LMP Qualifying: Audi lock out the front row
The 20-minute qualifying for the LMP1 and LMP2 competitors had a brief stoppage just over half way through for marshals to retrieve a dislodged bollard, but that mattered little to Allan McNish in the No.2 Audi R18 3-tron quattro.
Together with the No.7 Toyota Racing TS030 Hybrid of Nicolas Lapierre, the Scot took to the track from the moment the green flag dropped and he completed just five laps, setting a pole-winning time of 1:45.814 in the early part of the session. Joining McNish on the front row, making it an Audi 1-2, will be Marcel Fässler in the No.1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro who was forced to wait until after the mid-session stoppage to set his best time of 1:45.888 – just 0.074 of a second behind his team mate. Lapierre was the first car out on track in the prototype qualifying session, but he was unable to improve upon his fastest lap of lap of 1:46.254 and will therefore line up in third place on the grid for tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Allan McNish, No.2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro: "Qualifying was good and we were seven hundredths ahead, which is a lifetime compared to Silverstone. We went back to the e-tron quattro for this race, so the mechanics had quite a lot of work to do to build a complete new car when they got here. While it was stressful for them they did a really good job and they made sure that from the first moment we ran the car it was fast and reliable. In terms of our fight with Toyota, that sort of ebbs and flows a little bit. Yesterday I was a little confused on what exactly was the problem, but today we’ve improved our car and we were able to take a bit more out of it in qualifying. The race is going to be long and difficult so I wouldn’t read too much into the gap between us and Toyota of four tenths as something you’ll see throughout the race.”
Of the LMP1 Privateers in the category, Neel Jani in the No.12 Rebellion Racing Lola Toyota headed a chain of three HPD-Hondas. The Swiss driver pulled out quite a margin over his rivals with a lap of 1:47.638, followed by Danny Watt’s No.21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX 03a who managed to edge out fellow HPD runners JRM Racing and the LMP2 Starworks Motorsports entry, also an HPD-Honda. Watts’ time of 1:48.446 was eight tenths of a second shy of the No.12 Rebellion and three tenths ahead of Karun Chandhok’s in third place among the LMP1 Privateers. The No.13 Rebellion Racing car did not take part in qualifying this afternoon.
Neel Jani, No.12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Coupe – Toyota: “I think the race will be a different story to qualifying, I think the others will be a lot closer. Qualifying in the heat was a one shot attempt, we knew the tyres would be good for the first lap and the second lap would be five to six tenths slower. We nailed it on the first lap and that gave us the margin, but I think tomorrow it will be a lot closer.”
There was quite a battle for pole in the LMP2 class, with OAK Racing’s Olivier Pla and Dominik Kraihamer and Pecom’s Nic Minassian all taking a turn at the top of the time sheets during the session. It was, however, Stéphane Sarrazin in the American team’s No.44 Starworks HPD ARX 03b who finally clinched the pole, with a best time of 1:51.798, ahead of a John Martin’s No.25 ADR-Delta Oreca 03-Nissan. The Australian was five tenths shy of pole on 1:52.285 but a crucial one tenth ahead of Olivier Pla in the No.24 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan.
Stephane Sarrazin, No.44 Starworks Motorsports HPD ARX 03b – Honda: “Today everything went right; we have a good balance in the car. The team did a good job yesterday working hard to improve it and today it was very good. We have a good potential for the race and we will try to fight for the victory again to increase our championship lead.”
Time now for the cars, drivers and team to cool down and prepare for tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Bahrain, the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 28 entrants will be back on track tomorrow at 1225 hours for a 20-minute warm up prior to the main event which starts at 1600 hours and runs into the night.