Toyota Gazoo Racing locked out the front row for Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain, the final race of the FIA World Endurance Championship season. Brendon Hartley and Kamui Kobayashi went head to head for pole, with Hartley setting the better lap of the two under the floodlights, putting the No. 8 on top by almost half a second with a 1m46.564s.
Crucially, with a point for pole, the No. 8 crew now sit 16 points ahead of the No. 7 trio and Hartley and his crewmates Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa have edged ever closer to the drivers’ title.
“It’s for the championship!” exclaimed the delighted Hartley. “I had a difficult qualifying in Fuji. And here it felt like I left something on the table but it was clean — nobody is going to do a perfect lap. The car felt awesome.
“We were one of the only cars to qualify on mediums because everyone is so worried about tire deg here. We think we can make them work in the race, if not it could be tricky for us. Sebastien (Buemi) will start tomorrow’s race — he has Turn 1 to think about.”
On the second row of the grid, a head-turning early 1m47.265s flyer from Alex Lynn was good enough to ensure the Cadillac Racing V-Series.R was the fastest LMDh prototype in the session. The Caddy will start third, ahead of the fastest of the Porsche 963s, the No. 6, which will line up fourth.
“I think it was a really positive day,” Lynn said. “Quickest in Free Practice 3, long-run pace looked really strong and consolidated with P3 in qualifying. Really happy for Cadillac Racing.
“The main thing I think is we’re quick on one lap and we’re quick on the long run. I’m proud of our team and motivated to have a good day tomorrow. I’m excited — I think we’re going to have a good one and challenge for the podium.”
It was a tough qualifying for the championship-contending Ferraris, the No. 50 qualifying ahead of the No. 51 in fifth and sixth respectively, both cars over a second off the pole time.
Tom Blomqvist made United Autosports ORECA sing under the lights. Motorsport Images
LMP2 qualifying saw IndyCar-bound Tom Blomqvist boss the session, setting a 1m52.290s to take pole by 0.2s in the No. 23 United Autosports ORECA. Blomqvist’s eventual best time came with three minutes to go, improving on his previous best of 1m52.863s, which was already good enough to put him on provisional pole.
“Fantastic job by the guys — we had some work to do after yesterday, and the No. 23 crew have really put it together. Credit to them,” said Blomqvist. “It’s a pleasure to drive a well-handling race car in qualifying conditions. Really enjoyable, I couldn’t have asked for much more.
“That’s two poles for me this season, and Olly [Jarvis] got the pole in Sebring at the first race of the year. Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad luck along the way in the races, and the championship hasn’t worked out the way we hoped … but tomorrow, we’ll go for the win!”
Joining the No. 23 on the front row will be the No. 36 Alpine ORECA of Charles Milesi, who pushed hard but couldn’t quite edge Blomqvist with his late 1m52.561s. The No. 31 Team WRT ORECA took third, pushing the Vector Sport example, which held the top spot early after Gabriel Aubry’s first push lap, to fourth.
It was a tricky session for Louis Deletraz in the championship-leading No. 41 WRT ORECA. The No. 41 will start the race 10th with a time 1.2s off pole.
A big lap from Sarah Bovy netted the last-ever GTE pole for the Iron Dames team. Motorsport Images
The No. 85 Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR 19 will start the final GTE race tomorrow from pole position after a stellar 1m58.692s tour of the circuit from Sarah Bovy.
“Once again she did it — we are very proud of her,” said Michelle Gatting, Bovy’s teammate in the Porsche. “It’s important for what we are doing with this project. It’s emotional because of the last race of GTE. It’s not easy — we showed great pace and let’s hope we can finish it.”
Bovy’s time, set with just under five minutes to go, was challenged in the final minutes of the session, but nobody could snatch the top spot from the Belgian, who finishes the season with three pole positions to her name.
Liam Talbot, the late addition to D’Station Racing’s driver lineup, came closest with a 1m58.982s. The time came on his final flying lap, vaulting the No. 777 Vantage from fourth to a spot on the front row.
Talbot’s lap dropped the ORT by TF Sport Aston Martin to third on the grid after Ahmad Al Harthy’s efforts. Takeshi Kimura steered the No. 57 Ferrari to fourth.
Ben Keating, who briefly sat at the top early in the session, will start tomorrow’s race from fifth in the title-winning No. 33 Corvette Racing C8.R.
“More than where we qualified, I’m happy with the lap time.,” Keating said. “That was one second quicker than anything than did in my qualifying simulation. There is so much tire degradation here that it’s a balance between taking care of the tire — because we have to race on these same tires — and trying to hit the peak of the tire.
“I think the reason I was able to put that lap together was because it was my third one and on the peak of the tire. I kept trying to repeat it, and I couldn’t. It just wasn’t there in the tire. It’s really interesting how my two laps that were closest to that were seven-tenths of a second off. It’s worth that much time. I’m happy with the time but also with the result. Tyler (Neff, race engineer) said before qualifying that he thought a top-five result was possible, and he nailed it.”
Tomorrow’s 8 Hours of Bahrain will start at 2pm local time.