Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC correspondent
The first qualifying match for the World Endurance Championship’s inaugural race has ended with the powerhouse Audi Sport Team Joest sweeping the top three best lap times in the LM P1. Andre Lotterer was the fastest in the #1 R18 with a 1:45.820 for a speed of 127.235 on the 3.740 mile circuit in Sebring, Florida.
"This pole is really nice for the staff as the guys work so hard to prepare for this race. This is a nice reward for the mechanics who work on the car," said the pole winner. The R18 that will be shared by his two teammates, Benoit Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler had damage after an incident during last night’s practice. “This is the last race for the R18 so it is an emotional car for the drivers as we move to the new Audi. It feels good to come to a legendary race like Sebring to compete with the car one more time. Hopefully the car will finish very nicely tomorrow for us.”
Second for the provisional grid was Tom Kristensen who missed the pole by .395 seconds. The Dane’s fastest time was a 1:46.215 (126.762 mph) in the #2 car that he will share with Allan McNish and Dindo Capello. Romain Dumas’ hot lap in the #3 was more than one second off the pace of his pole winning Audi teammate. The Frenchman clocked a 1:46.935 (125.908 mph). Co-driving the #3 R18 will be Timo Bernhard and Loic Duval. It was Duval who had the first part of the crash last night so the comeback for the team was a high note before the 60th Annual Twelve Hours of Sebring takes the green flag start tomorrow.
The car felt perfect in qualifying.
In LM P2, Oliver Pla took the class honors with a 1:50.467 (121.883 mph) in his #24 OAK Racing Morgan Judd that he will share the endurance race with team owner Jacques Nicolet and Lahaye Matthieu. “I had a chance to test here before, so I had a pretty good idea of the circuit. So I was really looking forward to racing here. The car is amazing. We had an incident on Monday and our team did a great job to get the car back and ready to go. The car felt perfect in qualifying,” Pla said.
The GT-Pro class fight for the coveted pole was expected to be close. Gianmaria Bruni notched the pole for Ferrari by nearly three-tenths of a second over the rival Ferrari team. His best lap in the #51 AF Corse F458 Italia was 1:58.427 (113.690 mph) for a new class record at the Sebring International Raceway. Bruni’s co-drivers are Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.
“We chose something different for tires and they take more laps to come together. GT this year is a real fighting class –very good. The level is getting higher and higher and we have been working so hard to be there and it is a good starting point for Ferrari and AF Corse, for sure. It will be a good fight tomorrow. Hopefully we can last for all 12 hours and make a great maneuver for the spectators to enjoy the racing.”
Dominik Franbacher won the GTE-AM pole with a time of 2:00.184 (112.028 mph) for the #58 Luxury Racing Ferrari, and set a new track qualifying record. “The car was quite good. We didn’t have a lot of time to make a good setup because the main focus was preparing my amateur drivers for that race and find a good setup for them. We finally found a good setup that suits us all so it was quite a good run and I drove as good as I could,” he said. Pierre Ehret and Francois Jakubowski will trade off stints during the 12 hour challenge.
The two challenge classes, GTC and PC are not part of the WEC classifications, but they are part of the American Le Mans Series and will be scored points on their finish in tomorrow’s race.