Achieving the opposite of last weekend, the Championship-leading Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 has claimed pole position over the sister car. Kevin Estre and Neel Jani have also extended their advantage over championship challengers James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, taking pole in LM GTE Pro.
With the battle set between the Toyota duo after last week’s results, all eyes were on Kamui Kobayashi and Brendon Harley who were Toyota’s elect qualifiers for the 8 Hours of Bahrain. After the first laps, Kobayashi had provisional pole, competitively setting a 1:46.250 with a six tenth advantage over the New Zealand driver. Unsurprisingly, both drivers returned to the track for second runs. As the cars raced at the Bahrain International Circuit last weekend, they have more data now about tyre wear and degradation than they did last week, so worries of burning through too many tyres in qualifying were not as prominent.
Kobayashi bailed on his second run, leaving the door open for Hartley to snatch the pole position point, but the driver of the #8 car couldn’t find anymore than three tenths out on track giving the additional point this weekend to #7 team. Taking pole position has put the #7 crew of Mike Conway, Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in a very strong position now only having to finish the race to take the 2021 championship. Only if the #7 car fails to make it to the chequered flag will the #8 team become 2021 champions.
The #36 Alpine Elf Matmut LMP1 car crossed the line seven tenths off the pace of Kobayashi, starting third in class. It is likely to have a quiet race for the finale of the season with the Toyotas outpacing it and focusing on each other for the title battle.
Showing more impressive one-lap pace, the #22 United Autosports OCREA took pole position in LMP2 in the hands of Filipe Alberquerque. The Portuguese driver set a 1:49.525 in the final moments of the session to knock Norman Nato off of pole by three tenths of a second. It was a tightly fought, with the top five ending within a second of each other at the end of the session.
Nato failing to improve in his second lap put him under pressure from Antonio Felix Da Costa in the #38 JOTA, but Da Costa couldn’t quite find enough on the circuit to demote Nato another position and finished third by a tenth of a second. The speedy Giedo van der Garde in the #29 Racing Team Nederland car came across the line fourth, two tenths off of a top three starting position with the #20 High Class Racing rounding off the top five.
Class championship leaders in the #31 WRT Team could do no better than seventh with Ferdinand Habsburg behind the wheel, but the team proved last week that it’s their race pace and strategy the other teams should be weary of. Importantly for them, their closest championship rivals – #28 JOTA – will start the eight-hour event behind them in ninth.
After winning last weekend, Porsche GT Team increased their lead over AF Corse by another point when Estre took his fifth pole position of the season. But the pressure was on as Calado knew the importance of beating Porsche and starting the race on the same number of points as the German manufacturer.
The pressure was maybe felt in the Porsche stables as Estre lost his first lap time due to exceeding track limits, giving him one final attempt to knock the #51 Ferrari off the front spot on the starting grid. In typical Estre style, he managed to pip the Ferrari by two tenths of a second, snatching pole position in the closing moments of the race. However, it looks like there will be a tough battle in LM GTE Pro tomorrow as a Balance of Performance boost for the Ferrari entries after last weekend has brought the two sports cars closer together in race pace. With Estre and Jani only two points up, if Calado and Pier Guidi beat the duo to tomorrow’s chequered flag they will become GTE Pro champions.
For the manufacturers’ fight, advantage stayed with Porsche as Gianmaria Bruni beat Danei Serra to third by a tenth of a second. The question remains, however, if this advantage will stay as Ferrari are running two-men teams whilst Porsche have three-men teams for this weekend’s event. The two line ups will force different strategies which may be the difference between becoming champion and losing out.
Ferraris ran faster in the LM GTE Am class locking out the top three positions in class. Roberto Lacorte once again showed his pace around the Bahrain circuit with his 1:58.712 marginally gave him class pole. Francois Perrodo in the class-leading AF Corse missed the pole point by four hundredths of a second. Perrodo will be ruing that small loss of time as the additional point would have helped in their title battle with last week’s winners TF Sport. On the plus side for the AF Corse team, their championship rivals are 22.5 points behind them and start the 8 Hours of Bahrain fifth in class.
The female trio in the Iron Dames car rounded off the top three in class.