Toyota will start Saturday’s Six Hours of Shanghai from the pole position as it searches for back-to-back victories in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Nicolas Lapierre and Alex Wurz, winners last time out in the rain-shortened Fuji round, combined for a four-lap average of 1:48.013 in their No. 7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid in qualifying Friday in China.
The time was good enough to edge out the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer by 0.089 seconds, despite a late improvement by Frenchman.
It marked the Japanese manufacturer’s second pole of the season, albeit under challenging track conditions teams have been faced with this weekend.
“The track is very aggressive on tires so we did the minimum laps,” Lapierre explained. “To be honest, today’s job was done by Alex. The two first laps were really quick and I just had to do two normal laps and not push too much, save the tires for the start tomorrow.
“In the end, we are very happy to be there. We have seen today that on the rubber, the car is very competitive. So we’re quite confident for the race.”
The No. 8 Toyota, qualified by Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi, will roll off third overall, ahead of the championship-leading No. 2 Audi of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval, which qualified a disappointing fourth, more than 1 second off the pace.
In LMP2, G-Drive Racing by Delta-ADR scored its third class pole in the last four races, thanks to another impressive performance by Mike Conway and John Martin.
The duo recorded a 1:55.423 average, which was some seven-tenths clear of the competition. It came after a challenging start to the day, which saw their Oreca 03 Nissan have gearbox problems in the first practice session.
“We had been behind the eight-ball all day so it was a bit of a struggle,” Martin said. “But I think the team did a really good job to not lose their head. Everything was put back together.
“Qualifying went really well. The car is quick and looks OK over a long run as well but we’ll see tomorrow.”
The No. 24 OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan of Olivier Pla, Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson qualified second, ahead of the No. 41 Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan in third.
The talk Friday at Shanghai has been lack of grip and tire degradation, a situation all 28 teams are facing for tomorrow’s penultimate round of the championship.
The ability to double stint tires could very well be a determining factor in the race’s outcome, according to a number of drivers.
“If you watch after your tires and have good management, you could do it, but it’s something I’m not comfortable with [yet],” said pole-sitter Wurz. “We’ll have to wait through the first stint and then make a decision on that.
Aston Martin Racing continued its impressive mark, with the British manufacturer taking class poles in both the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am categories.
Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke combined to put the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8 on the top spot in GTE-Pro, thanks to a four-lap average of 2:04.370.
Their time was only 0.019 seconds quicker than the sister No. 99 Aston Martin, qualified by Bruno Senna and Richie Stanaway, who wound up second.
It marked the third pole of the season for the No. 97 entry of Turner and Mucke, who remain in a tight championship battle heading into tomorrow’s penultimate round of the season.
“It was good,” said Turner, whose two-lap average put the car on pole. “The car felt good and I hooked up two clean laps without making any mistakes and that’s what put us back up towards the time sheets.
“I’m really happy with the extra point [for winning pole]. We know the championship is very close. At the end of the year, that point can be very decisive.”
Turner and Mucke have now closed to 7.5 points of championship leaders Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella, who qualified a dismal sixth.
Qualifying third in class was the No. 91 Porsche AG Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR of Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz, followed by the quickest of the Ferraris, the No. 71 AF Corse entry of Toni Vilander and Kamui Kobayashi in fourth.
The GTE-Am class pole went to the No. 95 Aston Martin, qualified by Christoffer Nygaard and Nicki Thiim. The duo, who will be joined by Kristian Poulsen on Saturday, recorded a 2:05.903 average.
It was just 0.015 seconds quicker than the No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari of Matt Griffin and Marco Cioci, which was second. The AF Corse-run 8Star Ferrari of Rui Aguas and Davide Rigon completed the top-three in class.
The Six Hours of Shanghai takes the green Saturday at 11 a.m. local.