The two AF Corse Ferraris, currently top two in the championship, scored a 1-2 in qualifying on Saturday for Sunday’s WEC Nurburging six-hour race. In the GTE Am category, it was the AF Corse-run SMP Racing machine of Le Mans winners Victor Shaytar and Alexey Basov that emerged fastest.
The first flying laps saw the #95 Aston Martin on top, Marco Sorensen setting a 1:53.964 ahead of countryman Michael Christensen, who managed a 1:54.558 in the #91 Manthey Porsche. Richie Stanaway then made it an Aston 1-2 with a 1:54.056 in the #99 car, with Fred Makowiecki slotting into third courtesy of a 1:54.375.
Both Porsches had some hairy kerb-riding moments as their drivers pushed hard to make up what is clearly still a significant performance deficit to the Astons and Ferraris, despite a weight break since Le Mans.
Nygaard climbed aboard the #95 Aston and set the fastest lap of the session yet, putting his car third on average times, but it was in the second half of the session that the Ferrari drivers’ consistency shone through.
Bruni and Calado went round quick enough to put their respective mounts on the front row on average times, in championship order no less, with the more experienced #51 crew lining up ahead of the #71.
Afterwards, Bruni said: “Ferrari suits this track – even going back to the days of the 430 when we raced here in 2009. It was a close and tough session and we’re looking forward to the race.”
Vilander added: “It’s a big pleasure to be part of the Ferrari operation. Once again we didn’t have the fastest lap overall, but with good teamwork Gimmi and I could be consistent enough to get pole.”
AF Corse has a minor dilemma on its hands tomorrow, with its cars both 1-2 on the grid and 1-2 in the championship standings. “It’s down to common sense, really,” Vilander told us when we asked him what the approach will be. “We’ve had no special meetings about it, but I expect Amato [Ferrari, team principal] will speak to us about it separately before the start and tell us to be sensible and have no contact. The main target for all four drivers is to bring the manufacturer title to Ferrari, the driver championship is second to that.”
Second-place man Calado said: “That was mine and Davide’s best-ever qualifying together in the #71 and we’re very close to our team-mates, too. You can never get the perfect lap – I had a bit of traffic in the last sector that cost us a bit – but even so we’re within a couple of tenths of Gimmi and Toni, which is really nice for the team. The car seems to be working well, so we just have to keep it clean, finish the race and score some points.”
The two Porsches wound up fourth and fifth, ahead of the #97 Turner/Mucke/Adam Aston Martin and its #99 MacDowall/Rees/Stanaway sister car (Adam and MacDowall the two drivers sitting out quaifying from those cars).
Turner was at a loss to explain his and Mucke’s surprising lack of pace. “When Stefan came in after his lap, he said the front felt a bit off, but we’ve set quick laps with worse. The engineers told us to push a bit more on the out lap, so I did that, but were still a second or more off our team-mates. Nothing on the car felt badly wrong, so we’ll have to wait until we get the car back from parc ferme and look at the data more closely.”
Rees in the #99 said: “We were trying something different, thinking about tomorrow. Richie did his laps on a fresh set of tyres. When my turn came, we didn’t change them. Of course, we witnessed a big drop-off in performance, hence our position in this session. With the new BoP, we know we can’t overtake anymore and we knew we couldn’t get the Ferraris. So we tried to keep as many fresh tyres as possible for the race. The ultimate goal is to be in the lead tomorrow after six hours.”
The front of the GTE Am grid will have a familiar look to it on Sunday, with Le Mans winners Bertolini, Basov and Shaytar (#72 SMP Ferrari, below) on pole next to Le Mans almost-winners Dalla Lana, Lamy and Lauda (#98 Aston Martin).
The latter car has been almost completely rebuilt since Le Mans, leading to a number of new-car niggles, including a throttle fault that lead to Dalla Lana stopping and restarting on track during the session.
Patricks Dempsey and Long drove the #77 Proton Porsche to third on the grid, ahead of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari in fourth and the other Proton Porsche in fifth.
The Larbre Corvette went quickly in the hands of Gianluca Roda early on, but the average of his and Paolo Ruberti’s times put the American coupe sixth ahead of the #96 Rofgo Aston Martin of Goethe, Hall and Castellaci.