A pair of astonishingly tight qualifying battles and one dominant qualifying performance were the headlines were the headlines from a pair of 15 minute sessions around the 5.5 km Buriram International Circuit ahead of tomorrow’s first ever 6 hour race in the Asian Le Mans Series.
The LMP cars were first out on track, five cars apiece for LMP2 and LMP3.
Pipo Derani was punching hard from the start in the #37 Team BBT Ligier JS P2 Nissan pulling out an immediate advantage over Thomas Laurent in the #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 05 Nissan.
The Brazilian would improve with every lap, but Laurent was closing the gap, and the fourth flier saw the Oreca man better Derani’s best.
Behind Jazeman Jafaar in the sister #7 Oreca was staying in touch, he too would overhaul the BBT man in the latter part of the session with ARC Bratislava’s Gustavo Yacaman unable to challenge in a new car on a new track for him.
Ate Dirk de Jong meanwhile looked set to recover from a slow start in the #25 Algarve Pro Ligier up to sixth fastest but then pulling off the circuit.
Into the final moments of the session Laurent’s 1:25.597 looked set to be good enough for pole with Jafaar’s best just 0.116 of a second back in second spot.
The final lap of the session though saw Derani almost snatch it, crossing the line to take the checkered flag leapfrogging the #7 but falling just 0.009 short of Laurent, a cracker of a lap to complete a cracker of an LMP2 qualifying session.
LMP3 by contrast ended with the #18 KCMG Ligier JS P3 Nissan of Josh Burdon well ahead of the pack, a 1:28.751 almost nine tenths clear of his eventual nearest rival. Early in the session though there had been strong challenges from WIN Motorsport (Richard Bradley), Viper Niza Racing (Nigel Moore) and the #6 Jackie Chan DC Racing car of Gabriel Aubry but Burdon had plenty in hand as KCMG look to claw back ground lost to their dnf in Fuji.
Behind it would be Aubry, Moore and Bradley, the trio separated by just three tenths with Ye Hong Li in the #11 Taiwan Beer Ligier ending the session just a further tenth back.
The GT session saw an extraordinary end to the session. Ollie Millroy was out on track at the start of the session looking to set a meaningful time but was not allowed much elbow room as the #66 Tianshi Racing Audi of Max Wiser was charging too, the Audi has had a performance break here and it showed. That should not take anything whatsoever away from the efforts of the Italian, who was pedal to the metal for the full 15 minutes, led the session at times and provided one element of a finish that could barely have been tighter.
The #91 FIST Team AAI BMW M6 GT3 of Jesse Krohn meanwhile joined the session very late, completing a first lap almost at the halfway mark but then pitting for a planned tyre stop, followed down pit lane by the #90 Ferrari, also for new rubber, a pre-planned move.
Both AAI cars attacked immediately and it was the BMW that was finding real pace, the first to escape a pattern of the cars being separated by a tenth or two at most, Krohn suddenly finding a real edge, 7 tenths, job done it seemed and he headed for the pits as the clock ticked down.
That proved to be a bad choice as the timing screens flashed up a pair of messages that saw the cars only two flying laps disallowed, and with no time to go again it was game over for the afternoon for the M6 man, he’ll start behind the #77 Team NZ Porsche GT Cup entry, John Curran.
Millroy though was still on the attack and he would grab the advantage from the Audi by almost three tenths with a 1:32.685, before baling out next time around, only finding out his best was good enough for pole as he climbed out of the car, Jesse Krohn’s celebrations in the garage curtailed in Massa-esque fashion.
It was nearly different again though as Wiser wasn’t done yet, as Millroy climbed out of the 488, the Audi howled by to take the checkered flag, the gap, 0.001!
The 6 Hours of Buriram starts at midday tomorrow local time, live video is available on the Series website and YouTube channels.