Toyota’s No. 7 takes WEC pole at Spa after Ferrari’s time deleted
Toyota’s No. 7 GR010 HYBRID will start from pole position in tomorrow’s FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps after a dramatic qualifying session in Belgium.
Kamui Kobayashi set the quickest lap for the Japanese team, which denied Ferrari its second pole of the season after Antonio Giovanazzi had his best time deleted after the checkered flag.
Antonio Giovanazzi briefly stunned Kamui Kobayashi and the Toyota crew members in the garage with a sensational 2m00.777s at the end of Hypercar qualifying in the No. 51 Ferrari AF Corse 499P. But a track limits violation at Turn 7 – the exit of Les Combes – meant race control was forced to delete the time, handing the top spot back to Toyota and muting the celebrations in the Ferrari pit.
Kobayashi’s best was 2m00.812s, just 0.024s faster than Miguel Molina, whose time would eventually turn out to be Ferrari’s fastest. The Spaniard in the No. 50 499P will start second, ahead of the No. 51 which will line up third after the post-session decision from race control cost the car two grid spots.
More Le Mans/WEC!
Porsche reveals Le Mans Hypercar colors
Kobayashi puts Toyota back on top in third Spa 6H practice
Cadillac, AF Corse Ferrari bounce back from Spa setbacks
Overall it was an extremely tight session in Hypercar, as the top four set times within 0.3s of each other.
Just outside the top three was the best of the LMDh cars in the field, the No. 2 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R, following a 2m01.041s from Earl Bamber, who looked to be pushing the car to its absolute limit on his flyer.
The No.3 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R will start fifth following its overnight engine change. Sebastien Bourdais did extremely well to put the car in the top five after what’s been a tough weekend so far for the guest-entered IMSA crew, which is utilizing a brand-new chassis that lost a lot of practice time to a minor fire.
The other brand new LMDh chassis in the field, the No. 38 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963, will start seventh after Will Stevens’ performance. Notably, the car set a faster time than both Peugeots and the No. 5 factory Penske-run Porsche.
What about the championship-leading No. 8 Toyota? It will start from the back after Brendon Hartley had an off which stopped the session at Raidillon just two minutes into Hypercar qualifying. The Kiwi was running at a reduced speed trying to warm his tires, but had the car snap on him when he touched the curb on the driver’s left at the crest, sending him into the barriers at the top of the hill.
Hartley was OK, but couldn’t continue as the car needed to be recovered by marshals after the hit. It was the second of two red flags in qualifying, both caused by incidents at Raidillon. The other came earlier on during the GTE Am session.
United Autosports’ No. 23 ORECA, which won last time out in Portimao, will start from the front in LMP2, after a superb 2m05.979s lap from Tom Blomqvist.
Blomqvist got the job done for United Autosports in LMP2. Motorsport Images
Blomqvist was the only driver to set a time under 2m05s. It would not be bettered by the other drivers in the dying moments, and marked a perfect return to the team after he was forced to miss Round 2 due to a clash with the IMSA race at Long Beach.
“Really good job by United Autosports who gave me a great car,” Blomqvist said to RACER. “I didn’t have a super-clean build-up to quali, so I had to trust my instincts for the session. Our car is currently P4 in the championship so it’s a case of chipping away after our Sebring disappointment.
“The guys did a great job winning last time out at Portimao when I had a clashing IMSA commitment. Now Olly, Josh and I are looking to repeat that success.”
Alongside the No. 23 on the front row in LMP2 will be the No. 41 WRT ORECA, driven in the session by Louis Deletraz, who is fresh from a spectacular overall win in the European Le Mans Series opener at Barcelona last weekend. His time, a 2m06.318s, came late in the 15-minute run, but wasn’t quite good enough to hand the Belgian team pole.
The No. 63 Prema Racing ORECA will start third after Daniil Kvyat’s effort. The future Lamborghini LMDh driver set a best time of 2m06.506s with five minutes to go and was unable to improve on his final flying lap. The No. 31 WRT and No. 28 JOTA ORECAs completed the top five.
In the GTE session, which was interrupted by a red flag for an incident at Raidillon, Ahmad Al Harthy scored his first WEC pole in the ORT by TF Sport Aston Martin.The Omani driver set a rapid 2m17.216s at the end of the session to go almost two seconds clear of the other Bronze drivers taking part. The pole time was a big improvement on the 2m18.127s he set before the red flag, which was good enough for provisional pole at the time.
ORT by TF Sport’s Aston Martin Vantage will lead the way in GTE. Motorsport Images
Sarah Bovy in the Iron Dames Porsche came closest to the Aston, with a late effort after the red flag to put herself and the Italian team on the front row. Her best lap was a 2m19.150s.
Ryan Hardwick completed the top three in the session in the No. 88 Proton Porsche. He briefly sat second after his 2m19.481s, but Bovy’s lap, completed moments later, proved to be 0.3s quicker.
The championship-leading Corvette Racing C8.R, which is aiming for a third-straight win to start the season, ended up fourth. Ben Keating, in a car carrying two sets of ballast for this event, still managed to set a 2m19.506s. It will give him and the team confidence that it can bank plenty more points and solidify the team’s position at the top of the points standings ahead of Le Mans in the race tomorrow.
“I think the red flag benefited us,” said Keating. “P4 is a really good result for carrying 45 extra kilos on this particular track. Even without those, I don’t know if I was able to keep up with (pole-winner Ahmad) Al Harthy in the Aston Martin. The Aston is really strong around here. Last year I qualified a second-and-a-half ahead of the field in the Aston around here. But they’ve got a bunch more power and we’ve got a bunch more weight.”
The fastest of the Ferraris, the No. 83 Richard Mille AF Corse, will start fifth ahead of the Northwest AMR Aston Martin that is here with its new-look crew. Ian James set a very respectable 2m19.976s ahead of the Heart of Racing driver trio’s maiden WEC outing tomorrow.
The red flag in the Am session came halfway through when PJ Hyett had a big off at Raidillon. The American lost control of the rear of his Porsche, spinning just before the crest before going nose-first into the barriers. The impact was hard and destroyed the front end of the No. 56 Project 1 AO 911 RSR 19.
Hyett, who became the third GTE Am driver to suffer a big incident at Raidillon this weekend after the two-car shunt for AF Corse in FP2, was able to walk away from the incident unscathed. The crew in the garage has been left with a lot of work to do to get the car ready for the race tomorrow.
The 2023 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps is set to get underway at 12:45 local time in Belgium.