Stephen Errity, WEC Correspondent
Audi has repeated its dominant Le Mans qualifying performance at the Silverstone round of the World Endurance Championship. Le Mans winner Benoit Treluyer put the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro hybrid on pole in one of the season's most exciting qualifying sessions so far, held on a rapidly drying track in reasonably warm conditions.
LM P1 and LM P2
“It was a difficult session, as it's my first time at Silverstone, and although I did a long stint yesterday to learn the track, I had no reference for wet weather,” said the Frenchman after the session. “I was learning where I could and couldn't put my wheels on the kerbs in the rain early on, following Allan as he knows the track very well. We put on new slicks at the last moment, and it was pretty cool in those conditions with the car dancing around. I gave my absolute best, didn't know what position I was in really until the end and just made sure to be fair to people while passing.”
I hope it's a hard battle – that's more fun for us.
Although the track didn't fully dry out during the session, Treluyer reckoned the e-tron's four-wheel-drive traction was not necessarily the key to pole, noting the fact that his car had changed on to fresh slick tyres slightly later than McNish in the non-hybrid #2 R18. The polesitter also said he expects a close fight in tomorrow's six-hour race. “Toyota have good pace, plus Tom and Allan are very quick, too, so I hope it's a hard battle – that's more fun for us.”
Toyota qualifying driver Nicolas Lapierre said that third was the best the Japanese manufacturer could have hoped for, but felt that nonetheless the car could have produced a slightly quicker lap time. “We changed to dry tyres a little too early and played it safe, but we're still missing a little bit of performance,” he noted. “We lost some running time in practice yesterday but we're much happier this afternoon. It's only the second race for the team and the car, and since Le Mans we have a lot of new parts for reliability, plus a new aero kit for more downforce.”
Behind the works teams, the Strakka Racing HPD, qualified by Briton Danny Watts, was the fastest of the petrol privateer teams, just ahead of the two Rebellion Lola coupés. “It was a difficult qualifying session with the changeable conditions,” Watts said. “It was hard to judge where the grip was, because one half of the track was considerably drier than the other half. I was surprised how quickly it dried out. I had a spin on the intermediates and crossed the finish line backwards – that’s the first time I’ve ever done that – and that was my cue to come in and put slicks on. Fourth is like pole for us – we're very happy to qualify there in a World Championship race.”
Rebellion driver Neel Jani said he fully expected the HPDs to challenge the Lola here, despite Rebellion's strong performance at Le Mans. “We're happy to be so close to Strakka, and actually we're surprised the JRM car is not up there, too,” he reflected. “But I know we have a consistent and reliable car for the race, so if anyone else has problems we should do well.”
Continuing the form shown so far this season, LM P2 was incredibly close all session; with six or seven cars looking likely to take pole at various times in the session. For a long time the battle shifted back and forth between former Peugeot works team-mates Nicolas Minassian and Stephane Sarrazin, now driving for the British JOTA Sport and American Starworks teams respectively. But it was local fan favourite Alex Brundle, qualifying the Greaves Zytek car he shares with his father Martin and Lucas Ordonez that claimed pole in the dying seconds.
Qualifying had not got off to the best start for the young Briton, as he skipped through the gravel trap, but there was no serious damage to the car and he was able to redeem himself in the best possible style, scoring the first pole position of his sportscar career. “It's a magic moment and I want to thank Greaves and Nissan so much for the opportunity they've given me. I spent a while after the chequered flag circulating around, waiting to hear if anyone had beaten my time, so it was a big relief when my engineer said I had it at last.”
Sarrazin ended up second in P2 driving the Starworks HPD Honda – the car that won the class Le Mans while he was on temporary loan to Toyota. The experienced Frenchman was just 0.003 seconds off Brundle's time, commenting, “The car is very good and we have a perfect set-up. I'm optimistic for the race, as it's very easy on its tyres and that will be key.” Third on the P2 grid, and fastest of the teams running the Oreca chassis, was the Spa-Francorchamps polesitters ADR-Delta, with Australian John Martin at the wheel. “I was half a second up on my last flying lap, but got held up in traffic,” he said ruefully. “But my earlier time was our first attempt at a quick lap on reasonable tyres, so we're pretty happy. We've a good package whether it's wet or dry tomorrow.”
GTE Pro and GTE Am
A rapidly drying track saw the times fall quickly during a frantic and highly competitive qualifying session for the GTE Pro and GTE Am cars. Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari all topped the timing screens at various points, but in the end it was Richard Lietz in the Felbermayr Racing Porsche that emerged on top with a very strong lap that he began just before the chequered flag fell. “We started on a 'drying wet' tyre, as at first we didn't expect it would be dry enough to run slicks by the end of the session,” said the Austrian, who will share the 911 with Marc Lieb in tomorrow's race. “Pole is great after our disappointment at Le Mans, and we're definitely closer to the Ferraris on one-lap pace than we were at the start of the year. But I think they can still do one less pit stop over the course of the race.”
JMW Racing – a 'guest entry' from the European Le Mans Series – were the fastest of those Ferrari runners, much to the delight of driver James Walker. “It was a total unknown at the start, as we had no wet setup, so we did a banker lap on rain tyres,” he recalled. The Englishman was two seconds up on his final flying lap, but lost the 458 under braking at the end of the Wellington Straight. Fortunately, he didn't hit anything but with the spin went any chance of taking pole position. The small British team nonetheless had the satisfaction of out-qualifying Ferrari works driver Gianmaria Bruni in the #51 AF Corse car.
Fourth overall in GT, and pole in GTE Am, went to Stuart Hall, driving a second works Aston Martin V12 Vantage entered as a one-off for this round only. “It was very difficult to judge at end,” he remarked. “We made the call to go to slicks with around seven minutes to go. It was maybe a little early, as we went off on our first lap, but the second one came together. We've been on the pace all day yesterday and today, but there's a lot of good guys in the Am class. We've got to run our own race tomorrow – we're expecting a lot of attrition so we need to make no mistakes. I think we can challenge for a class win if we do everything right.”
The GTE Pro Aston Martin was fourth in its class and sixth overall in GTE, while second and third in GTE Am went to Paulo Ruberti in the #88 Felbermayr Porsche and Marco Cioci in the #61 AF Corse Ferrari, respectively.