The OAK Racing Morgan-Nissans did a good job in qualifying with no. 24 driven by Olivier Pla-Alex Brundle-David Heinemeier Hansson and no. 35 in the hands of Bertrand Baguette-Martin PlowmanRicardo Gonzalez setting the second and third-quickest time in the LM P2 category. Jacques NicoletJean-Marc Merlin-Erik Maris in no. 45 were penalized by an off.
The World Endurance Championship has pitched its tent in the USA visiting the brand-new Circuit of the Americas for the first time. The driver line-ups in the nos 24 and 35 Morgan-Nissan were unchanged, while in no.45 Jacques Nicolet and Jean-Marc Merlin were joined by Erik Maris for this event. It was his first experience of endurance racing as he is more used to top-level sailing competitions.
The prototypes built by Onroak Automotive, the OAK Racing construction department, had their first outing on the Circuit of the Americas on Thursday when there were two collective practice sessions. The nine OAK Racing drivers got down to the task of learning a very interesting hilly circuit, which runs in an anti-clockwise direction.
The interesting WEC qualifying format in which two drivers per car take to the track, and the classification is then calculated according to the average of the two fastest laps of each driver, provided a thrilling session in the very high-quality LM P2 category. Olivier Pla in no. 24, Bertrand Baguette in no. 35 and Jacques Nicolet in no. 45 were the first to go out in the OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan LM P2s on Dunlop tyres.
At the end of the session after fighting performances from Alex Brundle and Martin Plowman the no. 24 MorganNissan was in second place in LM P2 in 1m 55.243s in front of its sister car no. 35. The fastest time was set by the no. 26 G-Drive Oreca-Nissan in 1m54.951s. Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin and Eric Maris in the no. 45 Morgan-Nissan will start from further back as Merlin had an off.
Sébastien Philippe, Team Principal: “We’re satisfied with the qualifying session in terms of positions as seeing nos 24 and 35 in second and third places on the grid is encouraging for the race. We still have work to do as we’re quite far behind G-Drive in terms of performance. It’s a pity about Jean-Marc Merlin and no. 45. He’s usually a driver who doesn’t make mistakes.”
Olivier Pla, no. 24 Morgan-Nissan LM P2: “It was a fairly difficult qualifying session as the car was twitchy at the rear. I had to cope with that but luckily the team had enough time to make a small modification when I handed over to Alex. He did a great job to take second place. The gap to G-Drive is still pretty big so we’ll have to work for the race. In the context of the championship it’s good to start on the front row; we have to bag a big haul of points tomorrow.”
Bertrand Baguette, no. 35 Morgan-Nissan LM P2: “We were struggling with a car that was very different compared to practice on Thursday. We managed to get things right between this morning’s session and qualifying, so we’re heading in the right direction, but we’re still a little bit off the pace. We’re third so we’ve saved our bacon by putting ourselves between our main rivals in the championship: our team-mates in no. 24 and Pecom Racing. I know that Ricardo Gonzalez, Martin Plowman and I are a good trio so we’re feeling confident for the race.”
Jacques Nicolet no. 45 Morgan-Nissan LM P2: “Personally I’m not very happy with my qualifying performance. I was held up by a Lotus but I wasn’t in the groove and neither was my team-mate as he went off. Where we’re concerned it’s a qualifying session to forget. So I hope things will work out better in the race as we really enjoy driving here on this magnificent circuit.”