TOYOTA Racing will start the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps from the front row of the grid after a turbulent qualifying session in changing conditions for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The World Championship-leading #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi held top spot until the final moment of qualifying but will start from second place.
The #7 car, driven by Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima, will start from fourth after a qualifying session which began with a wet track but saw both cars switch to slick tyres midway through.
Like last season, the WEC qualifying format requires two drivers from each car to set a minimum of two flying laps each. The grid is decided by the combined average of each driver’s fastest two laps.
Stéphane and Kazuki took qualifying duties for the #7, with Stéphane returning to the cockpit at the end of the session in order to improve on the lap times set at the beginning on hybrid intermediate tyres.
That pattern was repeated with the #8, with Sébastien completing stints at the start and end of the session, either side of Anthony’s laps on slick tyres.
When Sébastien took the chequered flag, he held first position but a last-gasp lap from the #14 Porsche took the honours. TOYOTA Racing extends its congratulations to Porsche on its first pole position since returning to prototype competition.
Tricky conditions were the story of the day, which began with the first of two 120-minute practice sessions, as rain poured down in the Ardennes forest.
All six drivers had the chance to experience a wet Spa circuit and the session finished with the #7 in second ahead of the third-placed #8, with the team completing more laps than any other in the session.
Second practice took place in better conditions which allowed the team to explore dry weather set-up options, with lap times falling steadily as the track improved.
Two brief red flag periods disrupted matters but both cars nevertheless completed plenty of running, again with over 40 laps each as the #8 ended up second and the #7 fourth. That took the team’s total practice running to well over 1,000km.
The six-hour race will begin at 2.30pm tomorrow with TOYOTA Racing looking to extend its lead in the World Championship standings.
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 1: 2nd (2min 15.415secs), 42 laps
Free practice 2: 4th (2min 1.292secs), 41 laps
Qualifying: 4th (2min 3.177secs average)
Stéphane Sarrazin: “That was a strange qualifying. To be in the car twice is not the usual way in this qualifying format, that’s for sure. It was not easy in the traffic. I always seemed to catch the LMP1 cars in the wrong parts of the track and this cost me time. We were fighting like we were in the race at times. It’s like that; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It was definitely not my day in traffic. But the car is strong here I think and now we’ll get ready to fight in the race.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “It was an unusual qualifying session today; the circumstances were tricky and it was difficult to get a rhythm. I did my laps on slick tyres as the track had dried out enough by the time I took over from Stéphane. I didn’t have the best laps but Stéphane came back in good shape and fourth on the grid is not too bad I think. Still I think we can fight for victory in the race; I certainly hope so!”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)
Free practice 1: 3rd (2min 15.467secs), 40 laps
Free practice 2: 2nd (2min 00.638secs), 44 laps
Qualifying: 2nd (2min 1.836secs average)
Anthony Davidson: “I have mixed emotions and some disappointment not to be on pole position after sitting on top for pretty much the whole session. But we did the best we could and we played the conditions pretty well. Sébastien went back in the car at the end to improve the average lap times. We feel like we did everything but when it’s that close it hurts. Tomorrow is the day where you earn the big points and the trophies so we are focused on that.”
Sébastien Buemi: “I am a little bit disappointed because we wanted to be on pole. Porsche did a good job and they deserve to be congratulated. Now we will see what we can do tomorrow; starting from the first row is really good and we’ll push as hard as we can. It was a big fight until the end of the session and it is a pity when you are holding pole and then lose it in the last seconds, but it’s the race that’s important.”