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Alonso Sets Fastest Ever Sebring Lap En Route To Pole

Toyota front-row lockout, JCDC 1-2 in LMP2 and Porsche tops both GTE classes

Qualifying in LMP1 saw the Toyota pair holding back at the green flag, awaiting a suitable gap in the prototype train. This allowed the #10 Dragonspeed BR1 a little limelight as Renger van der Zande lit up its Gibson engine for a 1:47.041. It was short-lived though as the Rebellions seized clear air too, Thomas Laurent’s 1:42.826 a better timestamp for the #3 car, teammate Mathias Beche less than two tenths away.

The TS050’s were coming though, Mike Conway putting the #7 Toyota ahead with a 1:41.082, less of an overhaul on the R13s than might have been expected. Conway’s time was overshadowed though as Fernando Alonso delivered a new lap record for the Sebring circuit; 1:40.124. Conway kept the #7 car out of the pits trying to establish a suitable space for Jose Maria Lopez to maximise at the handover.

This was not to be however, Lopez was off at the Turn 7 hairpin in a cloud of dirt. Continuing at a reduced pace the Argentinian sat last in the LMP1 order, crossing the line with just seconds to spare before the end of the session, doing just enough to claim second on the grid as Kazuki Nakajima consolidated the #8 Toyota’s pole.

“It was a nice lap, we had a nice feeling with the car on low fuel with new tyres,” Alonso said after Qualifying. “At night it’s a challenge on this circuit, but I enjoyed the lap. I thought a 1:39 was possible, but not this time!”

This left some honour for Egor Orudshev in the #17 SMP Racing BR1. A strong lap of 1:41.919 would deliver an average time of 1:42.730 and a front row place on the grid for tomorrow afternoon’s race. Indeed, Brendon Hartley threw everything at the sister SMP BR1 to haul the #11 car into fifth, splitting the Rebellions after a lap where the #11 was taken to the edge.

The Rebellion pair will occupy slots 4 and 6, Gustavo Menezes getting the better result for the #3 car, Neel Jani’s #1 R13 half a second shy on average.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing continued their championship leading form. Gabriel Aubry capitalised on the work done by Stephane Richelmi’s 1:46.923 in the first half of their qualifying run, the French driver’s 1:49.722 securing the LMP2 pole.

“I enjoyed Qualifying because with low fuel and new tyres it’s great to push. Another 1-2 in qualifying shows that the team is working really well. The track has evolved a lot, there’s a lot more rubber on it, but we managed to find a good set up,” Richelmi said.

Will Stevens was tucked in behind at the driver handovers, the #37 car three tenths away. The TDS Racing Oreca was third at the handover, Loic Duval posting a solid 1:47.996, a second covering the top three but the #28 would slip back after the driver change, Nick de Vries keeping the #29 RTN Dallara in the mix too in the earlier running.

David Heinemeier Hansson delivered a strong 1:48.208 right at the end of the session to secure a Jackie Chan DC Racing (and Dunlop) 1-2, Nicolas Lapierre’s last gasp lap good enough to take third for the #36 Signatech Alpine.

Looking intent on a headline, Andy Priaulx’s Ford GT looked to have the measure of the LMGTE-Pro field until Alex Lynn’s 1:57.306 for Aston Martin threw down a strong marker. The #97 car topped the GTE-Pro screen ahead of Michael Christensen’s late 1:57.384 for the #92 Porsche. The surprise improvement before the handover was the #82 BMW pedalled by Antonio Farfus to go third.

“I trusted my teammate, the car was great out there,” said Christensen. “It was not so easy going from practice in the heat to this in the cold. It felt perfect though, we pulled it off. We got one point which is really night.”

The Aston Martin’s strong showing faded, however, the #97 unable to get back out to the track due to what the team described as a ‘Tech issue’ at its pit stop, later revealed to be a steering issue.

Olivier Pla took on fresh rubber in the #66 Ford GT, the Blue Oval clearly looking to make a statement at the front, but second and third place on the ‘Pro grid would be the best on offer, Kevin Estre’s 1:57.616 for the #92 Porsche edging out Harry Tincknell’s #67 Ford to take the class pole by an average of a tenth of a second, which in this close category is a some margin.

After its hand-over from Matt Griffin, the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari brought out the red flag on the session after its driver handover. Luis Perez-Companc slammed the Ferrari’s front end into the wall, driver’s left, on approach to the Turn 7 hairpin, bringing out the red flag on the session. Serious accident damage could mean game over for the Clearwater Ferrari – we’ll know more in the morning.

Following its incident in FP3, an impressive repair by the Aston Martin Racing mechanics returned the #98 Aston Martin into serious contention. Pedro Lamy’s 1:58.999 held station at the top of the class, but a new class lap record of 1:58.878 from Jorg Bergmeister placed the Project 1 Porsche ahead, the team’s meteoric recovery this weekend still in the ascendency. Spirit of Race found third place before Giancarlo Fischella handed over the #54 Ferrari.

Paul Dalla Lana fought back in the Aston Martin but the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche, which had been looming menacingly was now in the hands of Matt Campbell, the Bathurst winner continuing his rare form to put the Porsche 911 RSR on pole, his 1:58.411 bettering the new lap record and delivering an average time of 1:59.790 for its crew.

A Porsche front row was secured as Egidio Perfetti did a solid job to reward Team Project 1’s sterling efforts this week.

“It was perfect, after struggling yesterday in the night,” said Reid, who will be the only ever-present left in the WEC paddock when he takes the start tomorrow. “Matt did a great lap, mine was ok, so perfect!”

QUALIFYING TIMES >>

Stop Press – a post-session stewards decisions saw the #17 SMP racing BR1 AER penalised after race stewards decided that Stephane Sarrazin had impeded the #10 DragonSpeed car, the #17 loses its fastest lap and a place on the grid, the #3 Rebellion shuffled up to third on the grid as a result ahead of the #17.