Toyota Gazoo Racing locked out the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Shanghai earlier today, extending its streak to four consecutive 1-2s in qualifying dating back to this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
The pole-winning car this time for the Japanese marque was the No. 7 TS050 HYBRID, after Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi combined to set a pole-winning 1m42.931s average with a 1m42.708s from Conway and 1m43.155s from Kobayashi.
Between the fastest Toyota and the privateer, though, it was as tight as it’s been this season. The No. 1 Rebellion R-13 of Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna took third with a 1m42.218s, which put them just over two tenths off pole, and less than a tenth off the No. 8 Toyota which ended up second on the grid with a 1m43.159s.
Lotterer’s last-ditch attempt to take pole came very close, the German reeling off a 1m42.869s, which proved to be the second-fastest time of the session.
“One point for our car, which is good,” Conway said of winning pole. “It’s close — Rebellion has been there all weekend in all conditions, which is good for the championship. We’ll have to work to keep them behind us tomorrow, as the in the rain they’ve been able to produce good laps.”
Behind, SMP Racing’s No. 17 BR1 ended up taking fourth on the grid, completing the second row, ahead of Rebellion Racing’s other R-13, which managed to slot in fifth.
In LMP2, hometown favorites Jackie Chan DC Racing scored pole, and like Toyota, a front-row lockout in the class. The team’s No. 38 ORECA was the faster of the two, Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubrey setting a 1m48.888s combined average. The No. 37, meanwhile, which won last time out in Fuji, was three-tenths back at 1m49.138s.
Tomorrow the team will be gunning for its third straight 1-2 finish in LMP2, and hopes to take the lead in the championship standings. Crucially, by scoring a point for pole, the No. 38 is now tied with the Signatech Alpine A470 for the lead of the LMP2 championship.
Best of the rest was DragonSpeed’s Michelin-shod ORECA, which took third. The aforementioned championship-challenging Alpine will start fourth.
In GTE Pro, it was Ford which emerged as the fastest factory, with its No. 66 GT of Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke snatching the top spot at the very end of the session with a 1m58.627s average. This came after the team opted to put Mucke back in the car for a second run at pole after Pla’s laps, the German setting a 1m58.464s on his final flying lap to vault the No. 66 to the top spot above the No. 81 BMW, denying the Bavarian brand its first WEC GTE Pro pole.
“Very good strategy from our team made the difference,” Mucke said. “We had three sets of tires and the track was getting better all the time. The engineers did a great job putting the tires on in the right window.”
Until the end, the No. 81 BMW looked set for the class pole after Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg’s best efforts. The duo’s combined average of 1m58.441s wasn’t enough though, even with Catsburg’s 1m58.441s hot lap, which was the quickest of any GTE driver in the session.
Further back, Aston Martin and Porsche both managed to get cars into the top four, the No. 97 Vantage AMR taking third, and the No. 92 911 RSR taking fourth.
However, not all the manufacturers will start tomorrow’s race well up the order, as it was a tough outing for both AF Corse and guest-entrant Corvette Racing. The two AF Ferrari 488 GTEs will start ninth and 10th, ahead of the Corvette Racing C7.R which will start dead last in Pro, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner the only pair in the class unable to break the 2m00s average time barrier. The order could look very different tomorrow, though, with the forecast still looking very bleak for the race.
GTE Am’s battle for pole came down to the wire too, Aston Martin Racing’s No. 98 Vantage storming to the top spot after a final charge by Pedro Lamy, who improved time to a 2m01.884s with a final effort, catapulting it from sixth to first, scoring the crew its first pole of the season. That lap pushed the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche to second and the No. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari to third.
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