Rebellion Racing has become the first team to set pole with a non-hybrid car for an FIA World Endurance Championship race since Audi Sport did so back in the championship’s inaugural race at Sebring in 2012 with an R18 TDI.
American Gustavo Menezes and Brazil’s Bruno Senna combined to average a 1m45.892s at the Shanghai International Circuit with two single laps far quicker than anything set in practice by an LMP1 car. With his performance, Menezes has also become the FIA WEC’s first ever American LMP1 pole winner.
“Very cool to be on overall pole here,” Menezes told RACER. “We know we have a hard four hours ahead of us. If the Ginettas get by they will be very tough to pass. And whatever we’ve seen today, the Toyotas are going to be very strong over a race distance. But this is what we came here to do.
“The success handicap is going to swing in both directions during the season. We have to use it to our advantage wherever and whenever we can. You can’t do better than pole.”
“It was good!” exclaimed Senna. “The car feels so nice in qualifying with new tires and low fuel. The challenge is big tomorrow with the tire degradation, it will be very tricky. Here Gustavo inspired me to do a big lap. The fact that we managed to be in front of the Toyotas and Ginettas is really cool.”
Not only did Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs miss out on pole, but they also missed out on a front row grid spot too. Behind the Gibson-powered Rebellion R-13s, the two Team LNT G60-LT-P1 AERs will start from second and third.
The No. 6, driven by Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson, was the quicker of the two, Simpson setting a late 1m47.427s to vault the car to second with an average of 1m47.092s. His lap came after a brief spin — a great recovery from the Englishman.
The sister No. 5 Ginetta will start from third, ahead of the two Toyotas that slotted in fourth and fifth, 1.3 and 2.2 seconds off pole (the No. 7 ahead of the No. 8). At this point the new success handicap system appears to be achieving the stated goals of the FIA and ACO in pegging back the Toyotas in single-lap pace at least. Whether that form will carry over to the race tomorrow remains to be seen.
In LMP2, it was Silverstone winner Cool Racing that emerged as the fastest team. Its Michelin-shod ORECA, driven by Nicolas Lapierre and Antonin Borga, set a 1m48.649s average, scoring the team its first ever WEC pole.
“It’s a great result for the whole team — we’ve struggled the last few races in qualifying, so to get our first pole in the WEC is a great result for the team. We even tried to minimize the laps we spent on the tires during the session because this circuit is so hard on tires,” Lapierre said after the session.
A tenth off pole in second was the No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA, the fastest Goodyear runner, ahead of the No. 22 United Autosports ORECA that will start on the second row in third.
Racing Team Nederland’s ORECA, which won last time out at Fuji, will start from the back in the class because Frits van Eerd failed to set a time after the car suffered a puncture.
In the GTE classes, Porsche stole the headlines.
GTE Pro saw the first pole of the season for the No. 92 duo of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, and the first class pole for Porsche in Shanghai. The duo combined for a 1m59.579s after Christensen reeled off a 1m59.708s and Estre went on to set the best time of the session, a 1m50.024s.
“We didn’t know what to expect because it’s a hard track on tires,” Estre said. “It’s nice to get this pole, and one point. Our last pole was Sebring last season, which wasn’t a great race for us — let’s hope for better here!”
Behind, Aston Martin Racing came achingly close, and will therefore be disappointed to come away without pole position after its two Vantage AMR’s sat 1-2 atop the class times after the first set of times.
Eventually the No. 95 of Danish duo Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took second, after managing a 1m59.597s, which was just 0.018s off pole. The No. 97 sister car will start from third. It may not have bagged pole, but AMR will be nevertheless confident that it can repeat its performance from last season, where the No. 95 scored the first ever win for the current spec Vantage.
Outside the top three the two AF Corse Ferraris, the No. 51 leading the No. 71 slotted in fourth and fifth, with the No. 91 Porsche bookending the class times in sixth.
Am saw a strong performance from Team Project 1’s Matteo Cairoli and Egidio Perfetti, who pit Team Project 1’s No. 56 Porsche 911 RSR on class pole. Cairoli lapped first, and set a 2m00.031s before Perfetti toured the circuit in 2m01.617s. In the end, their combined time was a 2m00.824s, seven tenths clear of the No. 98 Aston Martin which claimed second after Paul Dalla Lana and Ross Gunn’s efforts.
The No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche will start third in Am, after Christian Reid and Matt Campbell made it two Porsches in the top three.
UP NEXT: Sunday is race day and it starts at 12:00 p.m. local time.