Mikko Jalonen, LMS/ILMC Correspondent
Front row goes to Peugeot Sport while Audi Sport has to settle for second row. BMW takes the battle against Ferrari at LM GTE PRO category.
Last round of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup which is held on the Zhuhai International Circuit saw Peugeot Sport grab the front row for 6 hours of Zhuhai while their rivals, Audi Sport had to settle for second row. Peugeot Sport which is testing already some 2012 parts in their 908´s has been the fastest team throughout the weekend so far and qualifying was no exception as the number 7 car (Sébastien Bourdais, Anthony Davidson) driven by Davidson at the qualifying clocked the fastest time of 1.21.769 followed by the sister car number 8 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny); Sarrazin was just 0.075 seconds slower. Both Peugeot´s also managed to beat the pole position time from last year.
Davidson said, “This is my third qualifying session in a Peugeot this season, and this is my third pole. It was really very close today, because Stéphane Sarrazin did a great lap. I had to push really hard to better his time. We have been on the pace right since we got here. The battle has been intense since the start of the year, so I see no reason why it won’t be the same tomorrow.”
Sarrazin added, “The session was very close. We had a good scrap. I did a super lap and the car was great. There was nothing in it for pole position – Anthony was only seven tenths quicker than me.”
Third and Fourth fastest in LMP1 qualifying were the Audi R18s of Audi Sport with the number 2 car (Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish) driven by Kristensen in qualifying and leading the charge of the Audi´s. Kristensen with the time of 1.22.038 lost the pole position by 0.269 seconds but managed to be half a second clear of the sister car, number 1 Audi driven by Marcel Fässler in qualifying. At the race, Fässler´s partner will be the German ace, Timo Bernhard.
"I think we’ve set up a very good race car and will see a very exciting race tomorrow. There’s one thing I can promise: All four Audi drivers are hungry for victory at the finale of the ILMC," said Kristensen.
Fässler said, "As always, we set up the car as best we could for the race. Although it tends to understeer - which personally doesn’t suit me so well - I pushed in qualifying. Obviously, we’d have liked being a bit faster, but more wasn’t possible today on fresh tires. Still, I’m looking forward to the race because that’s always an altogether different story."
Fastest of the “petrol division“ cars was Rebellion Racing (Neel Jani, Nicolas Prost) two seconds behind the fastest Peugeot. After qualifying Jani was still very optimistic about achieving the goals the team has settled for the race.
“After yesterday's test sessions, we have improved the car a lot, even if our pace was already good. I'm really happy to get another pole position of petrol LMPs in front of the Oak Racing cars and Factory Aston Martin one. I'm pleased for all the Rebellion Racing team who worked very hard for that. Once again, Michelin have provided us first class service with quick tyres. With Nico (Prost) we will do our best to get a strong result tomorrow at the end of the race and hopefully secure third place in the ILMC LMP1 Teams’ championship for REBELLION Racing ...“
LM GTE PRO category at the weekend will be a battle between BMW Motorsport, Ferrari and Lotus only due to surprising absence of Porsche entries. Today out of those three, it was BMW Motorsport which managed to do the best job by taking the pole position with the number 55 car driven by Jörg Müller, whose co-driver is Augusto Farfus while the number 56 car of Andy Priaulx in qualifying for himself and Uwe Alzen was third fastest in class just slightly behind the Ferrari of AF Corse qualified by Gianmaria Bruni. At the race, Bruni will be joined by his normal driving partner, the past Formula 1 ace and Scuderia Ferrari test driver, Giancarlo Fisichella.
“We already know from last year, when we won here in Zhuhai, that the BMW M3 GT and Dunlop tyres really come into their own on a dry track. As such, I was confident coming into the race weekend, and thankfully today's qualifying backed up that confidence. We have a good car and everything is working well,“ said Müller.
LM GTE AM category sees entries from teams using Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet and Aston Martin. Today it was time of Ferrari and CRS Racing (Tim Mullen, Pierre Ehret, Roger Wills) to be the fastest car at the track, driven by Tim Mullen in qualifying and therefore earning a pole position at the LM GTE AM category. Second fastest time of the qualifying session was clocked by the Porsche of Proton Competition (Richard Lietz, Gianluca Roda, Christian Ried) with Lietz behind the wheel while third fastest was another Ferrari F430 this time used by Krohn Racing (Nic Jönssön, Tracy Krohn, Michele Rugolo) with Jönssön handling the qualifying duties today.
There were three LMP2s who came to China for the finale and 26 Signatech Oreca 03 Nissan took the pole with drivers Franck Mailleux / Lucas Ordoñez /Jean-Karl Vernay over season long rivals from Oak Racing. Patrice Lafargue / Frederic Da Rocha hope to now place the Oak Pescarolo Judd on the top step of the race podium.
For those who are wondering how the former Formula One World Champion and the Mercedes SLS GT3 did today in the hands of Mika Häkkinen for the GTC class. The answer, quite okay by being the third fastest out of four GTC entries and losing half a second to the top runners but still outpacing some of the LM GTE PRO and LM GTE AM entries. Häkkinen will be joined at the race by the local star, CongFu Cheng and by the German GT Masters driver, Lance David Arnold. The top two GTC runners still put up quite a show as even in LM GTE PRO they would have been second and third fastest, respectably with Eduardo Mortara and Audi Sport C China (Mortara, Darryl O´Young, Alexandre Imperatori) slightly edging the Hitotsuyama Racing for the pole position. Carlo Van Dam was at the wheel of Audi R8 LMS that he will share the car with Akihiro Tsuzuki and Michael Kim for the pole position of the GTC class.
Chinese driver Zhang Shanqi gave the locals a reason to cheer, even if the homeland popular driver was qualifying the only car present in the FLM class. Shanqi ‘s team mate is W. Chen in the Racing Oreca 09. Also making news today was the FIA World Endurance Championship which will take the place of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup starting in 2012. There will be a total of eight races in eight different countries on three continents. Of course one of the races will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Jean-Claude Plassart, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest President, Pierre Fillon, ACO Vice President and Gérard Neveu, the FIA World Endurance Championship manager gave the details of the provisional calendar which will start in March at the Twelve Hours of Sebring with the American Le Mans Series and will end in November in China.
They also announced that all entrants in the WEC will receive an automatic invitation for the 80th Le Mans 24 Hours in June.