Brendon Hartley beat out sister car Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Kamui Kobayashi to take his first Hypercar pole position at the 6 Hours of Bahrain whilst Porsche GT Team were unbeatable in LM GTE Pro.
It was a battle of Toyotas from the start of the twenty minute qualifying session, with the question more ‘which’ Toyota would be on pole rather than ‘would a’ Toyota be on pole as the Japanese cars held the advantage over the only other Hypercar entry, the Alpine Elf Matmut. The battle was over in a one-shot wonder as the cars were conscious of high tyre wear around the Bahrain International Circuit and doing what they could to reserve as much rubber for the race.
Hartley set the marker in the sand with a 1:47.049, beating Kobayashi by just under four tenths of a second (1:47.447). Andre Negrao set the time for the sole Alpine, a 1:48.003, to take third, but this was a time set on his second flying lap which means he has burnt more of his tyres ahead of the race. The effect will be minimal, as they are only one lap older, but it does give the Toyota duo another line of advantage ahead of the six hour race.
The pole position bonus point went to LMP2 class championship leaders Sean Gelal, Stoffel Vandoorne and Tom Blomqvist. Behind the wheel of the #28 JOTA was Blomqvist, who kept up the team’s appearance at the top of the timesheets for every session. Even in the first runs, Blomqvist was on top, but managed to find some additional time and improve to a 1:49.885 to secure LMP2 pole.
Filipe Albuquerque kept the pressure on the British-New Zealand-Swedish driver, finishing in second only a tenth down on the pole time. The United Autosport trio will be hot on the tail of the JOTA team during the six hours of racing, chasing down their first class victory since Monza in July. Albuquerque ended in a JOTA sandwich as Antonio Felix da Costa brought home the #38 JOTA machine in third with a 1:50.198.
Needing to outscore Ferrari by 16 points this weekend to take the championship lead going into the final round of the year, Porsche started the weekend strong, locking out the front row of LM GTE Pro and claiming the additional pole position point. Kevin Estre and Neel Jani will lead the GTE field over the line after taking pole with a 1:56.144 courtesy of Estre, but it was a tight fight from the sister Porsche as Gianmaria Bruni was only three hundredths of a second off Estre’s pace. Neither of the Porsche managed to improve on their second runs but both times were enough to keep the Ferraris at bay.
Miguel Molina just beat out the sister AF Corse – and the car in the drivers’ championship fight – for third on the grid, meaning that James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi will start at the back of the GTE Pro field. Porsche have had the advantage all weekend, but during qualifying Ferrari managed start to close down the pace deficit. It still looks like Porsche have the advantage, so Ferrari will have to get clever with the strategy Saturday afternoon if they want a chance of taking victory around the Bahrain International Circuit.
It was a different story in LM GTE Am as Ferrari came out on top in the hands of Rino Mastronardi. Driving the #60 Iron Lynx, Mastronardi has joined the crew of Matteo Cressoni and Andrea Piccini for the Bahrain six-hour event. His 1:58.918, set on his second flying lap as his first lap time was deleted due to a track limits violation, beat out Paul Dalla Lana in the Aston Martin Racing machine by just over four tenths of a second.
The top three in class was rounded off by the #56 Team-Project 1 Porsche.
Lights out for the Bapco 6 Hour of Bahrain go out at 09:00 tomorrow morning, when the battles in the desert will commence.