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Conway & Kobayashi Break Qualifying Record En Route To Spa Pole

Last gasp efforts from Priaulx and Yoluc the difference in the GTE ranks, all class records fall

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #7 TS050 HYBRID broke the WEC Qualifying lap record at Spa today, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi setting a remarkable 1:53.747 combined average time en route to pole position ahead of tomorrow’s six-hour race.

The pair struck early, with drops of rain starting to fall, Kobayashi up first managing a 1:53.812 before Conway climbed in and lapped the 7km circuit even quicker, his best a 1:53.683 before the rain increased and prompted much of the prototype field to pit.

“The performance was good, we did the best job we could. I think me and Mike did a great job, the car performed well, I was happy with the lap.” Kobayashi said. “At the last corner it started raining, so I had to take it a bit careful, but it was a clear lap. We managed to get both cars to set times in the dry.

“I think we expect snow tomorrow. For the moment the weather forecasts are predicting snow and rain, and they’ve been accurate so far.”

Their time was half a second quicker than the sister #8 Toyota, which finished up with a 1:54.243.

Best of the privateer LMP1s was again SMP Racing, its #17 BR1 AER managing a 1:54.711, to get within a second of the pole time.

It was a remarkable time, considering the BR1 AER in the first race of the season here at Spa a year ago set a best average of 1:58.2, in what was the car’s first race weekend. Real progress.

The best of the Rebellions, the #3 R-13 Gibson, ended up fourth.

LMP2 saw G-Drive Racing take the pole with its (re-badged ORECA 07) Aurus 01, the Russian-flagged team’s form from the ELMS season opener (where it also scored pole) continuing in Belgium.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Job Van Uitert combined to set the team’s time, a 2:00.674, breaking the P2 lap record before the red flags came out for the ByKolles CLM grinding to a halt at the start line with under 10 minutes left.

“I felt that it was one of the best laps of my life,” claimed Vergne. “I put everything out there on track. I couldn’t have gone quicker. I brought some skis tomorrow in case we can’t drive. It’s going to be a survival race in difficult conditions.”

The top three in the class was completed by the two Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECAs, the #38 leading the #37, six and nine-tenths off pole respectively.

The fight for pole continues to be a lottery in LMP2, as there have now been six different pole sitters in seven races this season.

The #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK team took pole in GTE Pro as Andy Priaulx and Harry Ticknell set a combined time of 2:12.885 (a class record too) to take pole by 0.067 from the #97 Aston Martin Racing AMR crew of Maxime Martin and Alexander Lynn.

The AMR Team had looked to have pole set after Martin stepped into the car for a second attempt at improving his time. He set a time of 2:12.698, which was the fastest individual time of the session and held the combined top time up until the checkered flag came out.

But a late time from Priaulx meant that the #67 Ford was the only car with both drivers into the 2:12s, the Guernseyman snatching the top spot from the AMR crew with a stunning final lap.

“Weather forecast says rain, snow, so we thought let’s go for pole, let’s go for the point!” Said a jubilant Harry Tincknell after the session. “Fantastic drive from Andy, what a lap, the car was on rails today, a pleasure to drive. We’re starting from pole two years in a row, let’s get the win.”

Third was the #82 Team BMW MTEK BMW M8 GTE with Antonio Felix da Costa and Augusto Farfus just 0.092 off pole position.

It was a tough session for the Porsches and Ferraris with the German and Italian marques bringing up the rear of the pack, albeit 1.2 seconds off the pole time.

In GTE Am, it was the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage which took pole after the last lap time by Salih Yoluc posted his best time of 2:17.101 to overcome the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR.

Yoluc, driving with Charlie Eastwood set an average time 2:16.061 (another record, meaning all four classes had their records broken) to put them just 0.110 ahead of Matteo Cairoli and Gianluca Roda. Cairoli had continued to improve his pace throughout the session and set the fastest individual time of 2:14.246 and was the only driver to enter the 2:14s.

“It was really close, we had to go for another set of tyres and Salih pieced it all together to get the pole we’ve been looking for all year,” said Eastwood. “Not a bad run in my first ever WEC qualifying session! My best lap was the best lap I’ve ever had in the Aston, and it came at the right time.”

Third was the Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR with a time of 2:16.390.

The only casualty of the session was the #70 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE. Motoaki Ishikawa spun through Eau Rouge into Radillon, hitting the tyres at the top of the hill on the outside. He was able to bring the car back to the pitlane but the team was unable to get the car back out in the session.

With the grid now set, the crews will prepare for the start of the 6-hour event which will occur at 1:30 pm on Saturday.

QUALIFYING TIMES >>

Featured image courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing