Andre Lotterer led an Audi sweep of the top three positions in qualifying for the 60th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, confirming widespread expectations for the session.
Lotterer led the German factory squad with a lap of 1min 45.820secs in the Audi R18 he shares with Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, the Le Mans-winning trio now looking to add a Sebring victory to their haul. Veteran team-mate Tom Kristensen qualified second on the 64-car grid, which combines fields for the American Le Mans Series
World Endurance Championship, with Romain Dumas a further 0.72secs back in third place.
Lotterer's quick lap was more than enough to offset an early-session penalty for speeding in pit-lane, an error he readily accepted was down to him.
“Usually the pit limiter is always on, but it wasn't that time," he revealed, "That was my mistake for not noticing [but] it didn't really make my life more difficult. The car ran great and I was able to get in a good lap. This pole is really nice for the staff as the guys work so hard to prepare for this race.”
Behind the three Audis, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing's Klaus Graf was the fastest non-diesel entry at 1min 47.536secs, putting the team's new HPD ARX-03 at the head of the ALMS field.
“A new car is always a lot of work,” the US-domiciled German said, “Everyone involved, such as Wirth Research, HPD and the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, have put a lot of effort into it for this event. It was a big effort to first get the car running, then testing and how to set up, and now this is a reward for us. This is a small team for a twelve-hour race, but this gives us motivation for the whole team. Our team has worked more than 100 hours since we got here on Saturday. It is so hard to prepare these cars for a race like this one since they are so new."
P1 cars took the top ten spots on the grid, with OAK Racing and JRM Racing filling the next two places respectively.
Olivier Pla was the quickest P2 qualifier, and eleventh overall, thanks to a lap of 1min 50.467secs in OAK Racing's Morgan-Judd. The Frenchman was 0.356secs clear of ex-Peugeot factory driver Stephane Sarrazin in Starworks Motorsports' HPD ARX-03b, while Elton Julian, a regular in last year's ALMS' Prototype Challenge category, was third in class.
“I had a chance to test here before, so I had a pretty good idea of the circuit,” Pla said, “I was really looking forward to racing here. The car is amazing. We had an incident on Monday and our team did a great job to get the car back and ready to go. The car felt perfect in qualifying.”
Christophe Bouchut led the ALMS' P2 contingent with a lap of 1min 52.129secs in Level 5 Motorsports' HPD ARX-03b, but may have been able to go faster had he not clipped the inside of T1 and been fired hard into the outside tyre wall shortly after setting his time. Bouchut, whose lap was 0.364secs clear of Conquest Racing's Martin Plowman, said a fellow P2 car rejoined the race line too soon after exiting the pits and forced him to take an evasive manoeuvre.