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Pole for Gommendy at rainy Le Mans
1 January 1901
Rain returned to throw a curve ball for the World Series by Renault drivers in qualifying for the second race of the weekend at Le Mans, although this time all five title competitors will feature in the top eight of the grid setting up a tantalising tussle with only three races of the championship remaining.
Still, while all eyes were on the battle unfolding between Andy Soucek, Alx Danielsson, Borja Garcia, Pastor Maldonado and Alvaro Parente, it was in fact Tristan Gommendy who went one better from first race qualifying to claim pole position on his home circuit.
Having claimed a front row starting position on his return to the series for the opening race, Gommendy secured Pons Racing's first pole position of the season, making the most of the better conditions in the first of two groups to prove the dominant pace setter.
Alongside him will be the leading championship contender Maldonado, with Garcia in third, while Danielsson will start in fourth place, as he bids to convert his triple victory into a quadruple around the Bugatti configuration
of the legendary circuit.
With rain falling already and the conditions rapidly worsening, nearly all of the drivers took the opportunity to pile onto the circuit in the opening minutes to find some kind of advantage, even if the tricky track did not take long to bite back, with both Gommendy and Alvaro Barba among the early spinners.
At the halfway point, Garcia and Gommendy were establishing themselves as the duo to beat, the former enjoying himself more in the wet than he was in the
dry when he could only manage eleventh in the first race.
However, local knowledge soon saw Gommendy surge to the front, usurping Garciaâ€™s best time by seven-thousandths of a second, before demolishing his rival by slashing another second off on the next revolution. Garcia hit back to move within three tenths, only for Gommendy to move pole out of reach with a time that would end the session some eight tenths quicker than the nearest competition.
A gap of over two seconds back saw Alvaro Parente take a crucial third fastest time, marginally ahead of first race point scorer Celso Miguez, while Barba's fourth fastest time sees Jenzer Motorsport start inside the top ten for only the third time this season. Eric Salignon was fifth fastest to guarantee himself a top ten slot.
Rather more treacherous conditions greeted those of the second group, almost guaranteeing Gommendy's place at the front of the grid, as the drivers circulated the circuit in times over two seconds off the ultimate pace showing
in Group A.
Matters were not helped by a rather stunted session that saw full yellow flags revealed early on when Hayanari Shimoda spun off with five minutes on the clock gone, the Japanese driver then going one better by returning to the
track only to spin off and induce a red flag.
By this point, Danielsson was in charge, as he has been all weekend, albeit nowhere near the time set by Gommendy, with Draco duo Maldonado and Pavlovic pushing hard in second and third.
With the session back underway following the clear up of Shimoda, and Davide Valsecchi's similarly timed crash, Maldonado wasted no time in getting back up to speed, taking five tenths off Danielsson's best time.
However, the Swede's hopes of responding were ruined when Robbie Kerr spun and produced a second red flag, with officials deciding to call and end to the session there and then.
Maldonado was therefore left with the fastest time in the group, but unable to get close to Gommendy's time from earlier, the Frenchman delighted to have proved his worth with a pole on his racing return.
"I am more pleased with the fact we have been able to improve the car than the result in itself. We spent two hours in briefing yesterday to find solutions and this morning 90 per cent of the problems were resolved. I looked for a clear run and I was able to produce a good time."
Garcia will start from third place, ahead of Danielsson, the Swede determined to move into the championship lead for the first time, particularly as current leader Andy Soucek, is back in eighth place, behind fifth place Parente, sixth place Miguel Molina and seventh place Miguez.
Gavin Cronje, Barba and Salignon round out the top ten, the former driver doing an impressive job on his debut for Carlin Motorsport.