has stepped down from the team. The #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing took the third spot on the timing board, much to the delight of the Chinese fans.
After losing the lead of the GTE Driver’s championship after the last race in Fuji, Ford were given a positive boost this morning as they topped the timing board with the #66. Mucke put the car fastest with a 2:02.693 after spending most of the beginning of the session battling with a tyre problem. It looks like the Shanghai International Circuit is bringing back the form of those who have been struggling in the last few races as Darren Turner was able to bring Aston Martin Racing back into the spotlight with a 2:03.181, which placed them second.
Three different manufacturers filled the top three in Pro, hopefully suggesting that this weekend’s on track battle will be as close as the championship battle is. Frederic Makowiecki and Richard Lietz made Porsche GT Team the third different team in the top three whilst class-leading AF Corse struggled to find pace, having to settle for seventh and eighth in the final order.
In contrast, the Am class was topped by the #54 Ferrari crew of Molina, Francesco Castellacci and Thomas Flohr, with the Spaniard setting a 2:04.789. Coming off their high of winning in Fuji, the Spirit of Race crew will be looking at keeping that role going and challenging Clearwater Racing for third in the championship. The Dempsey-Proton Racing car was second after Matteo Cairoli had spent most of the session as the fastest driver. They finished four tenths ahead of championship rivals Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda in the #98 Aston Martin who are looking to retake the top of the leader board as they currently trail by one point. The Porsche/Aston duo will definitely be the one to watch in the Am class this weekend.