Kamui Kobayashi set a blistering 1m42.526 tour of the Shanghai International Circuit in the closing minutes of WEC qualifying, to score pole for the No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing crew. The car eventually finished with a 1m42.832s average from Kobayashi and Mike Conway’s laps. The performance came after the No. 7 crew finished all three practice sessions atop the timing screens as Conway, Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez showed an edge in raw pace vs. the Porsches.
“The car was really good, since Free Practice 1 we’ve felt confident. It’s been a long time since we’ve been so strong,” Kobayashi said. “I was feeling good in the car, the team have made a great step, done a great job.
“It wasn’t a perfect lap,” he continued. “I’d not been out on low tanks and new tires before. It was difficult to adapt. There was good grip out there and definitely more time in the track. It’s great to be on pole, though.”
Starting second on the grid will be the No. 1 Porsche, an early 1m42.966s from Nick Tandy was converted into a 1m43.272s average after Andre Lotterer’s laps. Initially it was good enough for provisional pole, but Lotterer couldn’t match Tandy’s time, and had to settle for second after Kobayashi’s flyer.
The No. 8 Toyota will start third – crucially ahead of the championship-leading No. 2 Porsche that could only manage a 1m43.497s after an early run by Brendon Hartley, before Earl Bamber got in and had a moment trying to avoid a Rebellion ORECA, sending him sideways off the circuit.
In the LMP2 class, the No. 31 Rebellion ORECA took pole and, significantly, another point for the championship fight. Julien Canal and Bruno Senna were aboard, and combined for a 1m49.217s, good enough to survive a late charge from Leo Roussel in the G-Drive Racing 07 Gibson.
Newly-crowned ELMS champion Roussel looked on course to snatch pole on his penultimate lap, but his final sector wasn’t as strong as his first two, and he had to make do with second. It was nevertheless an impressive qualifying debut in the WEC for himself for both himself and teammate Nico Muller, their time a 1m49.472s.
“It’s all about getting the points, and about putting cars between us and the 38, they’re fourth on the grid, so for the championship it’s been a good day,” Senna said.
The gap between the No. 31 crew and the leading No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing trio in the points is now just nine points after the extra point, setting up what could turn into a tantalizing final two races.
Third was the second Vaillante Rebellion ORECA, the No. 13, which pushed the No. 38 crew down to fourth, after a 1m49.743 combined time from drivers Thomas Laurent and Oliver Jarvis.
In the GTE ranks, it was an incredible afternoon for Aston Martin Racing, taking both class poles, a perfect start to the marque’s quest to score the 50th win for the Vantage in WEC competition.
GTE Pro saw Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen take the top spot in the No. 95 Vantage (above), the Danish duo setting an average time of 1m59.589s, two tenths faster than the of the rest of the field. It marks Aston Martin’s fourth GTE Pro pole at Shanghai in six years and the first for the “Dane Train” this season.
“We’ve taken a step – it’s great to be back on the pace after a really tricky Fuji,” said Sorensen. “One thing we can clearly say today is that the tires are great over a single lap here!”
Starting second on the grid in the Pro class will be the No. 92 Porsche, with a 1m59.916s average time, three tenths clear of the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari that will line up third in the class on the grid after Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado’s efforts to set a 2m00.247s.
Fourth, after a late improvement from Harry Tincknell, was the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT. The car sat sixth after Andy Priaulx’s early laps, and Tincknell’s first flyer, before Tincknell improved his time, setting a 2m00.279s in the final minute to bring the car’s average down to 2m00.299s, putting them on the second row. The No. 66 sister Ganassi GT will start the race from fifth.
While Aston’s No. 95 took pole, the sister car took a more conservative approach, saving tires for the race. Jonny Adam and Darren Turner will start from the back of the pack, after setting a 2m01.141s average, more than a second off pole.
Making it a double pole for Aston, meanwhile, was the No. 98 crew in Am, as Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana set a combined average of 2m02.357s to put them four tenths clear of the other class runners.
Statistically, it was Lamy’s fourth consecutive with pole with AMR at Shanghai, and his third with Dalla Lana. It’s also the sixth this season for the No. 98; the points amassed from that achievement could well prove to be crucial for the title finale.
With the extra point, the No. 98 98 is now equal with the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche crew in the teams championship, and just a single point behind the championship-leading No. 61 Clearwater crew.
In the drivers standings, it’s even closer, the No. 77 and No. 98 driver trios now tied on 141 points apiece at the top.
“Once again Paul made the difference, and brought us to pole,” admitted Lamy. “I was about a tenth slower than the fastest time, so it was Paul who nabbed the pole. This track is very demanding for the tires – the long stints decide the race. We’ll see how our car compares to the others.”
Second in the Am class was the Dempsey Proton Porsche, Christian Reid and Matteo Cairoli finishing the day with a 2m02.765s to beat out the Spirit of Race Ferrari after Thomas Flohr and Miguel Molina’s average of 2m03.062s, headlined by a stunning 2m01.494s lap from Molina, the best in the class.
Click here for full results.
UP NEXT: The WEC 6H Shanghai is set to begin at 11am local time (11pm ET Saturday).