Toyota Gazoo Racing’s TS050 HYBRID, currently on its farewell tour, will start from pole in its home race at Fuji Speedway tomorrow.
Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley were the drivers that combined to set the best average of 1m25.013s to take pole for the No. 8 crew by almost eight tenths of a second over the sister car, which made it a front-row-lockout.
“That was something we had to achieve,” Nakajima said. “We were scared about the Rebellion because they’d been quick, we thought they’d be quicker than us, it was a bit of a surprise. We see rain forecast tomorrow — it’ll be a big challenge. The scary bit is changeable weather — it can be a lottery.”
The No. 7, which won at Silverstone and has been hindered by the ‘Success Handicap’ here this weekend, has been noticeably slower throughout practice, and will start second with a 1m25.803s average.
Rebellion’s No. 1 R-13 Gibson will start third and best of the privateer runners, but the fastest single-lap time from a privateer driver came from the No. 6 Team LNT Ginetta G60-LT-P1, Mike Simpson reeling off a stunning 1m25.889s. It was even more impressive as the Briton set the time on the car’s first run following a precautionary engine change between FP2 and the Qualifying session.
Unfortunately, Charlie Robertson, who took over the car from Simpson, was unable to finish the job and challenge for top-three spots, spinning and stopping on track before his first flying lap was completed. That brought out red flags, the car unable to restart after a loss of power.
Notably, Simpson’s best time, (a 1m25.959s) and Norman Nato’s best lap in the No. 1 Rebellion were quicker than Kamui Kobayashi’s best time in the No. 7 Toyota.
The sister Team LNT Ginetta, on the other hand, managed to set a 1m28.820s average, good enough to get within 1.6s of the pole time.
Despite the fact that the privateers were not too far behind, Toyota was surprised they didn’t challenge for front row spots. Program manager Rob Leupen told RACER after the session that they expected Rebellion at to produce quicker times. “I’m not sure what happened with the Rebellion, whether it’s part of their plan? We were all surprised,” he said.
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In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing took its first pole for the season, and in turn scored Goodyear its first ever FIA WEC pole. The Jota-run team’s ORECA 07 Gibson, with Gabriel Aubry and Ho Pin Tung sharing the wheel, set a 1m29.302s combined average.
“After Silverstone where we had a difficult weekend, we wanted more. We wanted better single-lap pace from Goodyear, we’ve worked hard. Now we hope for the long-run pace,” Ho Pin Tung said.
Before the restart after the red flag for the stranded Ginetta, it looked like Goodyear and Jota were set for a front-row lockout. The Jota ORECA of Roberto Gonzalez and Anthony Davidson sat second, but a late charge just before the end of the session from Filipe Albuquerque in United’s Michelin-shod ORECA split the two 07s, the Portguese racer improving on his initial time to promote himself and Phil Hanson to second spot.
Another driver who made a late improvement after the red flag was Anders Fjordbach. The High Class Racing driver improved on his early time making up two spots, climbing to fourth behind the JOTA ORECA, making it three Goodyear teams in the top four. With Goodyear’s A and C spec tires looking stronger here than at Silverstone, it will be interesting to see how the tire battle plays out tomorrow when pace over full race stints is what really matters.
GTE Pro was extremely tight, the six factory cars in the class all lapping within half a second during qualifying.
The headline here is that Porsche’s 911 RSR 19 has its first pole position. Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz in the No. 91 set a 1m37.320s average, with Lietz’s time the fastest of all the drivers that set times in the second half of the session.
“It was a really good qualifying, first pole for the 911 RSR 19. The car has a win and a pole now. The preparation was really good. We are really happy,” Bruni said.
Behind, just 0.041s back, was the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with a 1m37.397s average.
Making it three brands in the top three was the No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage of Danish duo Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim, setting a 1m37.466s. Thiim was encouraged by Aston’s performance, but said after the session that the team would favor rain tomorrow if it is to challenge for the win. He expects it to be a close race between the three marques, though.
While the No. 91 had a standout performance, it wasn’t a good session for the sister No. 92 Porsche, which ended up in the barriers at Turn 3 after Michael Christensen lost the rear end of the car. The Dane did get going again and set a time, but went back to the garage and didn’t return to the session. It will start at the back of the pack in sixth.
GTE Am was also topped by a Porsche team, the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR of Felipe Fraga and Ben Keating pacing the field, Keating running fastest of all the amateur drivers in the session.
However, the Project 1 Porsche lost its class pole after the post-qualifying technical checks, which will come as a huge disappointment to the team, which missed out on qualifying at Silverstone and was forced to start the race a lap down.
The reason for the disqualification is that “the quick door release system was not in compliance with the homologation form.” The decision from the stewards explains that “the fixing of the screw of the door was missing at post-qualifying scrutineering,” which the stewards consider a safety issue.
As a result of this, all the car’s times have been deleted and the car will start from the back of the grid. This promotes TF Sport to pole position in GTE Am. The British team has therefore scored pole at both of the two races to start the season. During the session Salih Yoluc and Jonny Adam’s best efforts combined to set a 1m38.821s.
The No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari, which won the season opener, will start second, with the No. 98 Aston Martin third.
UP NEXT: Tomorrow’s race starts at 11:00 a.m. local time, and rain is expected during the afternoon.