Toyota Gazoo Racing and Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK did the double in their respective classes, claiming a 1-2 in LMP1 and LM GTE Pro. A surgance of form saw 2016 class champions Signatech Alpine take the first points of the season in LMP2, whilst Dempsey-Proton Racing secured pole for LM GTE Am ahead of reining class champions Aston Martin Racing.
The LMP qualifying was broken up with red flags, making it difficult for the drivers to keep heat in the tyres or get more than one flying lap in before the tyre life was off peak. The first red flag came as the SMP Racing #17 stopped on track, coming down the Kemmel straight.
The short delay was followed quickly by a second red flag after a big crash for Pietro Fittipaldi in the #10 LMP1 DragonSpeed. A strange incident saw Fittipaldi wobble in the middle of Eau Rouge, heading straight off into the tyre barrier at the top of the hill. The driver did not lose consciousness during the incident, but was taking to the nearest hospital.
After the thirty-five-minute delay, the LMPs got back to qualifying. After their first laps, Mike Conway was leading Fernando Alonso for overall pole position. The battle came down to the Japanese drivers as to which car would take the first spot on the grid, and it was Kamui Kobayashi who came out on top. Both Alonso and team-mate Kazuki Nakjima were down on lap time compared to the drivers in the sister car, with Alonso being the only Toyota driver not to set a 1m54s lap time.
The Rebellion Racing duo took the ‘best of the rest’ positions, with Neel Jani joking after the session that “Third is the new first” for the privateer runners.
Manor CEFC TRSM Racing did not make an appearance in qualifying, with it still unclear if they will take to the grid for tomorrow’s race.
Only three of the LMP2 cars had managed to get a lap time on the board before the two red flags, so had a lot less pressure going into the final 16 minutes of the session. G-Drive Racing, Jackie Chan DC Racing and Larbre Competition, although had set a time with their first drivers, sent them out again. It was a manic last five minutes as the second drivers only had one go at setting their lap time.
Nicolas Lapierre was on usual form and set a fantastic lap time to promote the #36 to provisional pole. Pierre Thiriet did what he had to to secure class pole, but when the chequered flag fell there was only 0.04 seconds between them and class second #26 G-Drive. #38 Jackie Chan rounded off the top three.
Unlike the LMP qualifying session, the GT track action was much less dramatic. With no stoppages or flags, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell secured class pole, with their team mates in the sister car locking out the front row. Olivier Pla had set a fastest lap time than Priaulx in the first half of the session, but Tincknell’s lap time brought them to a better overall average, beating the #66 by just over a tenth of a second.
The Porsche GT Team cars will line up directly behind the Fords for tomorrow’s race. They had challenged to split the two American cars with their first lap time, but their aggregated total dropped them to P3/4.
Although they had a strong FP3, BMW Team MTEK could get no higher than fifth place for the start of tomorrow’s race.
It was not the Porsche sweep that was expected in Am as Aston Martin kept the German team honest. The Dempsey customer team held onto pole throughout the session, but both TF Sport and the #98 challenged for second on the start grid. Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana did not disappoint, splitting the #77 Dempsey Porsche from the Team Project 1 #56.
Tomorrow’s race conditions are supposed to be the hottest of the weekend, with no rain predicted. The teams will be looking to secure some strong championship points this weekend, as well as learning lots about their cars ahead of next race – the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.