As dusk fell over the Bahrain International Circuit and temperatures started to drop (to 22oC, with 88% humidity), the five LMP1s and 9 LMP2s took to the track for the final qualifying session of the year.
At the end of the typically tense 25 minute session, it was a Toyota Racing front row lock out, the Japanese manufacturer claiming its second consecutive pole position.
The use of a different Michelin compound in qualifying compared to this morning’s third and final practice session was, according to Kazuki Nakajima, key to the No.7 TS 030 Hybrid’s claim on pole position. The Japanese driver and his team mate Alex Wurz set a combined fastest average time of 1:42.449 to put them ahead of the No.8 Toyota of Sarrazin-Davidson by 0.332 seconds.
Two tenths of a second behind the Toyotas was the first of the two Audi R18 e-tron quattros, the No.1 of Lotterer-Fassler with a combined time of 1:42.976 – despite a last minute effort by Fassler to try and improve the average lap time of the two drivers. In fourth place was the No.2 Audi, the World Champions Elect just 0.169 seconds behind their team mates, while in fifth overall was the No.12 LMP1 Privateer entry of Rebellion Racing, Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche having completed qualifying duties.
Pecom Racing’s No.49 ORECA 03 Nissan, driven by Nicolas Minassian and Pierre Kaffer, claimed its first pole position since the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps earlier this season, with a best average lap time of 1:50.941. This put the only Michelin-shod car in the LMP2 class ahead of all its competitors by the tiny margin of 0.062 seconds, the No.26 G-Drive Racing ORECA Nissan of Martin-Conway taking second place in the category.
The No.24 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan of Pla-Brundle will start from third place in the class, their lap time of 1:51.718 placing them ahead of the No.41 Greaves Motorsport Zytek Nissan – newcomer to the FIA WEC Jon Lancaster doing a good job alongside Bjorn Wirdheim in that car to put them ahead of some more established competitors.
The No.31 Lotus Praga of Vitantonio Liuzzi and another newcomer from single-seaters, Lucas Auer, overcame a long delay in the pits for technical issues to take 7th in class – the young Austrian coping well with late-session pressure.
Porsche front row lockout in GTE Pro
It was all smiles in the Team Manthey garage with a 1-2 for the final LMGTE qualifying of the 2013 season. The no92 Porsche AG Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb took the team’s first pole position of the season but it nearly all went wrong at the start of the session when Lietz had to pit when the gearbox got stuck in 3rd gear. A quick fix by the Porsche mechanics soon had the Austrian back in the fray.
The championship leading Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke moved to the head of row two when Turner put in a last gasp flying lap to move up from 6th place at the chequered flag. This means they start tomorrow’s race alongside their nearest rival for the title, the no51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, who is joined by Toni Vilander for this weekend. The no99 Aston Martin Vantage of Bruno Senna, Ritchie Stanaway and Pedro Lamy with start from 5th on the grid, alongside the nr71 AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella and Kamui Kobayashi.
In LMGTE Am the no95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 of Christoffer Nygaard, Nicki Thiim and Kristian Poulsen took their 6th class pole by the narrowest of margins. Nygaard and Thiim’s average was a 2m00.303s, just 0.034s ahead of the nr81 8 Star Motorsports Ferrari of Rui Aguas, Davide Rigon and Enzo Potolicchio.
The head of row two for the LMGTE Am class was taken by championship leading Aston Martin Vantage of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall, with the double race winners being joined once again by Roald Goeth for the finale of the 2013 season. Their time of 2m00.496 was less than two tenths behind their teammates on pole and just 0.031s ahead of the nr61 AF Corse Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo.
The nearest rivals to Campbell-Walter and Hall for the driver’s championship could only manage 5th, with the no76 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche of Raymond Narac, Jean-Karl vernay and Markus Paltalla posting a 2m00.880 average, four tenths ahead of the nr88 Proton Competition Porsche.
The nr50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette only managed one lap before Patrick Bornhauser had to come back into the pits with a gearbox problem. The mechanics soon had the engine covers off as they sought to find the source of the problem. Unfortunately they failed to find a solution and the Corvette failed to complete another lap.
The grid is now set for the final showdown of the 2013 season, with the 6 Hours of Bahrain getting underway at 15:00 (local) on Saturday 30 November.