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Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer secured the first FIA World Endurance championship pole position and championship point of the season for Team Audi Joest.
In a damp but drying session, Lotterer registered a 1:53.201s in his LMP1-Hybrid machine, before pitting for the regulatory driver change.
With Fässler now at the wheel, the Swiss racer enjoyed a tussle for the top spot with Audi stablemate Lucas di Grassi in the #8 entry; however a best lap of 1m 53.207s from Fässler in the dying moments of the session gave the #7 Audi pole with an average of 1m 53.204s. The pole gives the #7 team a bonus to start the season.
Luckily for Audi, Fassler's Audi emerged with apparently no damage he collided with the #44 LMP2 Manor on the slow down lap.
Di Grassi and Loïc Duval settled for second spot in the other Audi R18, despite di Grassi setting the quickest lap of the session. A 1m 52.911s from di Grassi late on was not enough to overhaul the 1m 53.705 as set by Duval early in the session, giving the #8 an average of 1m 53.308. Di Grassi was on a faster lap as the chequered flag fell, but on the approach to Vale, the Brazilian got his line wrong, pitching the former-F1 driver through the gravel.
World champions Porsche had to settle for the second row, with Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber taking a late third for the #1 Porsche 919 (averaging 1m 54.150s) ahead of the #2 car driven by Neel Jani and Roman Dumas (1m 54.266s).
Both Toyota Gazoo Racing efforts fell well shy of the leading German manufacturers, with #6 Toyota (Stéphane Sarrazin/Mike Conway/Kamui Kobayashi) 4.996s down on the pole Audi and the #5 Toyota (Anthony Davidson/Sébastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima) some 6.905s off the top spot.
Bykolles Racing were the best of the LMP1-L class in seventh place (2m 08.332s average), although neither of their competitors in the Rebellion Racing entries set an applicable time, with the #13 Rebellion not running on track at all. Both Rebellion crews will start from the rear of the Prototype class for tomorrow's race.
G-Drive Racing (René Rast/Roman Rusinov/Nathanaël Berthon) secured the top spot in the LMP2 class, with a 2m 07.374s from Rast giving the #26 machine an average of 2m 08.479s. Rast's efforts gave the Russian squad a 0.147s advantage over the #31 Extreme Speed Ligier (Ryan Dalziel/Pipo Derani/Chris Cumming), while the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier (Ricardo Gonzalez/Filipe Albuquerque/Bruno Senna) took 3rd ahead of both the #27 and #37 SMP Nissan's.
Sam Bird and Davide Rigon took pole in the GTE-Pro class for the #71 AF Corse, some 1.382s ahead of the Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen piloted #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.
Initially it did appear as if the #51 AF Corse of Gimmi Bruni and James Calado would challenge for the GTE-Pro top spot; however only Bruni set a quick lap, as Calado did not reappear due to an engine issue for the Ferrari 488. In their first WEC event, Chip Ganassi's Ford GT team took 3rd with the #66 machine setting an average 2.035s shy of the Bird/Rigon duo.
Khaled Al Qubaisi, David Heinemeier-Hanson and Klaus Bachler secured a comfortable GTE-Am pole in their #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Porsche. The trio emerged from the session with a 2.297s advantage over the #78 KCMG Porsche of Christian Ried/Wolf Henzler and Joël Camathias.
With dry weather expected throughout tomorrow six-hour race, it is possible that we have truly to a running order that properly reflects the coming WEC season.
By Leigh O'Gorman