Speed Chills - Signatech Alpine

  • Porsche Bow Out of LMP1 with Pole

    The fairytale starts as Porsche want it: taking pole position in their final outing of the LMP1 919-Hybrid, but the story is far from over. Toyota are hot on their heels and seem to have the pace advantage in the race. The LMP2 championship battle is going to be one to not take your eyes off. The leading #31 Vaillante Rebellion starts down the grid whilst their rivals in the #38 are on the front row. With just four points splitting them, it will be a tense six-hours. AF Corse have pole for the last race, but not with the championship contending car. In the Am class, #98 Aston Martin Racing may very well be on their way to claiming their first title after claiming another pole position this season.

    Porsche led a one-two into the final practice session of the weekend, giving them an edge before the teams took on qualifying. It was a fairly calm 60-minutes for the LMP1 teams, with Timo Bernhard setting his time board-topping 1:42.438 within the first five minutes of the session. No one seemed to be able to close in on that time, with the closest being Neel Jani in the sister car, six tenths off the pace.

    But this was not the case in qualifying. Toyota used a strategy that saw them leaving the pits five minutes after everyone else in an attempt to get some clear track. It worked, and Mike Conway set the first sub 1m40s lap time of the weekend with a 1:39.517. It was clear after Porsche’s second drivers had climbed in the cars it was going to be a big ask to get them ahead of the Toyotas.

    But Jani was determined to give the Porsche one last pole position. Pushing the car to the limit, he produced a lap time that even his team mates were astounded by, putting the #1 in close contention with the proivional pole-sitting #7 Toyota. Nick Tandy climbed back into the Porsche cockpit, with pressure on his shoulders, with the mind set of not letting Jani’s lap time go to waste. A small personal improvement saw the #1 Porsche take its final pole position by just over two tenths of a second.

    The sweltering heat of Bahrain played its hand on the LMP2 field this morning, with both the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing and the #36 Signatech Alpine bringing out a brief Full Course Yellows as they slowed and stopped on track. The Jackie Chan DC Racing cars seemed best equipped for the high morning track temperatures as they secured their first one-two of the weekend, also being the first time either of their cars have been fastest in a practice session this weekend. The 1:48.879 set by Ho Pin Tung in the #38 gave them half a second advantage on the rest of the field. After battling with the #37 for second place, G-Drive Racing #26 had to settle for third.

    The #36 got back on top of the pace after it’s earlier issue and put in an impressive lap average to take pole by four tenths. Gustavo Menezes declared that team mate Andre Negrao had “pulled the boat along” with his lap time, making Menezes job simple when he got in the car.

    Lining up beside them tomorrow will be the #38 Jackie Chan car. A bad qualifying for both Vaillante Rebellions sees the #38 crew on the front foot going into the race. Just four points separate the two and with the #31 Rebellion starting four sixth it is going to need to be the recovery drive of all drives from Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal if they are to secure the 2017 LMP2 Trophy.

    After a short red flag period brought out by the #86 Gulf Racing Am Porsche, which caught fire and stopped on track at Turn 9 – leaking fluid, the GTE classes were in qualifying simulation mode for the end of free practice three. The leaders of both classes changed every lap, with lap times tumbling as the end of the session drew closer. James Calado put the #51 AF Corse fastest with a 1:57.972, ahead of championship rival Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. The second AF Corse Ferrari, #71, rounded off the top three, half a second off the sister car.

    Qualifying quickly became a Ferrari affair with consistent laps from the #71 AF Corse pair too much for anyone else to contend with. The prediction had been that the two Astons would be fighting for pole position in the final qualifying session, but in the end there was no stopping Sam Bird and Davide Rigon who had struggled throughout the practice sessions.

    Andy Priaulx was set to place his championship contending #67 second on the row, but the weekend’s rapid Adam put an early end to that, dropping in a lap time that was quick enough to demote the team. Harry Tincknell said after the session that they were happy with the performance, but that it was all to play for tomorrow. As the underdogs for the championship now, they have the least to lose in the race, but starting ahead of the other championship contenders is definitely a positive.

    James Calado explained that they were focused on the race in the championship leading #51. He said that they were happy starting from fourth and were looking to have a nice, simple race to get them back home to the championship. If the race finished with the grid positions as they have qualified, there would not be enough of a points gain for the #67 to take the title. Porsche GT Team #91 starts further down the grid and has the most to do tomorrow if they want any chance of stealing the title.

    It had looked like the #98 Aston Martin Racing car was going to take its first fastest lap of the weekend, but it did not seem to be able to keep up when the fast laps started pouring out at the end of the session. Glory went to the #61 Clearwater Racing team that has recently confirmed it’s return to WEC for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. Championship contending #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was second, with the #54 Spirit of Race taking third.

    After it’s earlier fire, the #86 car sat out of qualifying, using the time to repair the car so it will be ready for the race tomorrow. It was Paul Dalla Lana’s day as his second driver lap pulled the #98 ahead of the #61 Clearwater Ferrari that had looked to have pole position in the bag. In terms of championship battles it’s a positive for the Aston Martin as now they take an 11-point advantage into the final six-hour endurance of the season, making it harder for Dempsey-Proton to steal the title from under their nose. The trio have come close to taking the title in the past, but this would be the first time they had actually secured it if all goes their way in tomorrow’s race.