Reigning world champion Neel Jani (CH) and Porsche rookie André Lotterer (DE) took the pole position for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, aka WEC, during the qualifying session today at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
The 25-minute session was marred by an early red flag. Nonetheless a 919 Hybrid will start for the 16th time in total from P1 since its debut in 2014. Following three Toyotas on the grid, Porsche drivers Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ) qualified 5th for the six-hour race on Saturday. Qualifying, took place in cool, dry conditions. For the six-hour race on Saturday, raising temperatures and sunshine are forecast.
Toyota’s Stéphane Sarrazin recorded the quickest time. However, with the starting grid determined by the average of two drivers’ best laps, the #9 TS050 HYBRID crew of Stéphane, Nicolas Lapierre and Yuji Kunimoto will start third.
In the #7 TS050 HYBRID, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi earned another front-row start and they will line up in second, alongside the pole position-winning Porsche #1. World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, start from fourth after a qualifying session which saw the first two rows of the grid separated by less than a second.
In WEC, as noted, the average of the two fastest laps of two drivers counts for the qualifying result. Jani/Lotterer in car number 1 managed a time of 1:54.097 minutes. Bernhard/Hartley achieved an average time of 1:55.440 minutes for car number 2. Their respective partners – Nick Tandy (GB) and Earl Bamber (NZ) – abstained from qualifying this time. The compact 25-minute qualifying session was interrupted very early by a red flag. Due to overtaking traffic, the 919 number 2 lost its rhythm which caused problems to boost the full energy power.
“My first attempt already went very well but then the session was red flagged,” said Neel Jani. “We fitted another set of fresh tires and on my second lap I knew perfectly well the grip level in every corner. Then André did a great lap as well. Our 919 has never been as fast in Spa as it was today and we could not have believed beforehand it would be enough to take pole position in front of the Toyotas. It is a big result for our team. I also think we are well prepared for the race. We have used the morning session to continue set-up work. Tomorrow we expect it to become warmer and it will be exciting to see what this does to us.”