Toyota Gazoo Racing and Fernando Alonso set the fastest-ever lap of Sebring International Raceway this evening during the FIA World Endurance Championship qualifying session.
The Spaniard, driving the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID, set a blistering 1m40.124s in the first half of the 20-minute session before handing over to Kazuki Nakajima, who set a 1m40.513s to give the duo an 1m40.318s combined average.
Alonso’s 1m40.124s lap eclipses the 1m43.2s set at the circuit by Sebastien Bourdais during the 2009 Sebring 12 Hours in a Peugeot 908, as well as the pole record set by Marcel Fassler in an Audi R18 during the 2013 12 Hours weekend, a 1m43.886s.
“We maximized the grip, the car felt fantastic,” said Alonso. “We struggled in the heat during free practice, but we made set-up changes for the race.
“It was a nice lap, we had a nice feeling with the car on low fuel with new tires. At night it’s a challenge on this circuit, but I enjoyed the lap. I thought a 1m39s was possible, but not this time.”
The No. 7 sister Toyota made it a front-row lockout for the Japanese marque with a 1m40.544s average; Jose Maria Lopez setting a late 1m40.544s to jump from seventh to second.Fastest of the LMP1 privateers on this occasion could only manage an average over two seconds off the pole time, the No. 17 SMP Racing BR1 finishing with a 1m42.730s.
In the same sessions for the prototypes, Jackie Chan DC Racing’s pair of ORECAs finished up one-two, locking out the front row in the class for the team and its tire supplier Dunlop.
The championship-leading No. 38 ORECA of Gabriel Aubry, Ho Pin Tung and Stephane Richelmi will start from pole (and head into the race with an extra point) after posting a 1m47.558s average, putting them ahead of the sister car, which is running with a new driver line-up this weekend. David Heinemeier Hansson and Will Stevens’s performance in the No. 37 was key, putting the ORECA second, and crucially, pushing the No. 38 crew’s title rivals in the Signatech Alpine down to third on the grid.
In GTE Pro, pole went to Porsche; Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre in the No. 92 911 RSR setting a combined average of 1m57.500s after a 1m57.384s and 1m57.616s from the two drivers respectively.
It was really tight though; the No. 67 Ford coming close to pole after Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell’s laps in the car. The two Britons finished up just a tenth shy of pole after sitting atop the times for much of the session.
“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.”
The No. 66 Ford completed the top three. Fourth was the first of the MTEK BMWs, the No. 82, which ended up just 0.3s off the pole time ahead of the Corvette Racing C7.R, which improved its time at the end of the session to slot in fifth. Antonio Garcia set the fastest single lap time of the session – a 1m57.257s.
After showing much promise in practice, it was a disastrous qualifying session for Aston Martin Racing, its Vantages 10th and 19th in the GTE ranks, and the No. 95 suffering a technical issue that resulted in it completing just four laps. The British team has a lot of work to do in tomorrow’s race if it is to take a second consecutive win.
GTE Am was also topped by a Porsche, the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche of Matt Campbell and Christian Reid setting the pace with a 1m59.790s average. Campbell’s best time was a 1m58.411s, setting a new WEC GTE Am lap record of the circuit. The previous benchmark time was set back in 2012 by Dominik Farnbacher in the WEC’s only other race at the Floridian airfield circuit.
“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!”
Team Project 1 managed to secure second, a reward for the team’s hard work getting its new 911 RSR ready for race week after its original chassis was damaged by fire during testing.
The GTE session didn’t run clean though, being interrupted by a huge accident at Turn 7 with just under eight minutes left in the session. Luis Perez Companc, making his WEC qualifying return, veered off the circuit in the No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari on the run down to Turn 7 and hit the barriers head-on. The impact damaged the front-end significantly, brought out red flags and ended the Singaporean team’s night early. Companc was able to walk away from the Ferrari unhurt.