Alpine will start Friday’s FIA WEC season-opening race at Sebring from pole position after a hugely impressive performance from Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre. The former Toyota factory driver was selected by the Alpine team for qualifying and delivered the goods, setting a 1m47.407s to secure the top spot in the team’s A48p Gibson.
Lapierre’s lap was near-faultless, 1.3 seconds quicker than the rest of the drivers in the session to secure Alpine’s first WEC pole since the race at Portimao last season.
“It was a clean lap,” Lapierre said. “I had no traffic, the car was fantastic. The conditions were different tonight but the setup changes we made worked. We have a great line up, a good team, here it’s difficult and with heat and traffic it’s going to be tough, but I am looking for it. Now we have to focus on doing the job tomorrow.”
To the surprise of many trackside, a Toyota Hypercar will not feature on the front row. Instead, Glickenhaus’ single 007 LMH will line up alongside the Alpine. Olivier Pla pushed hard and set a best time of 1m48.741s for the U.S.-flagged outfit.
Third overall in the times wasn’t a Toyota, either. Nicklas Nielsen pushed the leading GR010 to fourth on the grid with a blistering 1m49.014s to take pole position in LMP2 for AF Corse right at the end of the session.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t think anyone could have expected us to be this strong in our first race. I am lost for words,” Nielsen said.
Brendon Hartley was the fastest of the two Toyota drivers in the session, putting the No. 8 fourth on the grid with a time 1.8 seconds off pole. The sister car will start a somewhat disappointing seventh.
United Autosports completed the top three in LMP2 by splitting the Toyotas, with Filipe Albuquerque setting a best time of 1m49.388 to go fifth-fastest, 0.2s up on Paul Di Resta in the No. 23. WRT and Realteam By WRT rounded out the top five in the class after hot laps from Rene Rast and Ferdinand Habsburg respectively.
The biggest incident of the session came from an LMP2 runner; Fabio Scherer bringing the LMH/LMP2 session to a premature end with a big off at Turn 1 in the No. 34 Inter Europol ORECA. The 07 looked to have sustained significant damage from the impact, though thankfully Scherer was seen walking away.
̑In GTE Pro it was a Porsche front row lockout, with Michael Christensen leading the way in the No. 92 911 RSR 19. The Dane set a 1m57.233s at the end of the session to push Gianmaria Bruni in the sister car down to second.
“I am fully confident in Michael,” Christensen’s teammate Kevin Estre said after the session. “He always delivers when it counts, he did a great lap, it was good enough for pole. I always like to start on pole. We see the Corvette there, and the Ferrari, we know they will be there at some point.”
Corvette Racing’s C8.R will start behind the two Porsches, thanks to a 1m57.696s from team debutant Nick Tandy. AF Corse meanwhile, continued to struggle for outright pace after failing to challenge Porsche or Corvette during the practice sessions. James Calado and Antonio Fuoco were tasked with battling for pole, but neither could get within two seconds of the pole time. Instead, the No. 51 will start P5, with the No. 52 P6.
Perhaps the most remarkable story to emerge from the GTE session though came in Am. Bronze-rated Ben Keating set a 1m59.204s to go fourth-fastest on home soil and quicker than the two AF Corse Pro Ferraris. He will head into race day confident of a strong result after such a dominant performance for TF Sport and Aston Martin.
Paul Dalla Lana made it a 1-2 for Aston Martin, with a 2m00.570s, the Canadian another one of the Bronze drivers to put in a strong performance in the short 10-minute shootout.
Brendan Iribe ended up third in Am in the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche, after sitting atop the times early in the session before red flags were brought out for an off for Nicolas Leutwiler in the sister Project 1 Porsche. The 911 ending up suffering rear-end damage as a result and didn’t rejoin the session.
The 2022 FIA WEC 1000 Miles of Sebring is set to get underway at 12:00pm local time on Friday.