After much talk all week at Spa about the Hypercars not being able to top the LMP2s on raw pace, Toyota’s pair of GR010 HYBRIDs found the speed required to lock out the front row in the first Qualifying session of the season this evening.
Today’s qualifying action saw the debut of the FIA WEC’s brand new format, which sees short 10-minute sessions for the GTE and LMP/Hypercars featuring only one driver per car setting a time. Incidents aside, it provided fast, frantic action to set the grid for the race.
Kamui Kobayashi became the first driver to put a Le Mans Hypercar on pole in the new era, with a 2:00.747, a time significantly quicker than any lap from free practice or the Prologue test, putting the #7 1.6 seconds quicker than the LMP2 pole time.
“I think at the beginning of the week we were struggling with speed, but with low fuel we found pace. I’m pretty happy, as we expected it to be tougher but we achieved a good lap time. It’s a great job by the team,” said Kamui Kobayashi after the session.
“The race will be a different story because this new car is much heavier than the LMP1 Hybrid from last year, so tyre degradation will be difficult over six hours. But we are students, every lap we are learning. The car is completely different.”
The sister GR010 HYBRID will start second, after Kazuki Nakajima set a 2:01.277, half a second off the pole time.
The only other competitor in the Hypercar class, the Alpine, was unable to challenge the Toyotas on this occasion. Nicolas Lapierre drove the car in the session and had just one shot at glory at the end of the 10-minute burst. The former Toyota factory man could only muster a 2:02.652, to go fourth fastest, behind the quickest LMP2 in the field.
United’s #22 ORECA was the P2 in question, Filipe Albuquerque producing another stunning lap to put the British team on top ahead of the race.
“It was really nice. Really happy with this lap, we are doing a really good job and started well at the prologue very confident. We are at a good level. We have been P1 in all the sessions so we needed to seal it in Qualifying. I enjoyed it a lot, in the cold, the car felt the best,” said Albuquerque.
The #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus will start second after a late charge from Nyck De Vries fell short. Former teammate Giedo van der Garde put Racing Team Nederland’s ORECA third in the category with a 2:03.435.
The #70 Realteam Racing ORECA and #25 G-Drive Aurus will start fourth and fifth respectively, with the #25 the fastest of the LMP2 Pro/Am runners after Roberto Merhi’s efforts.
In the GTE session, Kevin Estre set the timing screens ablaze to put the #92 Porsche 911 RSR 19 on pole position for the first WEC race of the year. The Frenchman’s first time was by far the quickest in the class and good enough for pole, but he wasn’t finished there. His second time of 2:11.219 was a sizable improvement and put him 1.2 seconds clear of the other four cars in the class.
“It was an amazing lap, a new lap record for GTE cars around here. And not easy conditions now, it’s cold so hard to get the tyres to work,” said Estre’s teammate Neel Jani after the session.
Sharing the front row with the #92 Porsche will be the #52 AF Corse Ferrari, after Miguel Molina set a 2:12.351 in his 488 GTE Evo. His second lap split the two Porsches and pushed the #91 911 to third, Richard Lietz finishing up less than a tenth off Molina.
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari will start fourth, ahead of the single Corvette Racing C8.R which was steered by Antonio Garcia in the session. The Spaniard pushed hard and looked on the limit on his second flying lap in the session, but a 2:13.106 wasn’t enough to challenge the full-season GTE Pro cars. Corvette has struggled for pace thus far this week, will its fortunes turn tomorrow during the race?
The GTE session was heavily interrupted by two big incidents by Am runners before any drivers managed to set a competitive time.
Christian Ried was first up, hitting the tyres hard at Raidillon in the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, heavily damaging the front, rear and left-hand side of the car. The German lost the rear on the kerb heading up the hill, sending him into a spin and veering off into the tyres on driver’s right.
Second was Egidio Perfetti, who went off in almost identical fashion to Christian Ried at Raidillon in the #56 Project 1 Porsche. He too suffered a hefty impact but was able to walk away unscathed.
Whether or not either car can be rebuilt in time for the race is an unknown at this point. However, Team Project 1 appeared to be confident that its crew could rebuild its 911 RSR overnight in time for the race when questioned by FIA WEC TV pit reporter Duncan Vincent.
Once the action got going, the TF Sport Aston Martin of Ben Keating managed to top the times, the American on his first session as a TF Sport driver setting a 2:14.660 to lead the other Bronze-rated drivers.
Second on the grid will be the #98 Aston Martin, Paul Dalla Lana setting a 2:15.615 which initially looked good enough for pole, but instead placed him and the team second on the grid, making it an Aston Martin 1-2.
Best of the rest was the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Andrew Harayanto, who was unable to get into the 2:15s like the aforementioned Aston Martins. His best tour of the Belgian circuit was a 2:16.319.
The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the opening round of the 2021 FIA WEC season, is set to start at 13:30 local time in Belgium tomorrow.