Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR010 HYBRIDs blitzed FIA World Endurance Championship qualifying at Portimao this afternoon, locking out the front row with both its cars over a second quicker than the rest of the Hypercar runners.
The best lap came from Brendon Hartley, who set a 1m30.171s, bettering the previous FIA WEC pole lap record by two-tenths in the No. 8. His time was almost three-tenths quicker than the sister car of Kamui Kobayashi.
“It felt really good. We’ve put some effort into qualifying setup this time,” Hartley said. “Ferrari annoyed us by taking pole at Sebring. We expect Ferrari to be closer in the race, as they have focused on long runs. I knew the lap was good –I knew it would be hard against Kamui.
“We felt we would be playing catch-up as we hadn’t tested here before the season. We expect to be fighting the red cars tomorrow.”
The fastest time from the other teams came from Nicklas Nielsen in the No. 50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P, which could only manage a 1m31.596s, 1.4 seconds off the pole time. James Calado completed the second row, though the Briton complained of the braking performance at the rear throughout the session, describing the brakes as “locking up everywhere” on the team radio.
Best of the rest was the No. 6 Penske Porsche, which was the first of a gaggle of Hypercars in the 1m32s. The No. 94 Peugeot ended up sixth, ahead of the No. 5 Porsche and No. 2 Cadillac. The No. 93 Peugeot and Glickenhaus completed the top 10.
Richard Westbrook, who qualified the Cadillac in the session, says the team is still finding its feet at the Portimao circuit.
“We’re not quite pleased with the starting position but the lap time is an improvement,” he said. “Every time out we’re learning and, of course, it is the first time at this track for the car and us in the car. We have a reliable car and like we showed at Sebring we’ll have good race pace. It’s a work in progress.”
Prema Racing’s No. 63 ORECA took pole in LMP2 with a last-gasp effort from Mirko Bortolotti, after his previous provisional pole time was deleted for a Turn 1 track limits violation. The Italian Lamborghini factory driver set a 1m34.303s to go to the top by a thousandth of a second with just a minute remaining, vaulting from 12th to pole.
This pushed Gabriel Aubry’s Vector Sport ORECA to second, after he spent most of the session atop the times, only briefly edged by Bortolotti before his initial time was deleted midway through the running.
“Mirko did an amazing job. He is very impressive. We really need to be proud of what we achieved today,” said Bortolotti’s teammate Doriane Pin after what was Prema’s first WEC pole.
There is an investigation ongoing, though, as the No. 63 had to be worked on in the fast lane of the pit lane when the session went green, which prevented cars from heading out on track. We await a decision from the stewards.
“I am in the pit lane, the engine goes off, I couldn’t restart it — I tried power cycles,” Bortolotti explained. “At that stage, my mechanics came to the rescue and they fired it up quickly so I could go out without losing much time. There was then another issue which was really weird, but luckily the guys fixed it quickly and we could actually qualify on our second set of tires without using the first set. It was undrivable so I had to stop straight away.”
Third in the times was Phil Hanson, who set a 1:34.451 in the No. 22 United ORECA. There were five teams in the top five, as Yifei Ye put the No. 48 JOTA ORECA fourth, while Albert Costa put Inter Europol fifth.
In the GTE Am ranks, Corvette Racing will start from pole position after a stunning lap from Ben Keating late in the GTE session, which like at Sebring, was thrilling. The Texan, who topped the times early with a 1m44.557s, improved twice amid another shootout with Sarah Bovy in the Iron Dames Porsche.
The pair traded fast times, but eventually, Keating set a 1m41.362s to snatch pole, a time that Bovy was unable to better on her final flying lap, which was a 1m41.579s.
This performance from the Corvette (which is carrying the biggest success ballast penalty) and the Iron Dames Porsche came after Ferrari teams topped all three practice sessions in the build-up to qualifying. But when it counted, the fastest Ferrari could only take third on the grid. Diego Alessi in the No. 21 led an all-AF Corse second row, as Thomas Flour in the No. 54 ended up fourth. The fastest Aston Martin, the ORT by TF Vantage, ended up fifth after Ahmad Al Harthy’s 1m41.904s.
“I expected the Ferraris to be up front,” Keating admitted after scoring Corvette’s first WEC pole of the season. “In all the practice sessions they were the quickest car, and we weren’t quite sure what we were going to be able to do.
“I have to give so much credit to the Corvette team. The C8.R has never been to Portimão, and neither has the team. This is not a place where you show up and do well from the beginning. We’ve been making unbelievable, big improvements in the car every time we go out. I couldn’t believe how well the car was set up for qualifying.”
UP NEXT: Sunday’s six-hour race is set to start at 12:00pm local time.