Thursday, Jun 14 10:18am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Alonso, Nakajima, Buemi on provisional pole, Porsche top GTE-Pro

It’s only early days but Toyota Gazoo Racing have shown they’ve got the edge over their LMP1 rivals.


Kazuki Nakajima recorded the fastest time in qualifying one behind the wheel of the no.8 Toyota TS050–Hybrid. Nakajima led the sister Toyota driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose-Maria Lopez.


Just 0.107 split the two leading Toyotas. Nakajima alongside teammates Sebastien Buemi and two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso will have two more opportunities to better their benchmark of 3:17.320.


SMP Racing were third fastest two seconds adrift of the leading Toyotas. First to eighth was covered by four seconds.


While there were little in the way of surprises at the front of the LMP1 field, the GTE-Pro division drew a few raised eyebrows.


The factory Porsche GT Team led the way with the two tribute liveried no.91 and no.91 Porsches.


The Rothmans-inspired 911 RSR was quickest with a 3:47.504 by Gianmaria Bruni followed by the ‘Pink Pig’ Porsche led by Kevin Estre.


Bruni set his time just 10 minutes into the qualifying session, which couldn’t be bettered. Just moments after setting the blisteringly quick time, Bruni speared off the road at the Dunlop Chicane, fortunate not to hit the outside wall.


Rather surprisingly, the difference between the two leading cars was sizeable at 3.187 seconds.


Porsche pulled their car into the pit garage with a little over an hour to go in the session, content with their fastest time.


Chip Ganassi Racing’s UK and USA divisions sat third and fourth respectively. However, Scott Dixon’s no.69 Ford GT was the last of the Ganassi Racing contingent down in 10th.


Despite the pace of Porsche at the front of the field, Earl Bamber was buried down the order in 14th overall in the no.93 911 RSR for much of the session, but managed to get up to seventh late on. The no.94 was faced with issues too. Romain Dumas complained the car had stability issues—they were sixth.


“We have a really unstable rear,” he said.


“In the Mulsanne corner it is a little bit bumpy, that doesn’t help us. It was a good slide! We tried different things on the rear damper, it’s our main issue: rear stability under braking. For the rest, the car is great.”


The entirety of the session was relatively uneventful with only a few off-track excursions, with little in the way of damage.


The second qualifying session will take place at 5:00am NZST on Friday, which will be followed by the third and final qualifying session at 8:00am NSZT later that morning.


CLICK HERE for qualifying one results


Photo: Porsche