WEC Provides Tight Qualifying at Shanghai

by Alice Holloway
The WEC qualifying session at Shanghai showed the closest session of 2018, suggesting that the classes may be now closer on track.
Although the pattern of a Toyota Gazoo Racing front row lock out was repeated at the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Shanghai this morning, qualifying was a lot closer than it has been in previous races. Track evolution through the qualifying session forced most teams to send their first driver back out on track. In LM GTE Pro, it was a battle of Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK and BMW MTEK Team that saw the duo of Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke just pinch the pole position point.

Toyota felt the heat rising as, for the first time in 2018, the had some pressure on them to claim the front row. The Rebellion Racing duo of Bruno Senna and Andre Lotterer optimised on an improving track to stay right on the rear wing of the Toyotas. Although Toyota did stay ahead throughout the session, they couldn’t relax throughout the 20-minute as Rebellion weren’t giving them a chance to breathe.

Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway secured the #7 pole for tomorrow’s race, with an average of 1:42.931 after Koybayashi returned to the track to claim the fastest lap of the session. This was fastest than the sister car by just over two tenths of a second, but the surprising element was the #1 Rebellion duo missed out on second on the grid by one tenth of a second.

The #17 SMP Racing split the two Rebellions, claiming fourth over the #3 by three tenths of a second. However, it was a further six tenths off the third-placed #1. Although qualifying was a lot closer at the top for this race, it does still look like the Privateers do have a disadvantage to the Hybrids, even if this disadvantage has now been reduced.

It was another front row lockout in LMP2, with Jackie Chan DC Racing taking the first two spots in the class. The #38 of Gabriel Aubry and Ho-Pin Tung pipped their sister car to class pole by three-tenths of a second. The class championship leaders had a tough day at the office, finishing P4 in class. Pierre Thiriet had a spin during his fast run which cost him three seconds in his lap. Pastor Maldonado and Roberto Gonzalez optimised on this, taking P3 from the Signatech Alpine.

As was the case in LMP1, the GTE Pro cars sent their first drivers out for a second run to optimise on the improving track condition. Mucke was able to find an additional second of time out on track, improving to a staggering 1:56.464. Just two tenths split them from the provisional class pole sitters Nick Catsburg and Martin Tomczyk in the #81 BMW, preventing the German team from claiming their first WEC pole position.

It was four different manufacturers in the top for of GTE Pro, hopefully suggesting that the BoP is starting to do its job and is pulling the classes together. The #97 Aston Martin Racing will start third in class tomorrow, with the leading Porsche GT Team #92 just three-hundredths of a second off in fourth.

On their one-off WEC appearance, the sole Corvette Racing entry will start at the back of the Pro grid, in P11, behind the duo of AF Corse Ferraris.

Keeping up their success record at Shanghai, the #98 Aston Martin Am car has taken its fifth consecutive pole position at Shanghai International Circuit. This means that every time the current line up have taken to the Chinese circuit for qualifying, they have started on pole.

Behind them, the under-investigation from Fuji #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche lines up second in class, with the #54 Spirit of Race rounding off the top three. It is great to see this mix of constructors at the front of each of the GTE classes.

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