Qualifying for the 4 Hours of Fuji, second round of the 2017/18 Asian Le Mans Series, was was held in bitterly cold conditions at Fuji Speedway, with temperatures in the low 40s. Getting warmth into the Michelin tires was critical for these separate 15-minute qualifying sessions for Prototypes and GT cars.
In LMP2 the battle for pole position was fierce, and pole position ultimately came down to one final flying lap.
The recently awarded FIA World Endurance Championship Rookie of the Year, Thomas Laurent, led the way in the Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport ORECA 05 Nissan for most of the session. However, a sensational last-minute flying lap from Pipo Derani in the BBT Ligier JSP2 (pictured above) saw the Brazilian claim pole position by just 0.16 from Laurent. It was BBT’s first LMP2 pole position.
“I think first of all I would like to give a big thank you to my team – it is only our second race together so it goes without saying that the guys have been doing a phenomenal job,” said Derani (above). “Working with a brand-new car you have to learn everything. The guys did a very nice job and gave me a perfect car today. The whole weekend we have been tweaking the car little by little, getting towards a very good platform. I am really happy I was able to put this lap in at the end and get their first pole because they really deserve it.
“To be honest, I am really glad I am not here with the open top like some guys were last year! I was telling my teammate, ‘Man I don’t know how they did it last year,’ because it really is so cold. Obviously with the closed car it is not too bad. The tires and the brakes were the real problem – getting them warm when you first start is a challenge, but the tire heater helps and after a few laps it’s not too bad.
“We tried a different strategy in qualifying today – it was obviously really cold and we ran used tires to get the car warmed up and I think it paid off. We had very little time to warm up the tires and put the lap together. When I went out I think I had maybe three or four laps, with two of them affected by traffic so in the end it came down to the final one. I think we had a little bit more in the pocket, to be honest, but when it comes down to the last lap you don’t want to push too much and risk a mistake.
“I think for the race it is going to be a lot better here for us than it was in Zhuhai, mainly because it is not our first time in the car. We are all starting to understand the car a little bit better. I think we have a better car here than we did in Zhuhai so fingers crossed we can do a great race and keep out of trouble. I think that is going to be very important when we see how close the cars are.”
In third place was LMP2 debutant Jazeman Jaafar in the second Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport. Fourth on the grid will be Marco Asmer, also making his debut in prototype racing in the Eurasia Motorsport Ligier.
In LMP3 it was another dominant performance for Josh Burdon in the KCMG Ligier JSP3. He claimed pole position in the LMP3 class by a full second from the Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport Ligier JSP3 driven by Ye Hong Li.
In third place, just 0.023s behind, was the reigning Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup champions, WIN Motorsport with Richard Bradley behind the wheel. After qualifying, however, WIN Motorsport was promoted into second place after a pit infringement saw Taiwan Beer GH Motorsport have its times disallowed.
It was a close fight for pole position in the GT class qualifying session. As was the case at the opening round of the series in Zhuhai back in October, it came down to a battle between the FIST Team AAI Ferrari and BMW sister cars.
This time it was the BMW leading the way. Jesse Krohn pitted with two minutes to go while holding the lead, leaving his teammate Marco Cioci out on track to chase down his time. Cioci pushed hard but missed out, leaving Krohn’s time unbeaten and seeing the BMW M6 GT3 claim pole position.
“For sure this track is a lot better for us than at Zhuhai,” said Krohn. “You can see by our ultimate pace – we were able to get pole here, whereas in Zhuhai we were second. The long sweeping corners work well for our car and the heavy braking zones. It was a great team effort to get the car in the right condition after an unlucky start to the weekend where we had some gearbox issues and missed the first practice. This meant we had no new tire running before qualifying so in that sense it is a really good job from the team.
“It seems to be between us teammates once again! First and foremost, we work together, but of course we want to beat one another so it is good, tough and fair competition!
“It was tough after we didn’t get any new tire running to know how the tires would react. It was a surprise to me how long it took to get the tires, especially the fronts working. I am glad this year that we have tire heaters, it would have been a really tough job without them. I think it is going to take some getting used to in the race, but it is manageable.”